Universal design isn’t just or only about disability. But it does have a major role to play in improving the lives of people with disability. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, cites universal design as the way to gain inclusion and equity. So does Australia’s National Disability Strategy. But discussions and actions on human rights often get diverted by politics and ideologies. The way we frame and word our responses can make a big difference in cutting through. But what words and what frame?
A Brilliant Way of Living our Lives: How to Talk about Human Rights by Anat Shenker-Osorio has some good answers and examples. The first part of the document looks at messaging pitfalls and fixes. The second part of the document looks at words that work, and the third part covers common critiques. Here is Shenker-Osorio’s introduction to the document:
“Using language data from advocacy, opposition, political speech and popular culture, I analyzed why certain messages resonate where others falter in the human rights sector in Australia, the UK and the US. Complementing this written discourse were 53 interviews with advocates in these three countries in order to draw out what we wish people believed – the vision for which we’d like to inspire increased activation from present supporters and persuade new ones. Recommendations here also draw upon previous research and empirical testing across issues related to human rights.”
Editor’s note: It is worth noting the change in public attitude in the same sex marriage campaign. It gained momentum when it moved from the right to marry whoever you want to being about marrying the person you love. In that vein, universal design is about the people we love.
The introduction to a special issueof Design Issues focuses on the way design can reproduce inequality in society. It asks questions such as: In what ways do designers or design processes emerge in relation to social inequalities? How can the discussion of inequality be broadened within design practices? This introduction discusses the rise of design and refers to different concepts and debates relating to design and designing. An academic journal asking important questions about the role of design in exercising power, creating accessibility, capitalism and consumption, cultural reproduction, oppression and neglect. An important contribution to the discourse on design.
“This collection offers Design Issuesreaders insight into the multi-layered connections between design and inequalities. All the articles address issues that are both deeply sociological and acutely concerned with design. They move across themes like the economy, labor, gender, disability, politics, colonization, material culture, class, and (social) policy. The essays clearly position themselves in the context of design inequality by pushing for greater criticality and reflexivity in design scholarship and practice.”
The international Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disability asked Australia some important questions about accessible housing. The answers depend on who you ask. The Australian Government indicated it was doing OK. Australian Human Rights Commission said a lot more needed to be done, including regulation. The Australian Civil Society Report, which provides the perspective of people with disability, said aspirational targets by industry haven’t worked, so it has to be mandated.
Michael Small’s Churchill Fellowship report tracks and compares discrimination laws and industry practice in relation to public buildings. He questions whether the control of the Access to Premises Standard is falling more into the hands of industry as Human Rights Commission resources are becoming increasingly constrained. Three of his recommendations are: that more training is needed for industry to help them understand the standards; more flexibility is needed for building upgrades; and better systems are needed for compliance enforcement and auditing. The title of his report is, Ensuring the best possible access for people with disability to existing buildings that are being upgraded or extended. The countries visited and compared are Canada, United States of America, Ireland and United Kingdom.
Rob Imrie and Rachael Luck discuss universal design from the perspective of how it relates to the lives and bodies of people with disability. Their philosophic offering is the introduction to a set of eight papers in a special issue of Disability and Rehabilitation. Some important questions are raised about the role of universalism and the embodiment of disability. For example, proponents of universal design say that users are crucial to the design process, but what does that mean for the skills of designers – will they be lost or discounted? Yet these are the people who have the power to use their skills “in ways where some social groups will benefit and others do not”. The focus of universal design is often on techniques and operational outcomes, but is this enough – are there other aspects to think about? Imrie and Luck provide a paragraph on each paper and conclude:
“The papers, as a collective, are supportive of universal design, and see it as a progressive movement that is yet to realise its potential. The contributors provide insight into the tasks ahead, including need for much more theoretical development of what universal design is or ought to be in relation to the pursuit of design for all and not the few. This includes development and deployment of concepts that enable non-reductive conceptions of design and disability to emerge, aligned to political and policy strategies that enable universal design to become a socio-political movement in its broadest sense.”
The title of the editorial of the special edition of Disability and Rehabilitation is, “Designing inclusive environments: rehabilitating the body and the relevance of universal design”. Thought provoking reading for anyone interested in UD as a social movement as well as design thinking. There is more on their universalising designblog site.
People with disability are now recognised in the global health landscape, but recognition has to be turned into action. Nora Ellen Groce points out in Global disability: an emerging issuein The Lancet, that disability is not diminishing overall because of better medical interventions. With ageing populations, natural disasters, and conflicts bringing wars and civil unrest, the number of people with disability is likely to increase. Groce argues that in spite of international conventions for furthering the rights of people with disability, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Millennium Development Goals, more action is needed – much remains to be done. She says, “… the question is no longer if but how people with disabilities are included in global health efforts.” We have to go beyond well-intentioned policies and turn them into action. While this short paper is set in a global context, the same call is needed at a local level – less talk, more action please.
Emily Steel has written a thoughtful piece about how the thrust of Australia’s National Disability Strategy is languishing while everyone focuses on one small part of it – the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). She argues that the NDIS runs the risk of further marginalising people because it is still treating people with disability as needing special (that is, separate non-mainstream) treatment. This is where the concepts of universal design come to the fore. Yes, some people will need specialised equipment as part of experiencing inclusion, but that equipment doesn’t make for inclusion unless the person can use the equipment to merge into the mainstream. For example, a person with paraplegia needs both a wheelchair and a step-free entry to buildings. One is no good without the other. The good thing is that a step-free entry is good for everyone – inclusive universal design. Only a small percentage of people with disability will qualify for the NDIS and this is also why we need universal design – for everyone, including people with and without NDIS packages. See Emily’s article for some good points on this issue. Emily will be speaking at the 3rd Australian Universal Design Conference. She is Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Wellbeing at University of Southern Queensland.
How can we attain our rights within a market-based economy, when those who do not experience social and economic exclusion have the the power of the market in their hands? From this comes the notion that “you can have your human rights if you can pay for them”. So it seems we have to be pragmatic about human rights in a market-based economy. That in turn means rights get enacted only after a cost-benefit analysis has been carried out and “the excluded” are assessed as being “affordable”. To gain rights, “the excluded” need to bring a benefit to the negotiating table. For more on this discussion, see Jane Bringolf’s speech notes from the 2014 Brisbane Housing Forum. It includes an explanation of Mutual Advantage Theory by Lawrence Becker. In Western societies, justice and fairness are not inalienable rights, but a negotiated process based on mutual advantage.