Who was Ron Mace?

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 tieThe name Ron Mace and universal design are usually mentioned in the same sentence. But who is he, and how did he become known as the “Father of Universal Design”? Others, such as Selwyn Goldsmith, had promoted accessible environments before Mace achieved recognition. But it is Mace who is most often acknowledged. 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 how universal design evolved from barrier-free design, a term coined in the 1970s. 

Mace contracted Polio as a child. 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. He helped develop the first accessible building code in the US, which was enacted 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 and polio survivor, went on to gain her PhD in the area of disability identity and family denial of disability in the search for “normality”. Jane Bringolf.

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. The IDeA Center at the University at Buffalo has taken these principles and made them more practical.

The 8 Goals of Universal Design© help practitioners apply UD and measure outcomes. They cover functional, social and emotional dimensions. The Goals can be used as a framework for research, communicating UD and for practical application. The Goals complement the 7 Principles of Universal Design, which still stand as general principles. The IDeA Center was concerned that the principles were based on Western norms. So they added cultural appropriateness to the list. 

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 website has more information and some pictures to help explain.

The 8 Goals of Universal Design in pictures.

The goals were devised by Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012 ©

Universal Design: a diversity of 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 userI’ve expanded my thinking about explaining universal design. Working with diversity is a key element of universal design thinking. So having diverse ways of explaining it seems appropriate. Wikipedia and universal design websites will have many of the standard explanations. But universal design is much more of a continuous conversation where many different words can be utilised in discussions. In common use are “inclusive design”, “design-for-all” and “design for the lifespan”.  But other words and terms might be:

Provocative design: doing things differently, challenging the status quo.

Fragile design: designs that require community agreement to hold them together.

Careful or caring design: taking care to be inclusive in design thinking and processes.

Everyday design: designing more things to be ubiquitous, accepted and normal.

Thoughtful design: the opposite of thoughtless design where some people feel left out.

Empathetic design: similar to careful/caring design and thoughtful design, by putting yourself in the situation of others.

Looking to the future design: looking at how trends are developing and factoring this into designs.

7 senses design: factoring all our senses into designs.

Collaborative design: in some cultures this is a significant part of the design process – without it the product, service or building won’t be used.

Acceptable design: similar to collaborative design, but perhaps some compromises have to be made.

Disruptive design: changing the way things are done, challenging the status quo of designs, using environments or products in new ways.

Intergenerational design: family structures are diverse – recognising that not every family is a nuclear family whether at home or in the community.

Liveable design: being functional for everyone as well as looking good

Universal usability: focusing on how people use things – used mostly in relation to mobile technology, particularly to include older people

Interaction experience: trying to pull together usability, user experience and accessibility under one umbrella – relates mostly to ergonomics

Perhaps we should be using many different words in different situations to suit the understanding and perspective of different individuals?

However, in keeping with the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disability and the WHO Age Friendly Cities and Communities program, I believe we should retain ‘universal design’ as a generic term as this is understood internationally as a concept for physical, social, economic and cultural inclusion.

Download the one page Word version or one page PDF version for reference.

As an aside to this list, academia seems keen on adding yet more terms to support their approach to what is essentially the same thing – wanting to be more inclusive with designs. Do we really need any more terms? 

Jane Bringolf, Editor

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. 

 

10 Things to know about Universal Design

The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has developed a comprehensive list that covers all the myths and misinformation about the purpose of universal design. Briefly, the ten things to know about universal design are:

    1. Universal Design strives to improve the original design concept by making it more inclusive
    2. Universally Designed products can have a high aesthetic value
    3. Universal Design is much more than just a new design trend
    4. Universal Design does not aim to replace the design of products targeted at specific markets
    5. Universal Design is not another name for compliance with accessible design standards
    6. Universal Design benefits more people than older people and people with disabilities
    7. Universal Design can be undertaken by any designer, not just specialists
    8. Universal Design should be integrated throughout the design process
    9. Universal Design is not just about ‘one size fits all’
    10. A Universally Designed product is the goal: Universal Design is the process

See more detail about 10 Things to know about Universal Design

7 Principles of universal design

ron_maceThe seven principles of universal design were devised in the mid nineties, but still hold today. They are a good starting point or framework for thinking about the design of any building, open space, product, phone app, or document. They were developed by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers led by the late Ron Mace (pictured).

A fuller explanation of the principles can be found on the website of the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland. Briefly the principles 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

An update to this list was published in 2012 by Steinfeld and Maisel as the 8 Goals of Universal Design. They are more action based than the principles, and include cultural inclusion. Universal Design is about accepting and celebrating diversity, so there are many ways in which to explain universal design. This list gives a good idea of what it is about – the underpinning philosophy.

In 2006 Steinfeld and Danford also ‘crosswalked’ the principles to the ICF – a handy reference for academics utilising the ICF for activities and participation. Or you can download a copy of the slideshow.

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.