Universal design for inclusion

Professor Ilaria Garofolo writes an interesting essay on the role of universal design and inclusion. Garofolo claims technical handbooks based on regulations related to accessibility have reduced built environmental barriers but they haven’t resulted in inclusiveness. The outdated focus on compliance remains an underpinning feature of design culture.

“Taking into consideration the needs and preferences of persons should be the core of design, and in particular the design for inclusion…”

A narrow pedestrian street with market stalls and shops. A caring city is an inclusive city.

Built environment professionals argue that universal design is a good principle, but difficult to practice. The belief that universal design costs more doesn’t help matters. Providing readymade solutions or schematics are not the answer either. Such schematics contain stereotypes and generalisations referring to disability. While they might guarantee compliance they limit the continuing improvement aspect of universal design.

The term inclusion should define the orientation of society towards people. However, the term is often juxtaposed, and sometimes even confused, with the word integration. Unlike integration, which tends to counter the differences, inclusion entails the acceptance of all diversities and peculiarities of the individual.


The understanding of the relationship between people and their built environment is often missing. Participatory co-design methods, particularly with people with disability, are the way to overcome this divide. All the technical knowledge and expertise does not provide knowledge on how design impacts everyday living.

Fostering universal design through education

Diverse and dedicated subjects and master classes have arisen in higher education worldwide.

Although universal is increasingly permeating design education, it remains difficult to interpret as anything more than a set of good intentions.

A long room with a long table with students sitting both sides. They are working on a design project.

Experiential learning is an important part of the universal design curriculum as well as interdisciplinary collaboration. Personal experience and design workshops with users and trained designers provide a practical understanding of universal design.

“To design inclusively means to educate professionals to think inclusively and to work in collaborative teams composed of diverse groups of people.”

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalities

The title of the short essay is, The Role and Implication of UD to Foster Inclusion in Built Environments.

From the abstract

The level of inclusion of all members of society in community activities is a fundamental indicator of a civil society’s progress. There is increasing evidence that diversity and inclusion are linked to positive outcomes.

The universal design approach is increasingly recognized as the one that helps to shape physical and virtual environments. That’s so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their diversity. Thus, making a more inclusive society for all.

This short essay summarizes some reflections resulting from studies, research and field practices reported by literature, and also experienced by the author in her training as a researcher and university professor.

Attention is focused on some critical issues and implications inherent in the practical application of universal design principles. Also, the importance of its multidisciplinary dimension, which also entails a different attitude towards the training of professionals.

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