Universal Design: Is it Accessible?

A blank sheet of paper with an eraser, two pencils and a light globe.This opinion piece by Jane Bringolf published by Multi:The RIT Journal of Plurality and Diversity in Design was written in 2008, but is still relevant. Several aspects of universal design are questioned including the terminology and inherent difficulties in understanding the concepts. 

Abstract: Designing products and environments to be usable by the majority of people is the underpinning concept of universal design. In some aspects, however, universal design fails to meet some of its own principles. This has resulted in a lack of understanding of the concept, which in turn, has allowed the terms “accessibility” and “disability” to inhabit the language of universal design. This means universal design is now bounded by concepts of accessibility, regulations and disability rights, rather than the intellectual challenges inherent in designing for the whole of the population bell curve. The universal design movement recognizes that making headway is proving difficult and is seeking ways to improve its position. Market research, however, indicates universal design is now branded as a disability product and this has implications for consumers, practitioners, and for the universal design movement in general. Discussed are the influence of terminology on the direction and perceptions of universal design, and the dilemmas of applying a regulatory framework as an implementation strategy.

You can also find the article on ResearchGate

The article was written before the 8 Goals of Universal Design were devised by Steinfeld and Maisel in 2012. These goals have a more practical focus. So is it time for a product recall on the 7 Principles of Universal Design?

The beginnings of the universal design movement are attributed to Ron Mace, a polio survivor who went on to be an architect.