Myth busting universal design

First slide with Myth 1 showing a money tree saying inclusive design is expensiveLooking 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.

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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.

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.

 

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UD Goals, Principles and Explanations

a series of black icons on white background depicting people of all shapes and sizes, including a baby in a stroller, a person with a can and a wheelchair userThe seven Principles of Universal Design are often quoted and used in both academic and practical publications.

The 8 Goals of Universal Design aim to operationalise the original 7 Principles to make their application easier to understand. The thinking that went into these goals can be seen in this presentation.

Universal Design is about accepting and celebrating diversity, so there are many ways in which to explain universal design. This list gives a good idea of what it is about – the underpinning philosophy.

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Who was 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 tieNewcomers to the cause of universal design have probably heard the name Ron Mace mentioned. But who is he, and how did he become known as the “Father of Universal Design”? While others, such as Selwyn Goldsmith, had promoted the notion of designing accessible environments before Mace achieved recognition, it is Mace who is most often acknowledged. Mace’s last presentation just before his death in 1998 was at the first International Conference on Universal Design. It gives some insights into his thinking and how universal design evolved from barrier-free design, a term coined in the 1970s. 

Mace contracted Polio as a child. As a wheelchair user he encountered many barriers to studying at university. Nevertheless he achieved his aim and became an architect. After practising conventionally for a short time, he became a leader in accessible architecture. He helped develop the first accessible building code in the US, which was enacted by North Carolina. This led to other policy and legislative changes, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 1989 he set up the Center for Accessible Housing, which became the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

Editor’s note: I was fortunate to meet Ron Mace’s partner, Joy Weeber, on my Churchill Fellowship study tour. She showed me the video of an interview he gave two days before he died. It helped me understand the history and the passion behind the cause for universal design. Joy, a passionate disability activist and polio survivor, went on to gain her PhD in the area of disability identity and family denial of disability in the search for “normality”. Jane Bringolf.

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8 Goals of Universal Design

The Seven Principles of Universal Design (NCSU, 1997) are well known in the universal design fraternity and have been used as a baseline for designing a range of goods, services and policies across the world. The IDeA Center at the University at Buffalo has taken these principles and expanded them to focus on social participation and health. Complementing the Principles of Universal Design, the Goals of Universal Design© define the outcomes of UD practice in ways that can be measured and applied to all design domains within the constraints of existing resources. Briefly, the Goals are:

  1. Body FitEd Steinfeld holding his book next to his face.
  2. Comfort
  3. Awareness
  4. Understanding
  5. Wellness
  6. Social integration
  7. Personalization
  8. Cultural appropriateness

The IDeA website adds that “they encompass functional, social, and emotional dimensions. Moreover, each goal is supported by an interdisciplinary knowledge base (e.g., anthropometrics, biomechanics, perception, cognition, safety, health promotion, social interaction). Thus, the Goals can be used effectively as a framework for both knowledge discovery and knowledge translation for practice. Moreover, the Goals can help to tie policy embodied in disability rights laws to UD and provide a basis for improving regulatory activities by adoption of an outcomes-based approach.”

Ed Steinfeld writes more on universal design generally and the eight goals, in an article published in Modern Health Talk in 2014 as a lead up to the publication of his book written with Jordana Maisel, Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments.

The goals were devised by Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012 ©

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Universal Design: a diversity of explanations

a series of black icons on white background depicting people of all shapes and sizes, including a baby in a stroller, a person with a can and a wheelchair userAfter spending time with Professor Ed Steinfeld, Professor Rob Imrie and Dr Kim Kullman at various events, workshops and meetings in 2015, I’ve expanded my thinking about universal design. A key thought to emerge from one workshop is that we should embrace the diversity of ways in which universal design is expressed instead of getting frustrated about the various terms used. UD is after all, a concept that embraces inclusion and diversity. So why not embrace the various ways that people come to and express this concept? UD encourages inclusiveness in approach to design, including communication!

Wikipedia and universal design websites will have many of the standard explanations. But perhaps universal design is much more of a continuous conversation where many different words can be utilised in the discourse and discussions. In common use are “inclusive design”, “design-for-all” and “design for the lifespan”.  But other words and terms might be:

Provocative design: doing things differently, challenging the status quo.

Fragile design: designs that require community agreement to hold them together.

Careful or caring design: taking care to be inclusive in design thinking and processes.

Everyday design: designing more things to be ubiquitous, accepted and normal.

Thoughtful design: the opposite of thoughtless design where some people feel left out.

Empathetic design: similar to careful/caring design and thoughtful design, by putting yourself in the situation of others.

Looking to the future design: looking at how trends are developing and factoring this into designs.

7 senses design: factoring all our senses into designs.

Collaborative design: in some cultures this is a significant part of the design process – without it the product, service or building won’t be used.

Acceptable design: similar to collaborative design, but perhaps some compromises have to be made.

Disruptive design: changing the way things are done, challenging the status quo of designs, using environments or products in new ways.

Intergenerational design: family structures are diverse – recognising that not every family is a nuclear family whether at home or in the community.

Liveable design: being functional for everyone as well as looking good

Universal usability: focusing on how people use things – used mostly in relation to mobile technology, particularly to include older people

Perhaps we should be using many different words in different situations to suit the understanding and perspective of different individuals?

However, in keeping with the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability and the WHO Age Friendly Cities and Communities program, I believe we should retain ‘universal design’ as a generic term as this is understood internationally as a concept for physical, social, economic and cultural inclusion.

Download the one page Word version or one page PDF version

Jane Bringolf, Editor

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Exhibiting the principles of UD

Diagram of the display showing two semi circlesFinding ways to explain universal design can be difficult when people fall into false assumptions such as it’s “one-size-fits-all”, or it’s “all about people with disability”, and of course, “it costs too much”. Hence three Brazilians have come up with Interactive Universal Design Kiosks to explain social inclusion in architectural design. The kiosk exhibition structure is based on two semi-circles. The visitor follows a carpeted path and is gradually exposed to the concepts related to the principles of universal design. The kiosk setting invites people to interact with information that uses complementary multimedia (printed text, graphic and tactile) and hypermedia (sounds, images and tactile textures and rotating boxes) that visitors select at their own pace.

This is a simple idea and could be developed by any architectural firm or studio to both display their understanding of UD and to pass this on to others, particularly their current and prospective clients. Local Government authorities could create something similar for their foyers. A great way to communicate the UD message – as a concept rather than a particular type of design.

The article, Interactive Universal Design Kiosks: Explanations About Social Inclusion Features in Architectural Design,  is by Marcelo Pinto Guimarães, Angélica Fátima Baldin Picceli, and Paulo Roberto Sabino. Their diagram above helps explain the ideas.

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