Which 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.
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:
- Accessibility is not always inclusive. Steps plus a ramp to a building means some people have to take a different route to get in.
- 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.
- Separate accessible features are not equal. Sometimes they create extra hurdles and more effort.
- Accessibility provides limited solutions to a broad problem. This is because it is often an “add-on”.
- 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.
Ron 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
Here’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.
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.
It’s all very well promoting the classic seven principles of universal design, but how do they materialise in practice? At the end of his paper, Yavuz Arat interprets residential design from the perspective of the seven principles with an emphasis on spatial requirements. Arat argues that designers use average values and they limit the quality of life and standard of living for older people and people with disability. The aim of Arat’s study was to find out how to apply universal design criteria in space design for older people and people with disability and to find solutions. In his summary, he advises that by designing to the principles of universal design, the detailed needs of individuals can be accommodated more easily if the spatial requirements are considered at the beginning of the design phase. The title of the paper is Spatial Requirements for Elderly and Disabled People in the Frame of Universal Design.
Professor Yavuz Arat, is based at Konya Necmettin Erbakan University, Turkey.
Universal, inclusive, accessible, design-for-all – are they all the same? Some would argue there are some differences, but the goals are very much the same – inclusion of everyone. Different disciplines, different practitioners, and different countries tend to favour one over the others. Academics find this problematic as it makes it difficult to build an international body of research on a topic where terminology can vary so much. Regulations and codes have not helped the cause: Web accessibility standards, Adaptable Housing standard, Access to Premises Standard, and then there is “universal access” which tends to relate to the built environment. Not having an agreed language or terms is discussed in the Journal of Universal Access in the Information Society. The article has a long title: Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. This is a very useful paper to get a grasp of how we have come to this position and where we need to go. You will need institutional access for a free read, or it can be purchased.
Abstract: Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in the digital age have become increasingly important over the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller extent in most projects that develop interactive systems. However, the concept varies among different professions, cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal access and inclusive design are all different names of approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts? This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used for accessibility, its methodological and historical development and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It can be concluded that there is little or no consensus regarding the definition and use of the concept, and consequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the target audience. Particularly in international standardization the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this discussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may have on measurability, conformance with standards and the overall usability for the widest possible range of target users.
Editor’s note: I also wrote on this thorny topic in 2009: Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? Or you can get the quick version from the PowerPoint presentation.
I wrote an article for Inner Sydney Voice Magazine in 2014 that gave an overview of universal design, what it means, and some of the myths that are often applied to it. The article may be of interest to people who are not clear on the concepts underpinning universal design and inclusive practice.The differences between accessible, adaptable and universal design, housing and the public domain are discussed. The links between universal design, sustainability and healthy built environments are also discussed. The article is still relevant as progress towards inclusive environments is still evolving.
This article can be used as a primer for doing the free online course, Introduction to Universal Design.
Inner Sydney Voice is the Inner Sydney Regional Social Development Council.
Jane Bringolf, Editor
Looking to find (and borrow) some nice graphics that dispel the myths about universal design? The Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture has posted a slideshow on 10 myths of inclusive design. Each myth is followed by a slide that dispels the myth with a graphic and a short statement. A handy resource for anyone creating presentations about the value and benefits of universal design. Also good for anyone just finding out about designing inclusively. The ten myths are: it’s expensive, it’s boring, it’s only about physical objects, it’s only about disability, it’s only about assistive technology, it’s not for me, it not concerned with aesthetics, it’s for niche markets, it’s just another buzzword, and it’s only about public services. Also available on Linked In Slideshare.
Note: just to clarify – universal design and inclusive design are the same thing. Different countries sometimes use different terms. The United Nations uses “Universal Design” and this has become internationally recognised.
The 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.