Notes from the ACAA/UD Conference: Ed Steinfeld’s Keynote

Ed SteinfeldProfessor Ed Steinfeld’s topic was shifting the paradigm from accessibility to universal design. “Universal Design” was coined in the 1980s and has moved on from functionality in the built environment (barrier-free) to embracing the concept of inclusion and addressing diversity in all its forms. But people want to know “what’s in it for me?” and how it relates to outcomes. Most people who know about universal design are aware of the seven classic principles attributed to Ron Mace. However, these principles are not tied to a database of literature. Also,they are generally not very instructional.  

Prof Steinfeld has translated the seven classic principles into eight goals – the eighth adds cultural diversity which is not covered by the seven principles. Briefly, the eight goals* are:

  1. Body Fit: accommodating a wide range of body sizes and abilities
  2. Comfort: keeping demands within desirable limits of body function and perception
  3. Awareness: ensuring that critical information for use is easily perceived
  4. Understanding: making methods of operation and use intuitive, clear and unambiguous
  5. Wellness: contributing to health promotion, avoidance of disease and protection from hazards
  6. Social Integration: treating all groups with dignity and respect
  7. Personalization: incorporating opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences
  8. Cultural appropriateness: respecting and reinforcing cultural values and the social and environmental context of any design project.

*Copyright Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012, Center for Inclusive Design & Environmental Access (

Prof Steinfeld provided examples of universal design when going through the 8 goals. He also cautioned against unintended consequences of being too smart with technology so that while it benefited some people, including people with disability, it may exclude others. 

The Association of Consultants in Access Australia held the conference in Melbourne 7-9 October 2016. The next Australian Universal Design Conference will be 6-7 September 2016 at the Sydney Town Hall.