Envisioning Universal Design: Creating an Inclusive Society -- October 2-3, 2003
III. Issues and Perspectives
B. Needs and Recommendations
The four breakout groups addressed the specific needs and drafted recommendations under the respective topic headings of research, development, dissemination, and education. Afterwards, discussion by the entire group raised questions and provided additional insights and observations. Note that this list represents ideas generated in an atmosphere of brainstorming; no consensus was reached or attempted.
Research Needs and Recommendations
Need: There is an overarching need for more research in a wide array of critical topic areas.
- Devevelop broader, more inclusive research agendas. Expand types of populations, products, environments and systems studied.
- Relate research to the World Health Organization's International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health.
- Expand research methodologies. For example, adopt more scientific rigor; develop lower cost yet effective research methods; identify the salient variables of universal design effectiveness; conduct secondary data analysis, post-occupancy evaluations, longitudinal studies, and look at the design process itself as a research topic.
- Devote more research to the following specific topic areas:
- Human factors : Expand research in perception, cognition, biomechanics, and anthropometrics. Get human factors researchers involved in developing this research agenda.
- Environmental interaction : Develop research on how individuals interact with the environment. Compare and contrast universal design with more traditional approaches to accessibility such as assistive technology and home modification. Seek research that validates existing guidelines and standards. Improve the reliability and effectiveness of accessibility audits. Conduct more research in acoustics, way finding, urban design, and outdoor recreation.
- Consumer behavior : Conduct more research in usability, preferences and acceptance. Improve understanding of current and future needs of various groups such as wheeled mobility users and people with visual limitations and people with cognitive limitations, etc.
- Outcomes research: Assess the impacts and efficacy of the designs practitioners have produced. Research the impact of government policies. Evaluate the cost effectiveness of universal design.
- Best practices: Identify examples and define the criteria to evaluate what is a "best practice."Get universal design on the research agendas of other disciplines, ensuring that the results of this research are used.
- Tailor research results to specific audiences in order to communicate effectively to all of the diverse stakeholders of universal design.
- There is a need for scholarly multidisciplinary journals on universal design. The new journal, Diversity in Design , to be launched soon by the RERC at Buffalo, is an example. The scholarly community in the design disciplines and related fields such as disability studies, tourism, public health, ergonomics and management need to be encouraged to submit articles.
- Insure research results get used. Make research information accessible, in easy-to-use formats such as databases in fields such as anthropometry, ergonomics, demographics, and economics.
- Find out what work other disciplines are doing and have done related to universal design. Often they bring a different perspective. There is work being done that we don't know about, such as in public health, tourism, business, transportation, workplace, aging, social science, facilities management, and disability studies.
- Increase consumer participation in research: have consumers with disabilities involved in conceptualizing and planning, implementing and conducting research. Adopt a methodology of participatory research.
- Improve population-sampling strategies to include diverse populations, reflecting the full spectrum of people as well as underrepresented populations, that is, people with disabilities and groups ignored due to age, stature, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geography. Recognize the potential of cultural differences to act as a barrier. In this, look both at North America and the rest of the world.
- Find and use other data resources as part of secondary data research.
In the absence of good research data from the universal design community, other researchers come up with data to fill this gap. People may look to these publications as authoritative texts, and some authors include sections on disability, but sometimes without a sufficient knowledge base. As a result, these works contain great information on ergonomics, for example, but misinformation on disability.
Designers want answers, code information, what the code tells them to do. Should you give people data or examples? Designers do better with examples. Training designers to use data more effectively might be another goal.
Architects conduct research for precedents and examples. But because universal design is not specific to a product outcome, it is harder to define. It is really part of a value-based framework of design decision-making. Universal design helps people think responsibly and creatively using empirical information as a way of defining a problem, so they can use their design creativity to produce informed results.
We need to have our radar out for research into cultural differences and barriers. For example, discussions in Brazil with representatives of the international AFL/CIO brought home the fact that they see universal design as central to their international work. This expands the thinking about where business fits in and what we can do. Just as marketing is central to business thinking, design is, too. Our strategy should be to argue that design should be as central to their thinking as marketing, which used to be contracted out but is now considered to be at the center of business planning. Learn from groups like the Corporate Design Foundation in Boston, MA how to introduce the power of design to business schools. Now it is often conceived of as a low-level afterthought.
We have largely ignored the issue of cognitive limitations and functional characteristics; we do have brains as well as bodies. Designing for this population is not easy. We should think of function in terms of cognition. There are plenty of data; there is a wealth of studies on people with traumatic brain injuries, developmental disabilities, Alzheimer's, and other diseases. However, the data often do not translate well into actual design guidelines. Moreover, cognitive issues cross all age groups, so they require universal design in the best sense of the term, that is, all ages, and all abilities.
The literature on design for dementia is growing. Alzheimer's Care Quarterly did a special issue on designing for dementia. That research demonstrated that there is a need for professionals between the researchers and the designers, so-called translators who can take research data and help designers use it.
At the RESNA conference, participants had a chance to visit Bill Stump's studio. He is co-designer of the Aeron chair produced by Herman Miller. That firm's design process involves finding leading researchers in areas related to their areas of need - such as materials or back injuries, and having those experts participate in the design process. The Herman Miller firm doesn't do the research itself; they consult with people who have the expertise they need.
Assure that research results are useful to practitioners through collaborative efforts so that all benefits are evident. An ideal situation is where each stakeholder in a research project understands the problems of all others involved.
The best motivation for engaging in research is that you have to have an answer. It is purposeful and pragmatic. We should make clear to people in design fields how they can tap into getting the answers, possibly through a clearing house or organization that connects designers and researchers who have answers to the questions.
Most people don't think that design enters into the scheme of things and affects a person's well being, as opposed to his or her medical and physical condition or drugs. They are not aware that environment also has an impact on well being. We need research to demonstrate that the design of people's physical surroundings needs to be considered along with medical and physical factors. Today, some segments of the medical community are using the concept of healing environments as part of the healing process.
We live in a culture in which design doesn't count for much; there is very little design literacy in the U.S. However, some consumers have an understanding of research, and many do it themselves, such as when they buy things like a car. Therefore, we could investigate ways to communicate research findings to consumers so they can make more informed decisions.
Development Needs and Recommendations
- Strategic partnerships across movements and with large organizations that have their own infrastructure.
- Cost-benefit analysis demonstrating the benefits of universal design.
- Information packages that document real projects demonstrating universal design. There is precious little documentation out there and this lack is one of the unnecessary stopping points for people who are interested, but do not follow through..
- Better tools to both guide and measure universal design.
- Promote design and its power to influence and enhance the human experience--it may be revolutionary but we would like a design policy for America. This is really central. We don't want to lose the role of the designer in shaping modern life.
- Make connections between designers and decision makers, whether they are clients, other designers, developers, or leaders in the public sector. Involve people with different abilities and recognize the value of human interaction--the on-site, in-the-room, face-to-face power of people still needs more attention in terms of time, money, and resources.
- Build aggressive partnerships with large retailers, for example, Lowe's and Target. This can have enormous impact if we are successful. Target has done an amazing job of infusing design into their products that appeals to people who before would never have considered design as a basis for making a purchase.
- Target audiences aggressively as AARP has done over the years including consumers, clients, and designers.
- Develop information packages of best practices and case studies that are discipline and industry specific. Collaborate with the AIA and its case study project.
- Recognize the role of tools and examples that allow people to work independently.
- Achieve a level of refinement in examples of universal design.
- Beware of formalizing--we have ignored the cognitive spectrum, the need to consider the ways to design for cognitive differences. There may be opportunities to work with AIA on related research initiatives.
- Beware of the "silo effect," avoiding anything that reinforces what is too separate, too enclosed, too much received wisdom.
- Integrate universal design criteria into the funding guidelines of federal agencies and foundations.
- In addition to funding resources by the smaller agencies, including NEA, NIDDR and NEH explore funding resources of the larger federal agencies including: the U.S. Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, HUD, Defense, Transportation and the National Institutes of Health
- Catalyst funds is another idea, borrow a page from the "Green Movement." It doesn't take a lot of money to change people's behavior. Incentive money can reap enormous benefits. An example is the Green Movement's model program for public schools.
- Look at tax credits. Historic preservation credits have been incredibly effective; maybe there is a way to use that type of incentive. Consider awards for public housing and enterprise zones, having them integrate universal design into their criteria.
- Create functional capacity within existing organizations, such as the AARP Universal Design Working Group. The organization needs to have the structural capacity to carry forward the principles of universal design.
Dissemination Needs and Recommendations
Need: A concise yet open definition of universal design (the absence of which is hampering dissemination), one that is not only inclusive, but also open enough to allow other phenomena to gather under the umbrella of universal design as time goes on.
- Universal design should be promoted as an evolving process rather an outcome--universal design ing , not universal design. Craft a definition that appeals to a variety of learning styles.
- Promote universal design as a horizon concept, a goal that recedes when approached. The better practitioners become at universal design the more they realize they can do. Perfection is impossible, because quality standards evolve and advance.
- Avoid standardization because minimums become maximums that people design to. Yet some standardization is necessary so people can understand the concept. The field needs to strike a balance, as demonstrated in the universal design principles, which are performance based and not strict standards.
- It is important that we relate our research to the expanded contextual definition of disability. We should develop a research agenda that looks at the fit between a person and his or her environment. At the same time, the definition should expand disability to include poverty, violence, pollution, and public health.
- We should build bridges to the religious community, which is not required to comply with the ADA Standards of Accessible Design. Build on existing national efforts that promote voluntary access to religious settings and collaborate with consultants familiar both with religious organizations and universal design issues.
Need: A way to raise societal awareness of universal design both in the United States and around the world.
- Develop and promote different messages for different audiences, recognizing that one size does not fit all situations. Audiences include a) the public, that is, design consumers with and without disabilities; b) policy makers, especially those responsible for foreign assistance, which should include requirements to include universal design in projects; and c) practitioners, from designers to developers to manufacturers.
- Fashion a branding strategy, which can symbolize universal design. Also, pursue co-branding with corporate partners. Use a marketing-campaign approach in a variety of media aimed at specific audiences and enlist a public spokesperson of widespread appeal, as well as a network of spokespeople. Deploy benefit-based marketing to show businesses the value and profitability of universal design.
- In addition to academic and government agencies, we should seek corporate involvement as well as that of trade associations, which are in need of information on universal design.
- There is a need to promote a 'rehabitat' for humanity, doing voluntary rehabilitation similar to the community programs for building new houses. Home modification experts skilled in universal design could come in on a pro bono basis and offer services to do an assessment, put together materials, and contact builders to do home modification.
- Create continuing education materials on universal design for people in the health-care profession and approach local hospitals and those involved in long-term care.
Need: A forum for organizing and sharing universal design information.
- Establish a federation or consortium of universal design, e.g. (Federation of Universal Design).
- Promote local opportunities to bring universal design into public venues such as Home Depot or the Learning Channel; and create "turn-key" programs that local individuals and groups can use--a kit, or packet with instructions.
- Avoid restrictive organizational systems that limit partnerships. Work inclusively to expand the number of partners in efforts to expand the application of universal design.
- Create a forum so that all audiences can share information and learn about universal design, from those with zero knowledge to experts sharing information with colleagues on an advanced level.
- Develop an accreditation program of universal design education to provide teaching guidelines, not standards.
- Institute a series of national and international conferences on universal design, following on the efforts of Adaptive Environments. The 2004 conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil should attract partners who have not been involved before.
- Disseminate best practices and exemplars; use awards ceremonies to recognize practitioners, and create traveling exhibits as well as other resources especially within the context of continuing education.
- Contact state regulators who may be considering incorporating universal design criteria in their new guidelines.
- Hold a national Visitabilty conference for the growing numbers of grassroots people with disabilities who are assuming leadership roles in promoting and establishing the practice of Visitability.
- Influence practitioners' will and intention. We need to get people's attention as to the urgency of universal design. The AIA, in particular, needs to be made more aware. Build on the work with ArchVoices and the AIA Diversity Committee to reach local chapters and the professional interest and knowledge communities within the association. Collaboration on newsletters, articles, journal special issues, and conference presentations are all ways to engage the organization.
Creating a new definition is a double-edged sword. We have already given the public an enormous amount of information on how to design for all ages and abilities. Some points may have been left out, but to go back and redefine universal design is something we need to take a hard look at. We might better extend the definition that already exists, which will add richness to it.
It is important to make clear that universal designing is not barrier free design, ADA compliance, or visitability. There is a lot of confusion about this among the public and professionals. At present, only 7 to 8 percent of the public are aware of universal design, so there is no danger in changing the message. Best is to keep the same definition but using different approaches for different audiences. This will avoid confusion.
There is a need to find something we can put on a poster that assists in dissemination. Pay particular attention to public schools and youth groups like the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and 4-H groups. One way to effect social change is to get to the children. Consider poster contests and other community-wide activities in cooperation with both the formal and informal education systems. Utilize the Department of Agriculture's extension service, which has representation in every state.
In other people's language, universal design and inclusivity translate as enhanced and enlarged markets. If an architect creates a universally designed house, he or she automatically expands the market of those potentially interested in buying that house. We should focus on situations where universal design creates this kind of expanded market. Next, we have to communicate the value of universal design to people who stand to profit from adopting its principles. They may have the financial and marketing resources and expertise to support our efforts in advancing universal design.
Education Needs and Recommendations
Need: To create an overarching strategy that fosters partnerships with compatible movements in diversity, sustainability, health, and finance.
- Increase online educational opportunities and target different audiences. Infuse universal design within professional development courses that are targeted to real estate agents, contractors, or architects, crafting each program to the specific needs and requirements for recertification requirements of each discipline.
- Engage public policy makers to raise awareness, for example working with the Mayors' Institute on Community Design so that universal design education can be integrated into their identified priorities.
- Create modules in universal design that can be incorporated into licensing and continuing education courses for professionals who require licensing before they can begin practicing their profession.
- Influence entities that award professional degrees, working with accreditation agencies to establish performance criteria such as we have begun to do with NAAB, for landscape architects, and those involved in materials design.
- Increase design education opportunities for people with disabilities.
- Expand research opportunities for students and faculties, such as post-graduate positions in diverse design disciplines, i.e., graphic design, architecture, etc.
- Create universal design modules for related graduate disciplines such as planning, policy, engineering, and computer science.
- Find ways to incorporate universal design education in diversity training programs at a range of levels - from elementary schools through professional development.
- Develop an international organization for universal design advocacy and education that would include business leaders, child advocates, designers, health care workers and other stakeholders. This model has been successful in the promotion of new urbanist design through the Congress for the New Urbanism.
- Reach out to businesses to show how universal design helps the bottom line. The question remains how to create and disseminate these educational packages. In the field of real estate, influence the people who are creating policies in homeowners' insurance and mortgage banking.
- Target continuing education not just to design professionals, but find ways to reach the trade organizations, each of which has a publication that can be a platform to spread the word. This takes advantage of venues that already exist.
People need continuing education in a wide variety of fields. Universal design modules can be couched in a way for practitioners to see that this education is about enhancing their career. We can explain universal design as a strategy to expand markets, increasing the potential for profitability.
Educational products could be as modest as a conference presentation or as large as a certificate program. Most diversity training does not bring up the issue of physical differences other than skin color. Universal design should raise issues of discrimination from pre-K education to employment.
We should develop a generic message and collaborate with other groups, encouraging them to bring the message to their organization. We should make alliances with organizations and let them define for themselves, with us in collaboration, what kinds of things would be useful to them in terms of training or performance criteria or accredited degree programs. Our position should be to respect the expertise and boundaries of collaborators.
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