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.
The 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.
Newcomers 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.
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:
- Body Fit
- Social integration
- 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 ©