Principles of inclusive design

Front cover of booklet on principles of inclusive design.Universal design is diverse in its terminology and explanations. In the UK, the term “inclusive design” is used more often that universal design.

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  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 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

Are UD and ID rivals?

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 userFrom the Editor: This week I came across an article by John Harding who writes about rivalry between universal design and inclusive design. While I have encountered people who believe there are nuanced differences, I cannot agree that the concepts are rivals, academically or otherwise. A rivalry point of view is contrary to the work of advocacy groups striving for more inclusive societies. Indeed, “universal design” is cited in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability as the means by which to create inclusion. It is also cited by WHO guidelines for age-friendly cities.

Harding, in his dense academic paper, appears to base his argument on universal design being about the “widest range of users”, whereas inclusive design is about “offering everyone access”.  He then goes on to claim that universal design is “first generation” and inclusive design is “next generation”. 

Using a study of transportation in UK, Harding proposes that the “rivalry” between UD and ID hasn’t helped the cause for inclusion. I believe the barriers to inclusion are far more complex than terminology. However, terminology is very important to academics if they want to compare their work. 

Whether you use universal or inclusive, the aim is to cater to diversity, and that includes diverse ways of explaining universal/inclusive design for an inclusive world. Most academics use the terms interchangeably and include “Design for All”.

The paper is open access on ResearchGate. Have a look and see what you think. The title of the paper is “Agent based modelling to probe inclusive transport building design in practice”. 

It should be noted that John Harding is based in the UK where they have stuck by the “inclusive design” term throughout, whereas Europe has favoured Design for All, and most other countries have followed the UN Convention and use universal design. Most academics recognise the convergence of concepts rather than rivalry.

Jane Bringolf

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 things. A quotable quote on universal design.There are many definitions and explanations of universal/inclusive design. But sometimes the concept is expressed better by the way people talk about it. Here are some quotable quotes on universal design.

The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA) located at the University at Buffalo has a banner. 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. 

The website of Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA) explains:

“In simple terms, design thinking is about recognizing the designer’s methods for connecting the user’s needs with what is technologically possible and which provides a real market value. 

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.

Apple is well-known for making their products really easy to use. Here is a quote from Steve Jobs:

“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

The signboard say, Diversity is a fact, Equity is a choice, Inclusion is an action Belonging is an outcome.

The text in the sign by Arthur Chan says:

Diversity is a fact.

Equity is a choice.

Inclusion is an action.

Belonging is an outcome.

All are part of a universal design approach.

From the Editor: I met Judith Heumann on a study tour when she was disability advisor to The World Bank in 2004. She said to me,

“There are only two kinds of people in the world: people with disability and people yet to have a disability.” 

She also said that it is easier to change the design of the environment than it is to change attitudes and that’s why universal design is important. 

Judith’s TEDx talk is worth a look. It reminds us how she was treated at school as a wheelchair user and how she became a disability advocate.

Overheard at a workshop:

“So if you design for the extremes you include the middle”

8 Goals of Universal Design

The 7 Principles of Universal Design are well known in the universal design world. They’ve been used as a guide for many years by design professionals and academics. The IDEA Center at the University at Buffalo took these principles and made them more practical. The 8 Goals of Universal Design are the result.

The 8 Goals help practitioners apply universal design and measure outcomes. They cover functional, social and emotional dimensions. 

To find out more about universal design see our free short online course, Introduction to Universal Design.

Slide from the video 8 Goals of Universal Design.
Screenshot from the video below

Briefly, the 8 Goals are:

  1. Body Fit
  2. Comfort
  3. Awareness
  4. Understanding
  5. Wellness
  6. Social integration
  7. Personalization
  8. Cultural appropriateness

The IDEA Center was concerned that the principles were based on Western norms. So they added cultural appropriateness to the list. The 8 Goals can be grouped into three categories: 

Human performance
Body fit
Comfort
Awareness
Understanding
Wellness

is the bridge between
them as it addresses both
Social participation
Social integration
Personalisation
Cultural appropriateness

Sarah Davidson gives an introduction to the 8 Goals of Universal Design in the 3 minute video below. 

Adapt the words to suit

The wording of these goals can be adapted to suit different design contexts. For example, the Everyone Can Play guide adapted the goals to suit the play context:

  • Find: Communicate the purpose and location of play elements and facilities
  • Fit: Provide a range of play opportunities for people of all abilities and sizes.
  • Choose: Enable exciting individual experiences and social interaction.
  • Join In: Create opportunities for everyone to connect.
  • Thrive: Challenge and involve people of all capabilities.
  • Belong; Create a place that’s welcoming and comfortable.

The 8 Goals offer a framework for practical application, research, and for communicating universal design. They complement the 7 Principles of Universal Design, which still stand as general principles. 

The IDeA Center website has more information and some pictures to help explain. Ed Steinfeld and Jordana Maisel devised the Goals in 2012.

The2020’s have seen a significant shift to the inclusion of users in the design process and co-design methods.

Try out our free online course, Introduction to Universal Design.

Universal design is evolving

The 7 Principles of Universal Design were devised in the 1990s. Steinfeld and Maisel moved us on with the 8 Goals in 2012. In the 2020s co-design is now considered the way to implement universal design. It moves designers on from the checklist approach they use with the 7 Principles.

The term co-design is being used more frequently, but what does co-design mean and how does it work? Well, that depends on the context. It could mean a design group working together. Nothing difficult about that concept. Or it could mean involving end users in the design process. This is where it gets more tricky and more questions arise.

At what point do you involve users? Which users do you involve? Will the users have the required knowledge and experience to contribute constructively? Will designers have the skills to be inclusive and listen to users? Participatory action research incorporates both designer and user learning. But these projects are necessarily long and usually have research funding attached. However, they usually produce knowledge and results useful in other settings. 

Some history

black and white photo of Ron Mace. He is wearing glasses and has a beard. He is wearing a light coloured shirt and a dark neck tie

The name Ron Mace is sometimes referred to as the “Father of Universal Design”?

Mace’s last presentation just before his death in 1998 was at the first International Conference on Universal Design. It gives some insights into his thinking and the evolution from barrier-free to universal design.

Mace contracted Polio as a child, and as a wheelchair user he encountered many barriers to studying at university. Nevertheless, he achieved his aim and became an architect. After practising conventionally for a short time, he became a leader in accessible architecture.

In the US, Mace contributed to the first accessible building code which was adopted by North Carolina. This led to other policy and legislative changes, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In 1989 he set up the Center for Accessible Housing, which became the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

Editor’s note: I was fortunate to meet Ron Mace’s partner, Joy Weeber, on my Churchill Fellowship study tour in 2004. She showed me the video of an interview he gave two days before he died. It helped me understand the history and the passion behind the cause for universal design. Joy, a passionate disability activist gained her PhD in the area of disability identity and family denial of disability in the search for “normality”. Jane Bringolf.

Principles of universal design in practice

Promoting 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? 

In his article, Arat says designing to the principles of universal design is the answer.  The title of the paper is Spatial Requirements for Elderly and Disabled People in the Frame of Universal Design.

Everyone needs universal design

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 difficult for people who have heard of accessibility, but not universal design. An article from the US, 5 Problems with Accessibility (And How Universal Design Fixes Them)” lists five points: 

    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.  

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

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.  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.

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. Creating inclusion for everyone.I wrote an article for Inner Sydney Voice Magazine that gives an overview of universal design, what it means, and some of the myths that are often applied to it. The article will interest those 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 title is, Universal Design: Creating inclusion for everyone.

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 remains 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

7 Principles of Universal Design

Ron Mace sits at a drawing board in his power wheelchair. He is wearing a white shirt and a dark tie.
Ron Mace at work

A group of architects, product designers and engineers devised the 7 Principles of Universal Design in the mid nineties. The late Ron Mace led this team and is often referred to as the “father of universal design”. The 7 principles are a good starting point for thinking about design from an inclusive perspective. They can apply to any building, open space, service, product, phone app, website or document.  Briefly they are:

      1. Equitable Use
      2. Flexibility in Use
      3. Simple and Intuitive to Use
      4. Perceptible Information
      5. Tolerance for Error
      6. Low Physical Effort
      7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Access to the built environment was a relatively new idea in the 1990s. It was soon realised that access for wheelchair users was good for everyone. It’s a universal good. Hence the the term “universal design”.

It is more than buildings

Although the original focus was on buildings, access and inclusion in all areas of life have evolved within the universal design movement. However, many still believe universal design is only about the built environment. Others believe universal design is a one-size-fits-all approach which means designers cannot be creative. Indeed, it requires a good deal of thought and creativity. 

There is one other important misconception and that is, universal design is about access standards. Building, product and web standards are about compliance. Universal design is about creative designs that include compliance to relative standards. 

The concept of universal design is applicable to anything that is designed. That includes basic things such as the layout and readability of a Word document. 

Some disability advocates argue that to make everything inclusive for everyone will make people with disability invisible. This is not the case because it does not make other groups invisible on the basis of gender, background or age. 

Further reading

Steinfeld and Maisel devised an update to the 7 principles of universal design in 2012. The 8 Goals of Universal Design are more action based than the principles, and include cultural inclusion. 

In 2006 Steinfeld and Danford also ‘cross-walked’ the principles to the ICF.  This is a handy reference for academics utilising the ICF for activities and participation. You can download a copy of their slideshow.

To help policy makers, CUDA has devised a generic Universal Design Position Statement. 

Evolution of Universal Design

The term universal design evolved from the barrier-free movement in the 1960s and 1970s. It was realised that designs for wheelchair users were good for everyone – hence they are universal. 

Universal design has itself gone through many iterations. It is no longer just about access to buildings, but access to anything and everything for everyone. 

The latest thinking and practice is co-designing with users – a really iterative design process that shares the design power between users and designers.

Jane Bringolf briefly explained the evolution of universal design in a keynote presentation for the Melbourne Design Week 2022. 

 

Universal Design Guidance and the ICF

icfThe 7 Principles of Universal Design emerged from the built environment, but things have moved on since the 1990s. The 8 Goals of Universal Design were devised to be more practical. They emerged out of work carried out to link the concepts  with the World Health Organisation’s, International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).

For anyone interested in ICF related research, Universal Design Guidance and the ICF demonstrates how universal design can be applied to develop design guidance standards. It uses a set of linking rules together with related classifications to represent the interaction of human functions, activities, and environmental factors. 

See also a slideshare of Steinfeld and Danford’s crosswalk of UD principles with the ICF. It shows the process they went through to translate the 7 Principles of Universal Design to the 8 Goals of Universal Design, as well as relating them to universal design and the ICF.  All other references have been removed except a review of the ICF conference which includes Ed and Scott’s paper.

Universal Design: Is it Accessible?

A blank sheet of paper with an eraser, two pencils and a light globe. Universal Design, is it accessible?This opinion piece, Universal Design: Is it Accessible? critiques the 7 Principles of Universal Design. Several aspects of universal design are questioned including the terminology and inherent difficulties in understanding the concepts. Jane Bringolf argues that the 7 Principles of Universal Design are not themselves universally designed. 

The article was published by Multi:The RIT Journal of Plurality and Diversity in Design. It is also available on ResearchGate

The article was written in 2008 before the 8 Goals of Universal Design were devised by Steinfeld and Maisel in 2012. These goals have a more practical focus. More recently, the concept of universal design has evolved to embrace diversity and inclusion in their broadest sense.

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

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. Consequently, universal design is 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 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.

 

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