Ask Me: Inclusive research methods

Picture of a hand holding a pen and filling in boxes on a survey form. Are they using inclusive research methods?When researching the topic of disability, how can researchers know if their methods are the right ones? Do all the standard academically accepted methods used in research projects suit this topic? Are they inclusive research methods?

Researchers with the lived experience of disability are few and far between, and then they are often schooled in the mainstream methods. So how can research methods be tested to show that they are doing the right job? Simple answer: involve people with disability from the start with the design of the research and again in the analysis. It’s one thing to do the job right (accepted methods), but it another to be doing the right job (the job that needs to be done).

The title of this academic paper indicates a very academic approach to the subject, but further into the article, the writing becomes more accessible: Problematizing Reflexivity, Validity, and Disclosure: Research by People with Disabilities About Disability, by James Sheldon, University of Arizona. The paper also discusses the LGBTQ community as another disenfranchised group when it comes to research.

Prosperity for All: another aspect of UD

Logo for the inclusive growth commission. Grey background with yellow and white textThe Inclusive Growth Commission in the UK recently published the findings of an enquiry into how the UK can achieve inclusive growth. The Design Council’s article about the findings outlines the key challenges in the report as:

  1. Creating high wage, high value-add jobs across the country
  2. Designing resilient inclusive places
  3. Creating governance systems fit for the modern era

There is an emerging global consensus that inequality not only has a social cost, but that it also hampers long-term economic performance and the productive potential of people and places. This would include mature age workers and people with disability.

You can see the full article by the Design Council, How Design Can Help Inclusive Growth. The Inclusive Growth Commission is an independent organisation set up to understand and identify practical ways to make local economies more economically inclusive and prosperous. Download their final report from their website.

Editor’s comment: It is interesting to note there is such a thing as an Inclusive Growth Commission. While the Design Council article does not specifically mention universal design, it is alluded to in the second point above. This emphasises the importance of thinking about designing for inclusion alongside other factors. Too often inclusion is treated as an add-on factor instead of integral to the project. Jobs, healthy lifestyles, inclusion and economics are all impacted by design processes and design outcomes. This is particularly the case at the local level where real lives are lived. The helicopter view of planning needs to be questioned. Our lives are not an abstract construct.



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. 


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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