Historical context of inclusive design

Every type and size of gloves and mittens displayed in rows. Historical context of inclusive design.
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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.

Key point

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.

 

Learning about the goals of universal design

logo for IDEA center at Buffalo. Universal Design.In 2012, the IDEA Center at the University at Buffalo updated the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design. Based on research they expressed them as measurable outcomes, goals, rather than principles. They also introduced new concepts such as health and wellbeing and cultural inclusion. Hence, the 8 Goals of Universal Design.  

More recently, they produced a video lecture that explains the 8 goals in more detail. The video comes with a full transcript, some of which is shown below. Note that it’s common in some countries for universal design to be shortened to ‘UD’. CUDA prefers to express universal design in lower case so that it is easier to think of universal design as a process rather than a thing. 

https://youtu.be/nBGfGVMDSwE

From the transcript:

Edward Steinfeld and Jordana Maisel of the IDEA Center researched and devised the 8 goals. They describe it as a design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation. UD reduces stigma and provides benefits for all users.

So, where did universal design come from? Well over the last 40+ years, significant efforts have been made to increase inclusivity and accessibility in the built environment through legislation.

Although accessibility laws have helped, UD aims to go further to better support the needs of all people. The goals of universal design were built on the foundation of the 7 Principles of Universal Design.

Universal design and accessibility are different concepts and are often confused. Universal design goes beyond the minimal requirements of accessibility and aims to address the needs of more diverse stakeholders.

 Accessibility implies compliance with minimum codes and other standards while universal design aims to achieve access for all by eliminating barriers.

The IDEA Center expanded the conceptual framework of universal design to go beyond usability to include social participation and health and wellness. The eight goals are grounded in research and expressed as measurable outcomes.

They include four goals oriented to human performance, each focusing on one of the four areas of knowledge, including: anthropometry, biomechanics, perception, and cognition. Three other goals address social participation outcomes.

Wellness, and goal number 5, is the bridge that addresses both human performance and social participation.

The video explains the 8 goals in more detail with examples and concludes with an introduction to a certification program, isUD. 

Universal design concepts have continued to evolve and co-design processes are now emerging as the method for creating designs for all. 

The world comfortable for all

Drawings of 12 different people indicating population diversity. It is a screenshot of the video- the world comfortable for allThere are never too many ways to explain universal design. Different people understand it in different ways. So here is another to add to the collection. Made in Ukraine with English subtitles, it explains the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design in simple terms. The message is that universal design makes the world comfortable for all. 

The video covers people at home, in public transport, in the street, at an airport, at a computer, at the entrance door and in the parking space. “Universal Design is the design of anything (city, service, thing) to make the experience of using it comfortable for anyone”.

A great little video for anyone new to universal design, or for others wanting to share their understanding. It’s 2 minutes long and great for education purposes. 

The  United Nations supported the making of the video. It was created in the framework of the joint Programme “Promoting Mainstream Policies and Services for People with Disabilities in Ukraine”. 

Universal design – the design of everything

Head and shoulders of Meaghan Walls wearing a red top.
Meaghan Walls

The term ‘universal design’ has its early roots in the built environment, but it is so much more now. Meaghan Walls talks about how she came to the universal design concept in a podcast. She explains how universal design is now the design of everything.

The podcast is one of series by The Universal Design Project.  Meaghan Walls explains how she was first introduced to the concept during her master’s degree. She came to realize that it covered more than objects;

“universal design could be applied to all aspects of our community from services to programs, to processes and businesses. And that kind of blew my mind. And I realised you could take that common thread through all aspects of our engagement with the community.”

Logo for Good Fit Poor Fit podcast by The Universal Design Project.Some nice points made in this 12 minute podcast that comes with a transcript. Walls discusses showers, invisible hinges, swing-away hinges, language, wayfinding and much more.

 

 

Inclusive design is about desirability

Graphic with four vertical bars. From left Product Design, Interface Design, Experience Service, System Design.Inclusive design is about desirability.  Accessibility is part of it – useability for everyone. The concept of inclusive design in UK had a focus on product design, but it has moved on – evolved. A short film, Evolving Inclusive Design explains how the concept has evolved from product design to web design, to service design and then to system design.  

In the video Hua Dong emphasizes that inclusive design is important for everyone. She says: “As designers, we can design with people for people, design with disability for ability, design with old people for young people and design with diversity for unity.”

Hua Dong explains the concepts in a straightforward way in the film. In the earlier years the focus was on user capabilities. It then moved to an interactive focus and design became about the process of using things. User diversity introduces concepts of user experience. The video is 14 minutes but worth the watch. It’s captioned which means you can watch it at an increased speed and still read the captions. 

Although there is a particular focus on product and service design, many points can be transferred to the work with architecture.

The video is a great resource for design students and people new to the concepts. 

Inclusive design and universal design the same goals. However, there are some who would argue nuanced differences because they come from different histories. Regardless, we need to get on with the job rather than debating terminology. Besides, if universal/inclusive/design-for-all is also about diversity, we can have diverse ways of expressing the conceptThe key is to design for the diversity of the population.

 

What is universal design?

Slide at a universal design conference with the words, good design enables. Bad design disables. That is what universal design is.Universal design is understood internationally as a means of achieving an inclusive society. It is a simple idea. Why not design for the most number of people who can use a product, place, building, service or website? But is it actually that simple?

Several myths have arisen in the last 50 years since the term was coined. The term Universal Design is recognised internationally, but there are others including, Inclusive Design, Design-for-All, Human Centred Design, Accessible Design.

For easy reference here is a list of past posts and resources on universal design.

Resources for universal design

10 Things to know about Universal Design lists key benefits and dispels myths

Universal Design: Creating inclusion for everyone is a magazine article

Meet the Normals: Adventures in Universal Design, and Universally Designed Digital Life are two videos explaining the concepts well.

Victorian Health and Human Services Building Authority promotes universal design in public buildings. 

Diversity of Explanations of UD lists some of the everyday words that can be used to help explain. UD is about diversity so why not have a diversity of explanations.

8 Goals of Universal Design express the principles in a practical way. Easily adapted to any context by using terms and language that suit.

7 Principles of Universal Design are often quoted, but not always the best explanation for people new to the topic. 

Principles of Inclusive Design by the Commission for Architecture and Built Environment (CABE) in UK. 

Hobsons Bay Universal Design Policy is a very useful example of how to devise a policy for an inclusive community. 

Digital and web accessibility have their own section on this website. 

Library building with wide level paved pathway to the entrance. Picture taken in Berrigan NSW.“UD is an increasingly important feature of nation states seeking to develop a fairer society for people unable to access and use, with ease, the designed environment. It is based on the premise that the design of products and environments ought to ‘be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design’ (Mace, 1988: 1).” (From Universalising Design website which also has more information on universal design in homes.) 

Inclusive – Universal Debate

A man in a checked shirt and wearing a beard looks as if he is talking while pointing his finger at someone.The academic debate about nuanced differences between universal design and inclusive design continue. But to what purpose? However, it is useful to know where this began and why it continues. The Inclusive Design Research Centre in Canada explains:

“We have defined Inclusive Design as: design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.”

Is this not the same as universal design? It all depends on your perspective and whether you care about semantics or just getting the job done.

Universal design vs inclusive design

Professor Jutta Treviranus has a particular view about the differences. She founded the Inclusive Design Research Centre in 1993 in Canada. It was previously known as the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre. The Center for Universal Design was also established in North Carolina around this time. Due to its origins in adaptive technology, the emphasis began with information and communication technology. 

The Inclusive Design Research Centre website has a page spelling out their position. In a nutshell they explain why they use the term “inclusive”:

“While Universal Design is about creating a common design that works for everyone, we have the freedom to create a design system that can adapt, morph, or stretch to address each design need presented by each individual.”

They agree that the goals are the same – inclusion. However, they say the context is different because they come from different origins. Universal design from the built environment, and inclusive design from digital technology. They also claim that universal design is about people with disabilities and that the design methods are different.

Followers of universal design would no doubt take issue with phrases such as “one size fits all” and that it seeks only one solution to creating inclusion. The Center for Universal Design chose the term “universal” because they could see that all people could benefit from designs that included people with disability.

Academia continues to discuss nuances when there is so much real work to be done. We need more research on finding out why we still don’t have more inclusive/universal design in practice. The chart below provides an overview of the relationship between inclusive design elements. However, the 8 Goals of Universal Design are probably more practical and instructive. 

A chart showing the relationship between aspects of inclusive design.

 

7 Principles of UD: A builder’s view

Mike Holmes stands in work gear with his muscled arms folded, smiling at the camera. A builder's view of UD.Followers of universal design are familiar with the 7 principles of universal design. They were formulated in the 1990s and are still referenced today. It’s interesting to see how different people interpret these  principles. So it was good to see how a builder does it. 

Mike Holmes’ article begins with issues of everyday home maintenance and then applies it to the maintenance of our lives within the home. That is, the home should be design so that it adapts as our lives change. Holmes takes each of the 7 principles and gives practical examples of what it means to him. 

The article is in an online magazine, Make it Right. Thanks to Lifemark for the find. Lifemark also have a website with some useful tips for home design.     

 

UD, ID, DfA, UX, UA: A terminology muddle

A hand holding a coloured pen is poised over a green post it note. There are drawings on the table and a smartphone. It indicates UX design.  UD, ID, DfA, UX, UA muddle.The aims of universal design (UD), inclusive design (ID), design for all (DfA), user experience (UX) and universal accessibility (UA), are basically the same – inclusion. So why should we have a terminology muddle? Most designers and practitioners who understand the underpinning principle of inclusion, say it’s not a big deal.  But shouldn’t the key issue be about implementation rather than discussing the nuances of terms? Even if we had one term, would that alter designer and practitioner attitudes towards inclusion?

Nevertheless, researchers find it frustrating not having one term to cover the concepts. That’s because it makes it difficult to know if people are talking about the same thing when sharing research findings. The debate among academics has resulted in many papers on this topic. Some putting forth arguments that they are all different things. Others lamenting the problems of not having a consistent terminology. A few delve into philosophical arguments.

A paper from 2014 is still relevant today because the arguments are still current. This paper discusses historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. It’s a long paper, probably best suited to academics. It covers just about every aspect of the issues. It also draws in the ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) and international standards which is quite useful. 

The title of the paper downloadable from ResearchGate says it all, Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects.

Editor’s Note: I also wrote on the topic of terminology in relation to housing design, Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? 

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.

Meet the Normals: Adventures in Universal Design

Stick figures represent the family members. The video is in black and white. This is one frame from Meet the Normals, Adventures in Universal Design.
Meet the Normals

Having trouble convincing others that universal design is for everyone and not ‘disabled’ design? Meet the Normals is a 6 minute video that takes you through an everyday family activity.

It shows the family leaving the house and catching a bus. It goes through the process of how to design for everyone. “For many of us we don’t think twice about how we use technology, travel, move in and out of buildings or use the web…” The video explains how universal design is good design for everyone.

The video was produced by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland. A good example of both closed captions and audio descriptions.