The academic debate about nuanced differences between universal design and inclusive design continue. But to what purpose? Nevertheless, it is useful to know where this began and why it continues. The Inclusive Design Research Centre in Canada explains:
“We have defined Inclusive Design as: design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.”
Is this not the same as universal design? It all depends on your perspective and whether you care about semantics or just getting the job done.
Universal design vs inclusive design
Professor Jutta Treviranus has a particular view about the differences. She founded the Inclusive Design Research Centre in 1993 in Canada. It was previously known as the Adaptive Technology Resource Centre. The Center for Universal Design was also established in North Carolina around this time. Due to its origins in adaptive technology, the emphasis began with information and communication technology.
The Inclusive Design Research Centre website has a page spelling out their position. In a nutshell they explain why they use the term “inclusive”:
“While Universal Design is about creating a common design that works for everyone, we have the freedom to create a design system that can adapt, morph, or stretch to address each design need presented by each individual.”
They agree that the goals are the same – inclusion. However, they say the context is different because they come from different origins. Universal design from the built environment, and inclusive design from digital technology. They also claim that universal design is about people with disabilities and that the design methods are different. That is debatable.
Followers of universal design would no doubt take issue with phrases such as “one size fits all” and that it seeks only one solution to creating inclusion. The Center for Universal Design chose the term “universal” because they could see that all people could benefit from designs that included people with disability.
Academia continues to discuss nuances when there is so much real work to be done. We need more research on finding out why we still don’t have more inclusive/universal design in practice.
Are universal design and inclusive design rivals?
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. 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 title of the paper is, Agent based modelling to probe inclusve transport building design in practice. 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.
The chart below provides an overview of the relationship between inclusive design elements. However, the 8 Goals of Universal Design are probably more practical and instructive.