As the Black Lives Matter movement continues across various industries, it becomes clear that white people still dominate. According to one survey in the US, just 3% of designers identify as Black. Consequently, things we use every day are designed from white experience. And young people don’t see designers who look like them. But just employing more people of colour or from different backgrounds is no guarantee of culture change. It’s culture change that makes the difference – not just workforce diversity.
An article in FastCompany discusses how young people of colour are being offered free courses to develop their design skills. Mo Woods who works for Microsoft explains how design agencies can connect with communities as part of the change process. He runs a not for profit that offers free design courses and workshops. It shows how design can be a viable career. Getting into communities isn’t easy. Mo Woods provides the example of starting a basketball program and then introducing a design element such as sneakers or team logo. This creates an entry point for introducing young people to design. Woods’ project is called the Inneract Project.
Do architects have the skills and attitude we need to create truly inclusive environments? Is it even possible to design architecture for everyone? These two questions were put to Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. She says architects are in pole position, but we are still polarising people into people with disability and people without disability. It is time we realised that “we just need to design for people.”
The article in Smart Cities Library is short but to the point. As a person who is just five feet one inch, Jane Duncan finds many things physically out of her reach. So she is in a good position to call for architects to design for diversity. “Removing barriers that create undue effort and separation enables everyone to participate equally, confidently, and independently in everyday activities”.
Can you keep practising as an architect after you go blind? The answer is Yes. This is Chris Downey’s experience. With a few work-arounds and new tools he says he is better at his job now. He found a way of getting tactile versions of drawings and developed his own tools for making drawings. He has been a campaigner for a universal design approach to the built environment ever since. CBS News has a story about him talking about his approach to work and life, including playing baseball with his son. Downey covers a lot of issues with grace and humour. His TED talk is very popular and there is a transcript of the talk. Being blind doesn’t mean giving up on life. For Downey it was discovering new adventures.
Well designed buildings support people with physical impairment, but what about people with other sensory issues or cognitive impairment? Shelly Dival argues that we can do more in the built environment to support people on the autism spectrum in educational, work, and home environments.
One of her insights was the crossover between autism and other neurological conditions including dementia. Designing for neurodiversity rather than specific conditions may be an effective future-proofing strategy that supports everyone. That’s similar to the approach adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their forthcoming Guidelines on cognitive accessibility, based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.
Three papers from the latest issue of International Journal of Architecture and Planning address universal design. Once you scroll through the usual context-setting paragraphs on the principles of UD, the research itself has something to offer.
Disability and Otherization: Readings on Cinema in The Light of UD Principles. The study is about the relationship between architecture and disability in cinema, and how it is portrayed. Using 6 well-known films that include othering, the researchers apply the 7 principles of UD to analyse how disability is portrayed. Interesting way of dissecting societal attitudes and how such films might impact on social attitudes perhaps reinforcing prejudices.
Public Space and Accessibility examines pedestrian ways including ramps. Specific dimensions make this a guide largely for wheelchair access. Car parking and bus stops are also covered. The article reports on a workshop they ran on UD. It ends with the note that other disabilities including cognitive diversity now need to be considered. Perhaps of most interest to access consultants to compare with Australian standards.
Patricia Moore is well-known to those who have followed the fortunes of universal design for some time. She was the researcher who dressed and behaved as an 80 year old womanand found first hand the discriminatory treatment older people face every day in the built environment and socially. Her latest article with Jörn Bühringasks designers and business leaders to use social and emotional intelligence in their designs. They claim the philosophic challenge is to ask “Why not?” rather than “Why?”
“Designers don’t speak of limitations, instead they tend to focus on possibilities. The emergence of ’inclusivity’ in design supports the conviction that where there is a ’deficit’, we will present a solution. “Where there is ignorance, we will strive for enlightenment. Where there is a roadblock, we will create a pathway”.
Cite paper as: Bühring, J., Moore, P., (2018). Emotional and Social Intelligence as ’Magic Key’ in Innovation: A Designer’s call toward inclusivity for all – Letter From Academia, Journal of Innovation Management, www.openjim.org, 6(2), 6-12.
Occupational therapists and universal design have much in common, says James Lenker and Brittany Perez in their article, The role of occupational therapists in universal design research. They argue the case for including the skills and knowledge of occupational therapists across the spectrum of design disciplines and in research activities. In their role at Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, they have successfully collaborated with five different disciplines: architecture, human factors engineering, urban planning, digital media and occupational therapy. This is a three page paper is easy to read and promotes the importance of collaboration for the best implementation of universal design and inclusive practice.
Artificial Intelligence and Universal Design are looking like natural partners in the development of new technology. In a recent article, “Tackling Autonomous Driving Challenges – How the Design of Autonomous Vehicles Is Mirroring Universal Design” the authors argue that the applying the seven principles of universal design to the design autonomous vehicles is becoming more evident as the designs advance. You will need institutional access for a free read of this SpringerLink book chapter. Or you can try Google Books for some of the content.
Abstract: In the future, the world will be characterized by highly densely populations, with growing share of mobility-impaired/disabled persons, a critical problem regarding the sustainability of the metropolises, whose resolution may reside in autonomous vehicles. A broader range of users will be allowed a, so far, denied mobility in level 4 and level 5 SAE autonomous vehicles, a goal to be accomplished through Universal Design, a design which intends to be the closest possible to the ideal design. For such purpose, Human Factors and Ergonomics are key. Literature review and research have shown that there is evidence of application of the seven Universal Design principles in these new autonomous vehicles and that, given the nature and purpose of the Universal Design, with the increase of autonomy, there is natural increased evidence of Universal Design. A novel model for interaction of the Universal Design influencers is proposed.
A shiny floor may not be wet but it could look that way to someone with dementia. A black mat isn’t a hole in the ground either. And shadows of lattice through a window can look like steps. Mono coloured features are hard to distinguish too. These design details can easily be overcome with some extra thought about perception at the early design stage, or adapted in existing homes and buildings. The Guardian has an excellent articleabout these issues. It discusses how virtual reality software can bring more awareness to designers about these issues as well as the concepts of universal design. Dementia affects the ability to navigate the environment successfully because of changes in visual perception.
Editor’s note: taking photos of places and seeing them in two dimensions instead of three really highlights the perception differences.
JUST UD IT, is an acronym to help people remember the principles of universal design. In a short fact sheetpublished by Special Olympics Health, the principles of universal design are described generally, but also for people with intellectual disability. It points out that poorly presented information or communication can become a barrier to accessing health promotion programs or services. It also points out that universal design and accessibility are not synonymous and explains why. The acronym is as follows:
J: Jazz it Up – Ensure that your communication and presentations are engaging and interesting. No-one likes to be bored! U: Use Multiple Methods – Different methods help maximize your reach to the audience and allow more people to understand and participate. Written text, audio, pictures, video, touch, interactive activities are all great options to share your message. S: Simplify – Removing jargon, using concise and simple wording, and using large easy to-read font that is spaced out allows more people to understand your message. T: Test it out – Ask for feedback. Don’t assume that your method is reaching everyone. Instead ask your audience how your presentation or product was received and then adapt accordingly.