Principles of inclusive design

page from the booklet with the explanation of how developments will turnout if inclusive design principles are used.Universal design is diverse in its terminology and explanations. Those who prefer “inclusive” design will also have their take on this. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) describes inclusive design as: 

“Inclusive design is about making places everyone can use. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently. Inclusive design is everyone’s responsibility. That means everyone in the design and construction process”. CABE has a booklet explaining each of the principles of inclusive design in more detail and with photos:

1. Inclusive design places people at the heart of the design process.
2. Inclusive design acknowledges diversity and difference.
3. Inclusive design offers choice where a single design solution cannot accommodate all users
4. Inclusive design provides for flexibility in use.
5. Inclusive design provides buildings and environments that are convenient and enjoyable to use for everyone

CABE says, if the principles are applied, developments will be:

Inclusive so everyone can use them safely, easily and with dignity.
Responsive taking account of what people say they need and want.
Flexible so different people can use them in different ways.
Convenient so everyone can use them without too much effort or separation.
Accommodating for all people, regardless of their age, gender, mobility,
ethnicity or circumstances.
Welcoming with no disabling barriers that might exclude some people.
Realistic offering more than one solution to help balance everyone’s needs
and recognising that one solution may not work for all.

At the heart of all explanations is the quest for inclusion – to include as many people as possible in every design. The list above has similarities with the classic 7 principles of universal design and the 8 goalsBarclays Bank also has a set of principles for inclusive design for the digital world

Quotable quotes on universal design

Wall banner saying The essence of universal design lies in its ability to create beauty and mediate extremes without destroying differences in places, experiences and thingsUnfortunately the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture has deleted their page on quotable quotes. There are other resources on their site including case studies and tools. 

“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. 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. 

Slide at a conference with the words, good design enable. Bad design disables.The universal design conference held in Dublin 2018 began with the words, “Good Design Enables. Bad Design Disables. The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design has a good, but wordy description of universal design.

Accessible, universal, inclusive: which name to use?

Pictograms of people and access symbolsWhich name or label to use when talking accessible, universal and inclusive in design? Is it just semantics? Maybe. But they are intertwined and in the context of ICT and websites it might make a difference to some designers.

The question is addressed in an article on the Adobe Blog site. Matt May writes that “Accessibility is the goal to ensure that products support each individual user’s needs and preferences. Universal design is for everyone, literally, and inclusive design expands with your audience as new design ideas emerge. He cites the definition of inclusive design from the Inclusive Design Research Centre in Toronto:, “…design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference”. Isn’t this how universal design is explained? Better to accept that universal design is about diversity and therefore we can expect a diversity of explanations. As long as the aim is for social and economic inclusion for all then the meaning is in the doing and the outcomes.

It’s worth noting that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities uses the term “Universal Design” and interprets it as an iterative approach to achieving equity and inclusion. The Sustainable Development Goals have concepts of inclusion embedded and cite universal design.

5 Accessibility problems solved with UD

A suburban house in UK. The ramp makes several zig-zags up the front of the house. It looks ugly.Explaining that universal design is more than accessibility is sometimes difficult for people who have heard of accessibility, but not universal design. A neat article from the US lists five points to help. Briefly listed below are the five points for solving accessibility problems:

  1. Accessibility is not always inclusive. Steps plus a ramp to a building means some people have to take a different route to get in.
  2. Accessibility puts burden on the individual. More planning is needed for every trip, even to a restaurant – not to make a reservation – but to find out if you can get in.
  3. Separate accessible features are not equal. Sometimes they create extra hurdles and more effort.
  4. Accessibility provides limited solutions to a broad problem. This is because it is often an “add-on”. 
  5. Accessibility is not designed with style in mind. It is usually just designed to just serve a purpose.  

The title of the blog article is, “5 Problems with Accessibility (And How Universal Design Fixes Them)“.

Note: the picture of the house with the ramp shows four out of the five points. Different route, separate, limited solution, no style. 

Principles of universal design in practice

The seven principles in basic form in a listPromoting the classic seven principles of universal design is all very well, but how do they materialise in practice? Designing on the basis of the average person can limit the quality of life for some people. So what are the key design criteria for the built environment? A study was carried out to find out the answer to this question. 

In his summary, Arat says designing to the principles of universal design is the answer.  The detailed needs of individuals can be accommodated more easily if the spatial requirements are considered at the beginning of the design phase. The title of the paper is Spatial Requirements for Elderly and Disabled People in the Frame of Universal Design.

Everyone needs universal design

For an even more practical approach from an individual’s perspective, Lifemark in New Zealand has a practical blog post.

A chrome lever door handle with the door ajar. The door is timberIt’s about how everyone needs universal design so that everyday tasks could be more convenient for everyone.  

“Universal Design can help you during every moment of your life without you even realising it. Here are a few examples: 

  • Your wide garage will make getting the kids, car seats and buggy in and out of the car easy and risk free – no paint scratches on the walls from opened car doors.
  •  You will be able to open any doors even if both of your hands are full, because of your easy to operate lever door handles. 
  • If your hands are dirty, you’ll still be able to use the lever tap without making a mess. 
  • Plugging in the vacuum cleaner won’t strain your back because the power socket is higher up the wall. 
  • You will access your kitchen utensils/crockery because none of the drawers will be too high or too low and you’ll be able to open every drawer with one little push of your hand/knee.

See Lifemark website for the full blog post.

What’s it called? Terminology and universal design

Picture of the back of a house that is being built. The ground is just dirt. Overlaid are words in different colours: Adaptable, Universal, Visitable, Usable, Accessible, Disabled, FlexibleUniversal, 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.

Universal Design: Creating inclusion for everyone

A mid grey doormat viewed from above with the word welcome in blue. At the bottom of the picture you can see the tops of a pair of red and white sneakers.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. In a nutshell, it is about creating inclusion for everyone, everywhere.

The article discusses the differences between accessible, adaptable and universal design, housing and the public domain. Sustainability and healthy built environments are also discussed. The article is still relevant as progress towards inclusive environments is still evolving. 

logo banner for introduction to universal design.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

Myth busting universal design

First slide with Myth 1 showing a money tree saying inclusive design is expensiveLooking 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.

From the pixel to the city

A greyscale picture of Earth with raised areas symbolising citiesWhether it’s a website or app, or a building or city, inclusive design principles can be applied. Inclusive Design: from the pixel to the city features conversations with leading designers creating the next generation of products, graphics and vehicles designed to work better for everyone.

The article includes a video of designers’ comments, using animated drawings with voice overs. This adds an interesting perspective to the topic of why we need to make everything inclusive – whether its about pixels or cities. It also shows that creativity need not be curtailed in designing information formats. The article also shows how the graphics for the video were created. The video has closed captions. 

UD Goals, Principles and Explanations

a series of black icons on white background depicting people of all shapes and sizes, including a baby in a stroller, a person with a can and a wheelchair userThe seven Principles of Universal Design are often quoted and used in both academic and practical publications.

The 8 Goals of Universal Design build on the 7 Principles to make them more practical.

Universal Design is about accepting and celebrating diversity. So there are many ways to explain universal design. 

This short video about universal design is powerful in its simplicity. One of the best explanations around. Great for introducing the idea of inclusion and universal design to newcomers. A good example of a universally designed video and universally designed explanation as well.