Meet the Normals: Adventures in Universal Design

Stick figures represent the family members. The video is in black and white. This is one frame from it.Having trouble convincing others that universal design is for everyone and not ‘disabled’ design’?  A 6 minute video shown below takes you through an everyday family activity of leaving the house and catching a bus. It goes through the process of how to design for everyone. “For many of us we don’t think twice about how we use technology, travel, move in and out of buildings or use the web…” The video explains how universal design is good design for everyone.

The video was produced by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland. It is a good example of both closed captions and audio descriptions. 

 

Universally Designed Digital Life

Opening frame of the video: Universal Design of ICT - a better digital life.This short video about universal design and communications technology is powerful in its simplicity. The concepts can be applied to anything. One of the best explanations around. Great for introducing the idea of inclusion and universal design to others. A good example of a universally designed video and universally designed explanation as well.

Oslo University is offering a Masters course in UD of ICT.

Principles of inclusive design

page from the booklet with the explanation of how developments will turnout if inclusive design principles are used.Universal design is diverse in its terminology and explanations. Those who prefer “inclusive” design will also have their take on this. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) describes inclusive design as: 

“Inclusive design is about making places everyone can use. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently. Inclusive design is everyone’s responsibility. That means everyone in the design and construction process”. CABE has a booklet explaining each of the principles of inclusive design in more detail and with photos:

1. Inclusive design places people at the heart of the design process.
2. Inclusive design acknowledges diversity and difference.
3. Inclusive design offers choice where a single design solution cannot accommodate all users
4. Inclusive design provides for flexibility in use.
5. Inclusive design provides buildings and environments that are convenient and enjoyable to use for everyone

CABE says, if the principles are applied, developments will be:

Inclusive so everyone can use them safely, easily and with dignity.
Responsive taking account of what people say they need and want.
Flexible so different people can use them in different ways.
Convenient so everyone can use them without too much effort or separation.
Accommodating for all people, regardless of their age, gender, mobility,
ethnicity or circumstances.
Welcoming with no disabling barriers that might exclude some people.
Realistic offering more than one solution to help balance everyone’s needs
and recognising that one solution may not work for all.

At the heart of all explanations is the quest for inclusion – to include as many people as possible in every design. The list above has similarities with the classic 7 principles of universal design and the 8 goalsBarclays Bank also has a set of principles for inclusive design for the digital world

Designing for Diversity

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalitiesDan Jenkins says that inclusive design is often confused with designing for people with disability. It is true that inclusive design, or universal design, is not just about disability. But it should also include people with disability. After all, it is about designing for as many people as possible. Dan Jenkins makes an important point in his article – the number of excluded people is often underestimated and capability is frequently thought of in terms of “can do” and “can’t do”. However, this black and white approach doesn’t cater for those who “can do a bit” or “could do more” if the design was tweaked.

Editor’s comment: Many have written on this topic, but it is good to keep the conversation going. I hope his ideas do actually include people with disability and older people. “Diversity” is often thought of in terms of ethnic and gender diversity. If not careful, this can exclude a much wider range of people, including children, older people, and people with health conditions. 

It would be a pity if “universal design” were to be interpreted as “disability design” and “inclusive design” as designing for non-disabled groups of people. Disability covers all ethnic and gender groups as well. Dan Jenkins is based in the UK where the term “inclusive design” is used more than “universal design”. 

Quotable quotes on universal design

Wall banner saying The essence of universal design lies in its ability to create beauty and mediate extremes without destroying differences in places, experiences and thingsThe Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture has collected eight quotable quotes. The aim of this collection is to provide short persuasive statements that can be used in presentations or when explaining the benefits of universal design. Of course there are many more, but a nice touch to add to any toolkit for promoting the concept. There are more resources on this site. 

“Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”
Steve Jobs, former CEO, Apple

Editor’s note: The picture is a photo I took at the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA) located at the University at Buffalo in 2004. It is not included in the 8 quotable quotes, but it’s still a good one. Jane Bringolf.

The text reads, “The essence of universal design lies in its ability to create beauty and mediate extremes without destroying differences in places, experiences, and things”. It is attributed to Bill Stumpf and Don Chadwick, Designers. 

What’s in a name? Is it the same?

Pictograms of people and access symbolsWhich name or label to use when talking accessibility, universality and inclusion in design? This is a question in an article on the Adobe Blog site. Is it just semantics? Maybe. But they are intertwined and in the context of ICT and websites it might make a difference to some. Matt May writes that “Accessibility is the goal to ensure that products support each individual user’s needs and preferences. “Universal design is for everyone, literally, and inclusive design expands with your audience as new design ideas emerge. He cites the definition of inclusive design from the Inclusive Design Research Centre in Toronto: “design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference”. Is this not how universal design is explained? Better to accept that universal design is about diversity and therefore we can expect a diversity of explanations. As long as the aim is for social and economic inclusion for all then the meaning is in the doing and the outcomes. It’s worth noting that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities uses the term “Universal Design” and interprets it as an iterative approach to achieving equity and inclusion. 

5 Accessibility problems solved with UD

A suburban house in UK. The ramp makes several zig-zags up the front of the house. It looks ugly.Explaining that universal design is more than accessibility is sometimes difficult for people who have heard of accessibility, but not universal design. A neat article from the US lists five points to help understanding. Briefly listed below are the five points:

  1. Accessibility is not always inclusive. Steps plus a ramp to a building means some people have to take a different route to get in.
  2. Accessibility puts burden on the individual. More planning is needed for every trip, even to a restaurant – not to make a reservation – but to find out if you can get in.
  3. Separate accessible features are not equal. Sometimes they create extra hurdles and more effort.
  4. Accessibility provides limited solutions to a broad problem. This is because it is often an “add-on”. 
  5. Accessibility is not designed with style in mind. It is usually just designed to just serve a purpose.  

The title of the blog article is, “5 Problems with Accessibility (And How Universal Design Fixes Them)”.

Note: the picture of the house with the ramp shows four out of the five points. Different route, separate, limited solution, no style. 

A Tribute to Universal Design Pioneer Ron Mace

black and white photo of Ron Mace. He is wearing glasses and has a beard. He is wearing a light coloured shirt and a dark neck tieRon Mace is often reported as being the “father of universal design”. While this is not strictly true, he was a passionate leader in universal design thinking. The 20th anniversary of his death gives us pause for thought about his vision that started well before the 1970s. Richard Duncan has posted a short biography of Ron Mace to pay tribute to his vision and work that lives on across the globe. Mace contracted polio as a child and used this experience in his architecture practice where he understood how much the fine detail mattered. He was instrumental in setting up the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. This anniversary also gives pause for another thought: Why hasn’t universal design been universally accepted after more than 50 years of talking about it?

Editor’s note: I was very fortunate to visit Ron Mace’s widow, Joy Weeber, during my Churchill Fellowship study trip in 2004. Joy invited me to her home and was very generous with her time. She showed me a video of his last interview two days before he unexpectedly died in June 1998.  Jane Bringolf  

We all need universal design

A chrome lever door handle with the door ajar. The door is timberHere’s a newsletter snippet from Lifemark in New Zealand about how everyone needs universal design so that everyday tasks could be more convenient for everyone.  

“You have most likely heard about Universal Design, we see this term used in a lot of different areas but you probably think it’s irrelevant to you… well maybe not. Universal Design can help you during every moment of your life without you even realising it. Here are a few examples: ▫

  • Your wide garage will make getting the kids, car seats and buggy in and out of the car easy and risk free – no paint scratches on the walls from opened car doors.
  •  You will be able to open any doors even if both of your hands are full, because of your easy to operate lever door handles. ▫
  • If your hands are dirty, you’ll still be able to use the lever tap without making a mess. ▫
  • Plugging in the vacuum cleaner won’t strain your back because the power socket is higher up the wall. ▫
  • You will access your kitchen utensils/crockery because none of the drawers will be too high or too low and you’ll be able to open every drawer with one little push of your hand/knee.

See Lifemark website for the full blog post.

Just and Fair Design

Museum entrance with steps and ramp integrated. The tiles are a light colour and the way the light falls the whole thing looks very confusing.How can design be fair to everyone? Is it even possible to design for everyone? Do the literal interpretations of universal and inclusive design form a paradox of inclusive design approaches. The authors of Just Design argue that justice and fairness in design is not about the output but about the process, and that inclusion is more about the social context rather than the design of a particular thing. An interesting, if long read, for anyone interested in the philosophy underpinning universal design and inclusive practice. Note on the picture: I doubt this design would comply with legislation in Australia. (Access consultants will have fun with this one.)

Editor’s comments: Their arguments are not new to practitioners and advocates of universal design. They understand the context of inclusion is also about the participation of users with a range of disabilities. Discussions and decisions between them help solve the fairness issue. So their argument that making things inclusive can end up still excluding some people while true, is not well encapsulated in some of their examples. The example of a museum entrance (pictured above) that integrates steps and a ramp in a way that they cross over each other is an obvious nightmare for someone who is blind, or has perception difficulties, or needs a handrail on all steps. A consultation with users would have produced a different design solution that would be considered fair. They then add the example of a child’s wheelchair – an item that is by its very nature a specialised design. This device cannot fall under the universal or inclusive design flag, but it does allow participation and inclusion in environments designed to accommodate wheeled mobility devices. It is not clear whether the authors understand the role of user feedback and the iterative nature of designing universally. The aim of authors’ discussion is to propose a theory based on justice and fairness of universal and inclusive design. Their references include the thinking of product designers, as well as built environment designers.

The article, Just Design is by Bianchin and Heylighten and is available from ScienceDirect.