UD, ID, DfA, UX: A terminology muddle

A hand holding a coloured pen is poised over a green post it note. There are drawings on the table and a smartphone. It indicates UX design.  UD, ID, DfA, UX, UA muddle.

Researchers find it frustrating not having one term to cover the concept of equity and inclusion. One term would ensure we are all talking about the same thing.  But how about practitioners? It’s confusing for them too. The aims of universal design (UD), inclusive design (ID), design for all (DfA), and user experience (UX), have the same aim – inclusion. So why should we have a terminology muddle?

Most designers and practitioners who understand the underpinning principle of inclusion, say it’s not a big deal. But shouldn’t the key issue be about implementation rather than discussing the nuances of terms? Even if we had one term, would that alter designer and practitioner attitudes towards inclusion?

The complaint about terminology among academics has resulted in many papers on this topic. New terms are proposed as a solution but serve only to confuse more. Some even put forth arguments that they are all different things. 

A paper from 2014 is still relevant today because the arguments are still current. This paper discusses historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. It’s a long paper, probably best suited to academics. It covers just about every aspect of the issues. It also draws in the ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) and international standards which is quite useful. 

The title of the paper downloadable from ResearchGate says it all, Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects.

What’s it called?

Picture of the back of a house that is being built. The ground is just dirt. Overlaid are words in different colours: Adaptable, Universal, Visitable, Usable, Accessible, Disabled, Flexible Different disciplines, different practitioners, and different countries have evolved their own terms. Academics find this problematic as it makes it difficult to build an international body of research on a topic where terminology can vary so much. Regulations and codes have not helped the cause:

Editor’s note: I also wrote on this thorny topic in 2009: Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? Or you can get the quick version from the PowerPoint presentation.

Abstract

Promoting the efficacies of universally designed built environments has been one of the ongoing quests of disability and ageing advocacy groups, and more recently, governments. The underpinning principle of universal design is inclusiveness – that is, to design across the population spectrum for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. This means ensuring architectural features do not inadvertently become architectural barriers to inclusion in everyday social and economic life.

The drive for social and economic inclusion for people with disabilities has recently moved up the political agenda and new policy directions at national and state levels are emerging. Political will is a necessary but insufficient condition to guarantee inclusion if industry does not understand what constitutes inclusiveness in design, and does not understand the differences in terms used in the built environment in relation to inclusion, disability and ageing.

Using the NSW Government’s call for tenders for social housing, and an academic paper as examples, this paper discusses how using various terms such as accessible and adaptable interchangeably might defeat the objective of inclusion, and how the misuse and confusion in terminology hinders not only the uptake of universal design in a practical way, but also stymies academic debate on the topic.

Principles of inclusive design

Front cover of booklet on principles of inclusive design.Universal design is diverse in its terminology and explanations. In the UK, the term “inclusive design” is used more often that universal design.

The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) describes inclusive design as: 

“Inclusive design is about making places everyone can use. It enables everyone to participate equally, confidently and independently. Inclusive design is everyone’s responsibility. That means everyone in the design and construction process”. CABE has  in more detail and with photos:

1. Inclusive design places people at the heart of the design process.
2. Inclusive design acknowledges diversity and difference.
3. Inclusive design offers choice where a single design solution cannot accommodate all users
4. Inclusive design provides for flexibility in use.
5. Inclusive design provides buildings and environments that are convenient and enjoyable to use for everyone

CABE says, if the principles are applied, developments will be:

Inclusive so everyone can use them safely, easily and with dignity.
Responsive taking account of what people say they need and want.
Flexible so different people can use them in different ways.
Convenient so everyone can use them without too much effort or separation.
Accommodating for all people, regardless of their age, gender, mobility,
ethnicity or circumstances.
Welcoming with no disabling barriers that might exclude some people.
Realistic offering more than one solution to help balance everyone’s needs
and recognising that one solution may not work for all.

At the heart of all explanations is the quest to include as many people as possible in every design. The list above has similarities with the classic 7 principles of universal design and the 8 goalsBarclays Bank also has a set of principles for inclusive design for the digital world

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