Universal Design, Architects and CPD

young people sit at a table which has a large sheet of paper and writing implements. They appear to be discussing something.Taking a universal design approach to architectural practice requires a change in attitudes in architectural education. Continuing professional development (CPD) is one way to achieve this. A joint project by the University of Limerick and the IDeA Center at Buffalo resulted in some recommendations and guidelines to help.

Recommendations were derived from engagement with Irish and international professionals, educators and client bodies. A key finding was the need for new CPD in universal design that goes beyond regulations. It can have a broader value by providing information and resources to assist more creative and inclusive designs. 

The title of the article is, A Review of Universal Design in Professional Architectural Education: Recommendations and Guidelines“. The article is open access.

From the abstract

There is a growing understanding of the widespread societal benefits of a universal design (UD). To achieve these benefits, architectural professionals must have the knowledge and skills to implement UD in practice. This paper investigates UD in the context of recent architectural education. It traces changing attitudes in the culture of architectural education, and the evolving perception of UD as an important aspect of architectural practice. Specifically, continuous professional development (CPD) can advance knowledge of UD within a human-centred design paradigm.

Architecture students’ attitudes to universal design

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilThe attitudes of architecture students to universal design is the focus of a Deakin University study. It builds on previous work (Design 4 Diversity) in 2010 on inter-professional learning for architecture and occupational therapy students. The findings of this latest study show that while architecture students viewed access to public environments favourably, there was a mixed response in relation to private homes.

Reasons not to include universal design features in homes included cost, client desires and restrictions on creativity. For example, “Legislation restricts design, resulting in negative impacts the ‘requirements’ did not intend”. These reasons are not referenced in evidence and indicate an attitudinal bias.

The study used a quantitative approach and applied statistical techniques to the data. The first part of the document covers the history of universal design, and there is an extended section on methods and statistics. For followers of UD, the Discussion section is of most interest. 

The authors of Students’ Attitudes to Universal Design in Architecture Education, are Helen Larkin, Kelsey Dell, and Danielle Hitch. Journal of Social Inclusion, 2016.

Similar papers

See also Hitch, Dell and Larkin from Deakin University, who also review some of the related literature. The title of the article is, Does Universal Design Education Impact on the Attitudes of Architecture Students Towards People with Disability? Published in the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo presented their research on the incorporation or otherwise of universal design in architectural education at the 3rd International Conference on Design Education Researchers. “Universal Design in Architectural Education: A U.S. Study” was published in The Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference for Design Education Research Vol 2, which has many other articles on the topic of design education.

 

Understanding universal design in architecture

The building sector in Denmark is transitioning towards a universal design approach. But it has not yet found its way into architectural practice. Legislation and access codes remain the dominant features of design. Two researchers sought answers from young professionals who understand universal design in architecture. The aim was to see if the ideas are beginning to embed themselves in architectural practice.

A person in a powered wheelchair riding along the footpath.

“It is not just about ramps, handrails, and lifts. It is also about organising buildings and outdoor space. It is about showing consideration for those people who are somehow challenged in their physical capability or have cognitive challenges that make it difficult to obtain a good everyday life at work, in school or in day care.”

Quote from survey participant

The researchers surveyed “Frontrunners” – young professionals with an interest in universal design and those who are expected to be on the front line of professional development. They found the frontrunners understood universal design in five ways:

1. Universal design is a driver of social sustainability – they work together.

2. The need to bring design thinking and focus back to the human body and scale.

3. Implementing universal design means going beyond tacked on ramps, and compliance to legislation.

4. Integrating universal design in both the process and the solutions from the perspective of equality. Designers’ need an inclusive mindset so that some are not labelled as “special needs”.

5. Involving minorities in urban planning processes thereby giving them a voice because it’s more than physical access.

The researchers found there was a genuine attempt to mainstream universal design into practice. Their paper discusses these five discourses emerging from their research. The title of the paper is Frontrunners” Understanding Universal Design in Architecture.

The researchers found that overall, participants understood that universal design accommodates human diversity, and should be integrated into the process from the outset.

Their paper was presented at the 6th International Universal Design Conference held 7-9 September 2022 in Brescia, Italy. All papers are open access.

The developing definition of universal design

What does universal design mean in the 21st century? Universal design concepts have evolved from barrier-free design for wheelchair users to inclusion for all people. Diversity, equity and inclusion are the key words now. But how many designers have moved with the times and how many think they are access standards?

A large board table and chairs in a modern looking room. The changing definition of universal design.How much do interior designers understand about universal design? In the context of designer education, this is an important question. So what do interior design educators understand universal design to be? A study from the State University of New York found there was a good general understanding. However, compliance to access standards was also thought to be universal design.

Researcher, Eric Dolph, provides an historical context to show how the definition of universal design has evolved from designer responsibility to a values-based and human centred approach to design. That is, from the design of things, to a design process. 

Designers’ thoughts on universal design

In his study, Dolph gave four definitions of universal design to interior design educators. The aim was to see which ones were understood as universal design. The definitions were: 

1.  Inclusive design is socially focused and grounded in democratic values of non-discrimination, equal opportunity, and personal empowerment. (Tauke 2008)

2.  The design of interior and exterior environments to meet prescribed requirements for people with disabilities. (United States Department of Justice, 2010)

3. The design of products, information, environments, and systems to be usable to the greatest extend possible by people of all ages and abilities. (Mace et al., 1991)

4. A design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, heath and wellness, and social participation. (Steinfeld & Maisel, 2012)

Definition 2 was a foil as it is a statement about minimum access rather than universal design. It generated a mixed response with educators recognising the definition as universal design. 

Definition 3 was the most recognised. Given this is the most quoted definition in the literature and in guidelines, the result is not surprising. 

The is article titled, The developing definition of universal design, and it has more detail on the survey responses.

From the Abstract

A review of scholarly work indicates a shift in the definition of universal design. Originally, the focus was placed on physical access to the built environment. This has developed to a more contemporary vision that addresses issues of social justice. This has significant implications for those teaching universal design.

In 2018, educators teaching in interior design programs were surveyed about the infusion of universal design content within their curricula.

Responses revealed a generally high level of understanding regarding the definition of universal design. This article presents the survey results of interior design educators’ perceptions of the four definitions. 

Historical context of universal design

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

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 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. 

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.

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. 

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.

Inclusive Design Canvas

Many designers know about universal design but don’t yet know what makes a design inclusive and accessible. Two researchers from the Inclusive Design Team in Cambridge embarked on a study to find out how to address this issue. They came up with the Inclusive Design Canvas.

A button link to the Inclusive Design Canvas. Its says, Embrace empathy and get new ideas with the inclusive design canvas.

Guaranteeing inclusive environments for all is a fundamental step towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. The Inclusive Design Canvas is designed to help architects to engage in co-design processes and assess their designs for inclusivity.

The image is from Zallio’s IDEA Toolbox

The key question is, “How is it possible to educate architecture design professionals to reduce points of exclusion for building occupants?” With this in mind, the researchers set out to address the mismatch between design, construction and delivery of a building to meet the principles of inclusion. In short, what resources do architects need to embed inclusive design in the design process?

The researchers ran two workshops with architectural design professionals, many of whom are overloaded with guides and regulations. Consequently, the idea of another design tool was met with ambivalence. But continuing professional development is required and this encouraged participation. This is another case where co-design can educate users while finding out what their issues are.

The title of the article is, The Inclusive Design Canvas. A Strategic Design Template for Architectural Design Professionals. The authors explain the process and the outcomes that lead to the design tool. The key point is that inclusion needs to be embedded within the design process, not left until the end. It also needs to be incorporated into design software. The researchers hope to populate the tool with good examples in the future.

From the abstract

Designing accessible and inclusive buildings is essential if they are to provide enjoyable and inspiring experiences for all their occupants. Many architectural design professionals have a lack of awareness of the aspects to consider when designing. This is limiting the uptake of inclusive design.

This study involved expert stakeholders and provides evidence for the demand to create an Inclusive Design Canvas. This is a design template for building industry professionals to help them embed inclusive design in the design process.

See also Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice (Zallio and Clarkson, 2021)

There is a technical report that supports the development of the Inclusive Design Canvas. It’s titled, A validation study on the challenges that architectural practitioners face when designing inclusively.

Practitioner views of designing inclusively

The concepts of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have evolved from different fields of endeavour and therefore there is no single way to explain it. Consequently, debating the differences between inclusive and universal design does little to progress the cause. In the end they mean the same thing. We need to get practical. So, checking in with practitioners and their views of designing inclusively is a good start.

Lots of different coloured words reading define. Designing inclusively.

A new paper, Aspects of Designing Inclusively from Practitioner Perspectives, reveals how practitioners relate to the concepts and the language. The author begins by articulating their take on the terminology, and then moves on to the study.

The first thing to note is that this paper comes from the UK where the term “inclusive” is preferred. Most countries use the term “universal” in keeping with the United Nations terminology. However, many writers in the UK like to differentiate between the two words.

The fact that they had difficulty recruiting participants is revealing in itself. Thirty organisations were approached and only 6 agreed to participate. However, this small group provided some useful insights.

The author makes the comment that designing inclusively is an approach to design, which it is, rather than an achievable goal. This is one reason Steinfeld and Maisel developed the 8 Goals of Universal Design. It’s also why universal design practitioners understand you start with principles and create the practical. It’s not a checklist.

Consequently, attempting to delineate differences in inclusive design and universal design is counter-productive. The following quote can be applied to inclusive design, design-for-all, human-centred design and universal design. We are in the era of co-design and continuous improvement. The concept of universal design has evolved since the 1990s

” Inclusion can be viewed as a continually evolving concept addressed incrementally from one project to the next as expertise develops and advancements continue.”

Page 515

From the conclusion

“Their insights provided an up-to-date account of inclusive architectural and design practices. Still, their perspectives were not always aligned. This is expected as each person holds different framings and object worlds during a project. For instance, it was expressed that a single mainstream design suitable to every person was not realistic.”

Participants said they prefer bespoke designs, arguing that it is better to design for the individual rather than attend to the mass market with one design. Participants also disliked the lack of quantifiable information.

From the abstract

The concept of inclusion in design is increasingly well known and often recognizes value in a greater diversity of people. Still, uptake is said to be limited in practice. The theoretical landscape provides several definitions and concerns, but they are often paradoxical. Rather than disentangle theory, this research turns to practitioners who design inclusively.

This research explores the ways people advocate for inclusion in design projects, prevailing aspects in the negotiations within multi-stakeholder projects, the motivations and mindsets that drive these aspects, and the opportunities they create for the improved uptake of inclusion.

These explorations highlight the value of including a more diverse group of individuals in the negotiations of a design project. Conflicting perspectives on effective uptake prevail in both practice and theory.

Universal design as ‘symbiosis’

Symbiosis is not a word usually associated with universal design, but it’s another way of looking at it. Symbiosis means interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association to the advantage of both.

An article from Malaysia uses symbiosis in the context of designs for the disabled body advantage the non-disabled body – it’s a win-win.

The article covers the usual introductory material about universal design and then moves into a discussion on indoor spaces. The research questions focus on the application of universal design to achieve integration.

The paper recounts three case studies to show how people with disability can get the same sense of belonging as non-disabled people. The use of materials, space function and space planning each have a role to play.

Case studies

Bill and Melinda Gates Discovery Center showing people looking at exhibits.

Bill and Melinda Gates Discovery Centre

The first case study is the Bill and Melinda Gates Discovery Center in Seattle. The centre fosters a collaborative working environment to educate people about global issues including disability.

The second case study is the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. This building is a studio of visual and accessible sensory experiences.

The third case study is Hazelwood School in the UK which transformed a school for children with disability into one for all children.

Hazelwood School

All three projects posed challenges to designers to find ways in which everyone could feel welcome and use the spaces. The article provides more detail on each case study and useful references.

The authors conclude that universal design played an important function in aiding architects to design for people with and without disability.

The purpose of universal design is to create symbiotic relationships between people

The title of the article is, Universal design (UD) in indoor space: Symbiosis between disabled bodies and abled bodies. The abstract uses some confusing language and terms, but the article follows universal design thinking. The links to the case studies are also worth a look.


Inclusive online conference poster sessions

Screen view of Padlet app for inclusive online conference poster presentations.Looks like hybrid conferences are here to stay. That means conference organisers are finding new ways of working, and maximising digital capabilities. Conferences with a high academic content usually have poster sessions. Posters are a good way for emerging academics to present and discuss their work. But how to make online conference poster sessions inclusive?

Getting the best from digital presentations is based on both process and technology. Using the most suitable digital platform is part of the story. In their article on inclusive and virtual poster sessions, the authors discuss real time and on-demand presentations. Having both options allows for time zone differences especially for international conferences. 

The title of the paper is, A Guide to implementing Inclusive and Accessible Virtual Poster Sessions. There is a separate section in this paper on virtual poster sessions in the undergraduate classroom.

Suggestions for virtual poster sessions

      • Use combined real-time and on-demand options for sessions
      • Use short video or audio introductions
      • Utilise Zoom for breakout rooms for real-time sessions
      • Provide demonstrations on how to use the poster platform and how to view posters and access Zoom rooms
      • Give more time between notification and the presentation date to give more time to prepare and submit before the conference

The advantage of online posters is the amount and depth of feedback received by presenters. The disadvantage is the lack of opportunity to network.

People who feel uncomfortable in crowds or noisy environments will appreciate this mode of delivery. The cost of paper and print are avoided and the poster can be stored digitally.  Virtual sessions allow for captioning, and Auslan interpreters. The authors list several benefits of virtual poster sessions and provide guidance for conference organisers. 

From the abstract

Poster sessions are an integral part of conferences. They facilitate networking opportunities and provide a platform for researchers at every career stage to present and get feedback on their work.

In Spring 2020, we designed and implemented a no-cost and accessible, asynchronous, and synchronous virtual poster session. Here, we outline our goals for hosting an inclusive virtual poster session (VPS). We also demonstrate a “backward design” approach and our rationale for using the Padlet and Zoom platforms. At the 2021 Conference we shared lessons learned to help future poster session organisers to be accessible and inclusive. 

Virtual poster sessions have great potential to improve collaborations and science communication experiences at scientific conferences and in undergraduate classrooms.

Built environment, climate and mental health

A young woman and man are walking their dog in an urban park. Built environment and mental health.The Matilda Centre based at the University of Sydney is a collaboration of academics, practitioners and policy makers. The Centre recently ran a webinar on the built environment, climate and mental health. The speakers were Dr Susie Burke, Professor Susan Thompson and Dr Lyrian Daniel.

The YouTube video below runs for an hour. The three speakers give their perspectives on climate change and mental health and the role of planners.  

Susie Burke talks about the way in which climate change impacts mental health. There are direct impacts, such as the time of a flood or fire, and indirect causes – the flow-on effects. Also, there are vicarious effects – individuals not directly affected but concerned for the effects on others. 

Susan Thompson says planners appreciate the importance of the built environment in increasing health and wellbeing. Our health and wellbeing is dependent on how and where we live. And the health of our planet also ultimately underpins our health. 

Places that support physical activity are good for mental health across all ages. Getting active for getting from place to place in daily life also supports mental wellbeing. But physical activity and transport needs to be fun and easy to do. And of course, green open space is important for both humans and the planet. 

Lyrian Daniel talks about climate change, housing and mental health outcomes and patterns of disadvantage. Poor housing conditions, climate risk and mental health are closely linked. Affordability, especially for rental housing, adds to the mental health burden. Her key point is that housing has a clear role in mental health and wellbeing. 

Logo of the University of Sydney Matilda Centre. In the short question session at the end, Susan Thompson says we have all the tools and guidelines but no political leadership. So we all need to be advocating. 

 

Books for everyone with universal design

Girl sits with a book flicking pages and looking a little unhappy. Reading is a skill that some people find difficult or onerous, so they miss out on reading for pleasure. But making books more accessible is more than just applying Easy Language. It also requires thoughtful layout, font and use of images. The Books for Everyone Framework describes the book making process from writing to publication. 

Matching readers to the “right book” is more than the issue of genre or reading interests. Readers have varying language skills, functional differences and are neurodiverse. So the question for the publication industry is, “How can they work for inclusion of all types of potential readers?”

An article from Norway describes a case study of how the Books for Everyone (BfE) framework was used for five fictional books. These books were written by different authors, illustrators and publishers. The article provides suggestions for the publishing industry to accommodate reader diversity in the future. 

A universal design perspective

At the beginning of 2000, books in Norway aimed at adults with dyslexia were often simplified versions of more complex books that were already published. Taking a universal design approach led to an awareness that books should still aim for high quality. 

Rather than just simplifying text, more attention was given to how Easy Language can create high level literature. Consequently, BfE started cooperating with highly qualified authors, graphic novel designers, illustrators, and publishing houses in making new books.

The target groups for Easy Language books was broadened from people with cognitive impairments to everyone who will benefit. The primary target group determined the main adaptation approach applied. At the same time, these adaptations would most likely benefit other readers. Consequently, the universal design aspect of Easy Language was incorporated into the BfE framework.

It is interesting to note that in the last 22 years, Norway has embraced universal design across the built and digital environments. Consequently, it is no surprise that they are now applying the concepts more broadly. 

The processes and framework are described in more detail in the article, The Development and Production of Literature Within an Easy Language and a Universal Design Perspective. The article is open access.

Abstract

Finding suitable books for pleasure reading is difficult for many people with reading challenges. Consequently, authors and publishing houses must consider user diversity when developing books.

Easy Language comprises an important component, which is closely related to other elements which together constitute accessible books, such as layout, fonts and use of images. Moreover, extensive user testing and involvement must ensure that the books meet the requirements of the readers.

This paper presents The Books for Everyone (BfE) Framework, which describes the process from initiation to publication and promotion of Easy Language books, using Norway as a case study. The BfE Framework is illustrated through examples from books and related to the reception and understanding of various user groups.

Building design: knowledge and attitude are key

Three men in hard hats stand on a building site looking at architectural design plans.As universal design followers know, building and construction standards do not ensure accessibility, let alone inclusion. Well-informed architectural design practitioners understand the benefits. So what is holding back the others? Lack of knowledge or attitude – or both? 

Matteo Zallio’s research in the UK throws some light on this issue. He found that poorly informed stakeholders think that:

      • ‘Inclusive design’ means architectural barriers or physical accessibility.
      • Very few know about cognitive and sensory inclusion and accessibility.
      • ‘Inclusion’ means referring mostly to the Disability Discrimination Act.
      • ‘Inclusive design’ is an extra cost.
      • ‘Inclusive design’ is just a regulatory obligation. 

The factors influencing these views were: cultural background, personal knowledge, geographical location and context, lack of understanding of terminology, and lack of focus and details in regulations. 

Well-informed stakeholders think that “inclusive design”

      • can be beneficial for clients and occupants;
      • guarantees and elevated baseline of access; and
      • is a gold standard for their business and an example for others as well. 

Factors influencing this group were: being exposed to contextual factors in their life, perception of the cost-benefit value, foreseeing a positive impact for the community, and awareness of contemporary social facts and events.

Inclusive Design Canvas

With feedback from stakeholders, Zallio mapped out these factors on an “inclusive design canvas”. It’s basically a matrix of six elements that can help designers think through the issues and solutions. The user journey, capabilities and needs are one dimension, and the other dimension consists of physical, sensory and cognitive aspects. The matrix is shown below and can be downloaded separately.

The three elements of the Inclusive Design Canvas for architectural design.

The elements of the matrix are discussed in detail in Zallio’s article, Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice.

Zallio found there were far fewer well-informed stakeholders than poorly-informed stakeholders. The issue was more pronounced outside major cities. Potentially, in the UK, this can be due to heritage factors, but it is also cultural make-up of these regions.  Having to consider more groups within the broader context of equity has diluted the needs of people with disability. 

Zallio is currently working on a post-occupancy evaluation tool for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA). The aim is to learn from current practice to improve design practice in the future. 

 

Accessibility Toolbar