The concepts of inclusive design and universal design are often presented from a disability perspective. However, the concepts have evolved in the last 50 years to embrace the breadth of human diversity. For the record, universal design and inclusive design have the same goal – they are not different ideas. Nevertheless, they do have their roots in different places. For those new to the concepts, an historical context is helpful in understanding inclusive design in the 2020s.
A recent paper takes a “design for disability” approach to the history of inclusive design. It also claims there is little written on this topic. This might be the case in academia, but much has been written elsewhere. The authors present a timeline for the evolution of inclusive design, but it’s purpose is not entirely clear.
The title of the paper is, The Evolution of Inclusive Design; A First Timeline Review of Narratives and Milestones of Design for Disability. Note the assignation of disability throughout the article and the use of a proper noun rather than the verb form. It raises the question of whether the authors consider inclusive design to be disability design or truly inclusive design.
This is one of many papers still talking about the concept itself but this will not aid implementation in the real world. While we are looking at history, and arguing over terminology, we are not looking at those who have the power to include. We have to take it from the minds of academics to the minds of practitioners and vice versa.
The interconnectedness of historical events means there is no one fixed starting point. Instead it is a process still going on today. The idea of co-design is introduced, but whether we need more research is a moot point. But we could do with research into co-design and action-based learning in this context.
Anyone interested in the field of universal design and inclusive practice will find the article interesting. It discusses the evolution of concepts and narratives. The article comes from the UK hence the use of the term “inclusive” design.
Editor’s comment: Do we have to keep talking and mulling intellectually over this word or that, or this narrative or that? We need research into why we don’t have inclusive designs throughout society. Navel-gazing the issue is not spreading the word. We already have enough research on body shapes and sizes and cognitive and sensory conditions, for example.