Building industry perspectives on universal design

Architects and other design professionals are in a position to educate their clients about universal design. However, their own lack of knowledge is passing up this opportunity. Understanding building industry perspectives on universal design is a good start for unravelling the issues.

Zallio and Clarkson’s study spans disciplines of behavioural science, ergonomics and the social sciences of architecture. It uncovered the challenges architectural practitioners face when designing inclusively.

A man in work overalls stands with his back to the camera. Next to him is a man in a check shir and hard hat pointing to a multi storey building in the background.

One of the challenges is the scarcity of standards and policies, and limited willingness to build the business case for inclusion. The research pinpoints where interventions and tools could have a positive impact. This paper builds on previous work shown in the sections below.

The title of the paper is, A study to depict challenges and opportunities building industry professionals face when designing inclusive and accessible buildings.

From the abstract

Inclusive Design is widely promoted in the fields of product, engineering, and user experience design. However, Inclusive Design is not widely embraced in architectural
design practice, where it is often associated with design for disability.

This multidisciplinary study explores the challenges architectural design practitioners face when designing inclusively, and identifies opportunities to promote the adoption of Inclusive Design.

The results of a questionnaire completed by 114 architectural design practitioners underscore the lack of client awareness of the benefits of inclusive design. Practitioners have an important role to play in advocating for Inclusive Design. There is a need to develop practices and tools that enhance the design and post-design phases of buildings to ensure inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

Inclusive Design Canvas

Many designers know about universal design but don’t yet know what makes a design inclusive and accessible. The Inclusive Design Canvas helps architects to engage in co-design processes and assess their designs for inclusivity.

The image is from Zallio’s IDEA Toolbox

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

How is it possible to educate architecture design professionals to reduce points of exclusion for building occupants? With this question in mind, two researchers set out to address the mismatch between design, construction and delivery of a building to meet the principles of inclusion.

Many architectural professionals are overloaded with guides and regulations. So the idea of another design tool was met with ambivalence, but continuing professional development requirements encouraged participation in two workshops. This is where co-design processes 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 key point? Embed inclusion within the design process from the outset, and incorporate it into design software.

Building industry knowledge and attitude are key

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 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. 
A desk has highlighter pens in different colours, working papers and a smart phone.

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. 
Picture of three young women wearing hard hats and holding pens and looking at a drawing on a table top

Developing the Inclusive Design Canvas

With feedback from stakeholders, Zallio mapped out an “inclusive design canvas”. It’s 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 below shows the elements.

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

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 discusses the matrix in, Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice.

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.

Spatial justice and creative co-design

Inclusive design concepts go beyond codes and standards. This requires new approaches using creative practices according to Janice Rieger’s new book. She presents creative co-design methods well beyond standard workshop techniques. For designers in any discipline these techniques shine a light on spatial justice and creative co-design methods.

The case studies centre on museums, malls, universities and galleries illustrate co-design methods applicable to other public places. The book exposes ableism in architecture and design and stimulates debate about current practice. Rieger challenges and expands our understanding of power in architecture and design that creates injustices.

Using a justice-based lens the case studies in each chapter have take-aways for creating inclusive, universally designed places and spaces. The language in this text is generally for professionals and scholars.

Perspectives of power leads the discussion followed by issues of ableism and how to design differently. Here Rieger uses her experiences of using short films and multisensory storytelling. Part 3 looks at constructing inclusive experiences followed by a look at spatial justice in the future.

The title of the book is, Design, Disability and Embodiment: Spatial Justice and Perspectives of Power. The book is available for purchase from the Routledge website with access to a preview and the table of contents.

From the Overview

This book explores the spatial and social injustices within our streets, malls, schools, and public institutions. Going for a walk, seeing an exhibition with a friend, and going to school are conditional for people with disability.

This book stimulates debate and discussion about current practice and studies in spatial design in the context of disability. Case studies of inclusive design in museums, malls, galleries and universities challenge and expose the perspectives of power and spatial injustices that still exist within these spaces today.

The international case studies purposely privilege the voices and perspectives of people with disabilities, to expose the multisensorial perspectives of spatial justice in order to understand inclusion more holistically through embodiment.

This book is for anyone in the design or arts who want a world where spatial justice is possible. It offers a new perspective of spatial design through critical disability studies, allyship and codesign, where tangible approaches and practices for inclusive design are explored.

From Rob Imrie’s review of the book

Highly regarded researcher and author Rob Imrie has written a review of Rieger’s book in Disability & Society. He writes of her challenge to the power of ableist architecture and the bias towards sight and seeing. Here are two pertinent extracts from Imrie’s review:

“For Rieger, echoing earlier work by Oliver (1992), about the need for emancipatory research, there can be no such thing as inclusive design based on data generated by conventional social relations of research, in which disabled people are objects of the process. Rather, what is needed is a transformation in the conduct of research, in which disabled people participate in a process of co-design. While the book describes a variety of co-design projects, I wonder if these are sufficient in tackling disablism and spatial injustice?”

“[Rieger’s observations] raise the question of how far design professionals are willing or able to cede control, and embrace a different set of relationships with their clients and users? More importantly, how will such changes transpire, given that much of the design of space is channelled through corporate development companies, in which architects have little influence?”

Architecture of inclusion

Assigning people with disability to group homes last century has meant a gap in learning for mainstream building designs. Building standards for disability access have both filled this gap and held back learning at the same time. Then there is the problem of few people in the architectural teaching community with lived experience of disability. So how can we get an architecture of inclusion embedded in educational institutions?

The architectural teaching profession updated their National Standard of Competencies to include Indigenous knowledge. However, designing with disability is yet to be fully included in their competency standards.

Who can design and evaluate professional development opportunities for architects without lived experience, but who must now demonstrate competency? Who teaches the next generation of architects through the university system? In short, who can speak for disability?

A long room with a long table with students sitting both sides. They are working on a design project.

Kirsten Day and Andrew Martel discuss the issues of developing competencies in their 2022 conference paper (p 129). They briefly cover the history of disability, regulation and architecture before moving on to current ideas of co-design. The new Livable Housing Design Standard in the National Construction Code is mentioned as a step in the right direction. This Standard provides basic access features in all new and extensively modified homes from October 2023.

The evolving nature of creating an inclusive society is yet to be reflected in mainstream architectural learning. Finding ways to attract a diversity of architectural students representative of the population remains elusive too. This is a situation where Universal Design in Learning has a role.

National Standards of Competencies

The authors list the competencies, but find they are not supported by legislation or university teaching structures. Nor are they supported by instructors with knowledge of disability or Indigenous knowledge. With very few people to draw on as experts with lived experience, who can set examples?

There is a fundamental issue with the education of architectural students and so the question becomes, is the training inclusive? Is the studio method suitable for a diverse body of students? Universal design principles should be applied to the physical layout of space and the type of technology used. And presentation techniques favour sight over all other senses.

The title of the conference paper is, An architecture of inclusion: Can the profession adapt to the diversity of design demanded by people with a disability? (Page 129 of the conference proceedings.)

From the abstract

From the 1840s, Australia encouraged the committing of people with disabilities to institutions and asylums. By the 1970s the preference was to house people in group homes. Consequently, knowledge of designing for people with disabilities within the architectural profession was low and teaching the design skills required within universities negligible.

The UN Convention on the Rights for People with Disability, and the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, have highlighted the need for education and knowledge among architects and architectural students.

The tendency has been to conform to existing regulations, rather than being a driver of innovation. New references in the National Standard of Competency for Architects around designing for disability require demonstrating these competencies by graduates.

This paper explores the difficulties the profession and teaching institutions may encounter around identifying people with lived experience working in architecture, or as design teachers. Issues around who is allowed to speak for—and engaging with people with an intellectual disability or neurodiversity pose serious challenges to rectifying decades of neglect.

Computing students show age and gender bias

As we know, bias sits in all of us whether we realise it or not. Some biases we are aware of, such as liking certain people and things. But what about those biases we are not aware of that sit silently in the background of our thoughts and ideas? And how much do they impact on the things we say and do? Age and gender bias has an impact on how things are designed.

Older people are thought less likely to use desktops, laptops and smartphones, and to have less expertise with them. Women, both young and old, are thought to have some experience with devices, but less expertise than men.

A young woman wearing a black beanie sits in front her her laptop. Behind her are icons of cog wheels indicating technology. Age and gender bias in computer science.

A group of researchers in Austria wanted to find out the perceptions of computing science students about age and gender. That’s because they are going to be designing the digital technology in the future. In a nutshell, they found several biases.

Age and gender bias

Students (aged around 21 years) started to see people as old at the average age of 57 years – several years younger than their grandparents. Older people are thought to be less likely to have experience with all types of devices. While younger people are thought to want aesthetic designs, older people are thought to need error tolerant systems.

The bias between the genders was smaller than that of age. Women were seen as less likely to use a desktop than men and to have less expertise than men overall. This fits the continuing stereotype that computing for men is ordinary, and exceptional for women. Consequently, older women were seen as less capable in using computers and laptops.

The article has a lot of statistical analysis, but the key points are in the findings, discussion and conclusions. The information is useful for teachers, and the authors recommend designing with users as a way to overcome bias. And, of course, more women should be encouraged into the computing sciences.

The title of the study is, How Age and Gender Affect the Opinions of Computing Students Regarding Computer Usage and Design Needs.

From the abstract

This study aimed to understand the perceptions of young computing science students about women and older people about computer literacy and how this may affect the design of computer-based systems. Based on photos, participants were asked how likely the person would be to use desktop computers, laptops and smartphones. And also, how much expertise they thought they would have with each technology. We asked what design aspects would be important and whether they thought an adapted technology would be required.

The results draw on 200 questionnaires from students in the first year of their Information and Communications Technology (ICT) studies at an Austrian university of applied sciences. Quantitative methods were used to determine if perceptions varied significantly based on the age and gender of the people depicted.

Qualitative analysis was used to evaluate the design aspects mentioned. The results show that there are biases against both older people and women with respect to their perceived expertise with computers. This is also reflected in the design aspects thought to be important for the different cohorts. This is crucial as future systems will be designed by the participants. Their biases may influence whether future systems meet the needs and wishes of all groups or increase the digital divide.

Gender and Mobile Apps

An academic paper, A Study of Gender Discussions in Mobile Apps, provides some insights into gender bias in app development.

From the abstract

Mobile software apps are one of the digital technologies that our modern life heavily depends on. A key issue in the development of apps is how to design gender-inclusive apps. Apps that do not consider gender inclusion, diversity, and equality in their design can create barriers for their diverse users.

There have been some efforts to develop gender-inclusive apps, but a lack of understanding of user perspectives on gender may prevent app developers and owners from identifying issues related to gender and proposing solutions for improvement.

Users express many different opinions about apps in their reviews, from sharing their experiences, and reporting bugs, to requesting new features. In this study, we aim at unpacking gender discussions about apps from the user perspective by analysing app reviews.

We first develop and evaluate several Machine Learning (ML) and Deep Learning (DL) classifiers that automatically detect gender reviews. We apply our ML and DL classifiers on a manually constructed dataset of 1,440 app reviews from the Google App Store, composing 620 gender reviews and 820 non-gender reviews.

Our best classifier achieves an F1-score of 90.77%. Second, our qualitative analysis of a randomly selected 388 out of 620 gender reviews shows that gender discussions in app reviews revolve around six topics: App Features, Appearance, Content, Company Policy and Censorship, Advertisement, and Community. Finally, we provide some practical implications and recommendations for developing gender-inclusive apps.

Architects and occupational therapists collaborate

When the built environment is poorly designed from a user perspective, it limits what people can do if they have a disability. On the other hand, if it is designed well, people can continue to do everyday tasks more easily and for longer. Collaboration between occupational therapists and architects is not new. However, there are barriers to interprofessional experiences that limit universal design solutions.

Architects having a preference for autonomy is one barrier. Differences in terminology, lack of understanding of each profession’s skill set and scope of practice is another.

Picture of three young women wearing hard hats and holding pens and looking at a drawing on a table top

A conference poster captures the essence of a study on improving collaboration between occupational therapists and architects. The aim is to improve universal design in new homes and community buildings. The title of the poster is Collaboration between Occupational Therapists and Architects to Incorporate Universal Design to Increase Accessibility.

Beyond compliance with occupational therapists

A graphic depicting aspects of rules, right and wrong, and tick boxes. Going beyond compliance with occupational therapists.

Accessible built environment advisors and practitioners know that it’s an uphill battle to get clients to go beyond compliance. However, if the client agrees, it might be time to go beyond compliance with occupational therapists. 

Occupational therapists (OTs) and universal design have much in common, say James Lenker and Brittany Perez. In their paper they argue the case for including the skills and knowledge of OTs across the spectrum of design disciplines and in research activities. Inter-disciplinary collaboration is the key.

The title of the Lenker and Perez article is, The role of occupational therapists in universal design research. This three page paper is easy to read and promotes the importance of collaboration for the best universal design outcomes.

OTs are involved in home modifications, but rarely considered in the public domain. They hold key information about how our minds and bodies interact with the built environment. So they can sometimes bring new solutions to the table with universal design. 

Interprofessional Collaboration

A short text and voice video from the UD Project in the United States on occupational therapists collaborating with designer.

Guide for OTs on universal design

Apeksha Gohil has devised a universal design guide for OTs. The aim of the guide is for OT practitioners to offer universal design solutions. The guide is a three stage stepwise process to reach universal design solutions beyond compliance and prescriptive standards. 

Graphic of a handshake with purple hands. The hands have words on them such as cooperate and connect

Gohil agrees that stakeholders are primarily interested in what is required by the law. However, it is important to create awareness about user participation and co-design a part of the design process. One of the aims of the guide is to create awareness about role of OTs in universal design and create best practice examples. 

The Universal Design Consultation Guide for Occupational Therapy Practitioners is structured as a step by step guide. The document is available on ResearchGate, or you can download directly as a PDF document. 

You can also find out more from Elizabeth Ainsworth and Desleigh de Jonge about the relevance and application of universal design in occupational therapy practice on the ResearchGate website. 

Research in clear language

The Plain Language Movement is supported by information makers and providers who want more people to read their content. Dense academic language meant for other academics is frustrating for others wanting to learn more. So, it is time for clear language now that more universities are producing open access articles.

“… the plain language movement is rooted in the ideal of an inclusive society… ” Language is not for those with social privilege.

An empty page in a notebook with a pencil and sharpener. Doing plain language is a process

Plain language summaries are a good start and sometimes a requirement of research funding. These summaries are often shown as four or five short bullet points before the academic abstract. And now we have a new acronym: Knowledge Mobilization (KMb). The requirement for plain language summaries has given rise to yet another area of research.

Sasha Gaylie at the University of British Columbia explains more about this in her article Clear Language Description. There is a little confusion whether plain language and clear language are the same things. Consequently, there is a move to create an international standard.

The International Plain Language Federation defines plain language as “wording, structure, and design are so clear that readers can easily find what they need”. Easy Read, Easy English or Easy Language, which is for a specific group of readers, is not the same thing. It’s good to see universal design in language as a relatively new frontier in inclusive practice.

Gaylie lists five focus areas for that offer a structure for grouping individual recommendations briefly listed here:

  • Audience: The benchmark is 8th grade reading level.
  • Structure: The most important information should appear first.
  • Design: White space and headers to break up text, and also helps screen readers.
  • Expression: Use an active voice and avoid jargon.
  • Evaluation: Peer review by a non-expert for best feedback.
A blank page of a spiral notebook and and fountain pen.

Inclusive descriptions

This is a growing area of language. Words can hurt and harm. We already see how language has changed when we look at old texts. For example the use of “man” and “he” when meaning all humans.

“A term need not be intentionally harmful to cause harm; the act of description is not neutral, and even when using the “plainest” of language, inherent bias affects output.”

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalities

Sasha Gaylie’s article concludes with a practical guide based on the five focus pointed mentioned earlier.

From the Editor: Writing in plain language is a skill-set that challenges a writer to think really carefully about what they want the reader to know. It is not about what the writer wants to say. Doing plain language is a process. Writing complex ideas in a straightforward way takes time and effort. And it also makes me think about my relationship to the topic.

Excluding by design: an Indigenous perspective

Front cover of the book with West's chapter on an Indigenous perspective on design.Peter West presents a philosophical essay on design from an Indigenous perspective. He argues that universal design is a Western thought based on Western knowledge systems. Although co-design invites others in it’s still driven by Western white values. 

West’s essay is an academic piece covering ideas that challenge Western notions of design. He contends that lack of indigenous sovereignty is a problem because it counters Western knowledge systems and governance. 

West argues that while Design invites others in (co-design methods), it remains “politely dominant”. Asking to be included – to be “let in” – begs questions such as, What am I now being included in? And at what cost and whose larger purpose? These are questions other marginalised groups might also ask. 

The book chapter by Peter West is titled, Excluding by design and is open access. 

From the conclusion

Indigenous sovereignty (and sovereignties) is the foundation from which non-Indigenous people can be in sovereign relationship, therefore Indigenous sovereignty cannot be othered, marginalised or included.

I am surrounded by the pluriversality of Indigenous sovereignties not as something I can know through Western ways of knowing or that attempting to replicate is knowing, but what I need to know is how to live and Design in a sovereign relationship. 

What is most likely to disrupt my relationship to Indigenous sovereignty is non-Indigeneity reorganising itself as it designs the gravitational pull of Western standards of what can be included, empathised with and what creates a palatable form of diversity.

Now, diversity and inclusion risks being an activity of designing ways of overcoming gaps in design and avoiding the admission that the knowledge base itself is the problem.

From the abstract

Western Design education and Design practice discourse is beginning to
express a need for greater diversity and inclusion.  For design to be inclusive, this must also beg the questions: Who has been excluded from Design, what are these practices of exclusion and what is revealed of Designs privilege to assume the position of host and includer?

However, when approached through Designs problem, solution mindset diversity and inclusion is at risk of being an answer motivated by offering a
more broadly transactional reach and ‘usefulness’.

It is important to recognise that the shift to inclusion as a policy emphasis does not erase past exclusions. Instead, the desire for diversity and inclusion can lead to Design positioning itself as benefactor, in a state of white virtue, rather than recognising itself as dominant discipline and system which politely adapts and consumes the invited other. 

In Australian design contexts, there is an enthusiastic desire to engage with and include Indigenous peoples and knowledges within Western design education institutions. However, I contend that the inability to recognise and be in relation to Indigenous sovereignty, as the basis of the Australian state, has resulted in Design being ill-equipped and perhaps incapable of practicing in relation to Indigenous knowledge systems (sovereignty).

This chapter explores contends that it is necessary to identify and disrupt (white) racialised logics within design lest it consume pluriversal thinking as a ‘value add’. I argue that the white racialised logics in design are illusive, adaptive and an exclusive disciplining practice. I draw upon critical race whiteness and indigeneity theory along with the seminal work of the Decolonising Design Group to explore a critical reset of the design episteme in relation to Indigenous sovereignty by knowing its ontological and epistemic boundedness.

Time for the majority to step up for inclusion

Promoting the concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging often falls to members of minority groups – people who are not included. But it’s actually up to members of the majority to step up for inclusion and get involved in DEIB.

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalities

Cody J Smith’s article lists 10 actions people in the majority can do to improve DEIB. He writes in the context of the sciences, but these actions apply anywhere. His ten actions are briefly listed below. It’s interesting that Smith has added “belonging” to today’s standard “DEI”. Belonging is how you feel when DEI is happening.

10 actions for inclusion

1. Listen to people’s experiences. Read the growing literature by people from underrepresented groups. If you are in the majority, what can you do to improve matters.
2. Check your implicit biases. Implicit bias is rampant in awards, publications, promotions and speaker selection.
3. Stop interrupting. Take time to watch the dynamics of meeting. If you identify someone overly interrupting, invite the person who was speaking to finish their point.
4. As you take a lead to impact DEIB, you will make mistakes. As in science, learn from them and adapt until you find a solution.
5. People from minority groups are often asked to take on additional responsibilities to represent their minority group. This extra work should be compensated rather than asking them to sign up for “the greater good”.
6. Those in the majority can wait for change, but that is not the case for those in the minority. Start working on solutions for immediate change.
7. Get in the room. Make an effort to attend DEIB events and encourage others in the majority to attend. Be careful to schedule non DEIB events so they don’t conflict with DEIB events.
8. Train others to advocate – start discussions and share literature.
9. Include DEIB in the classroom/staff meetings – is your work inclusive?
10. Find a DEIB champion. Smith explains the impact of Ben Barres who was the first openly transgender member of the National Academy of Sciences. Barres shares experiences of being both a woman and a man, and the impact of sexual harassment.

Learn from discomfort

The ten points are in the context of a science lecturer and researcher but the points are clear. Smith encourages people to “lean into any discomfort” you might experience – it will be how you learn – if you listen. For more detail see Smith’s article.

The main point though is that without the majority taking a lead, the minority cannot do it alone. After all, it is the majority who decide whether “others” will be included, feel validated and like they belong.

The title of the short article is, Members of the majority need to actively promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Making sure everyone can hear

According to Deafness Forum Australia, approximately one in six Australians has a significant hearing loss. Participants of any age in any learning situation might need some assistance to get the best learning experience. It could be a Zoom webinar or lecture, an in-person conference, or a roundtable discussion. The important point is, make sure everyone can hear.

Assistance can be as simple as sitting at the front of a lecture or presentation where lip reading can assist comprehension. Or it could be more complex with assistive listening devices and live captioning. Microphones also have a place as does minimal background noise.

Picture of an ear with sound waves

Most people lose their hearing after they have learned to speak, so they don’t learn Auslan (sign language). However, always check whether one of you participants or learners needs an Auslan interpreter. People who use Auslan often prefer to be referred to as Deaf rather than hard of hearing.

The ADCET website has more information on the impact of hearing loss. Although it is focused on school learners, much of the information is applicable in any learning or information sharing situation.

ADCET strategies for including people with hearing loss include:

  • Always speak facing the audience
  • Provide written materials to supplement lectures
  • Caption videos and provide a transcript
  • Keep hands away from your face
  • Choose venues with a working hearing loop or assistive listening devices
Adults seated at tables in a classroom setting looking forward to the instructor at the front of the room

Supporting participants online

COVID changed almost everything including being together in learning situations. In July 2020 ADCET surveyed disability practitioners from the tertiary sector to find out how this impacted their work. The result of this work was to develop a guideline for supporting Deaf and hard of hearing learners online.

Download the Guidelines from the ADCET website. They have specific instructions for using captions and transcripts and the different web applications that help the learning process. The free automatic AI captioning works adequately most of the time on Zoom. It can be activated in the settings.

The video below explains more.

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.


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