Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Concept of Universal Design

Designing in a global economy ...

"The idea that environments can support human function is not new to designers. But, the perception that design can enable one’s abilities and participation in society is something relatively new from a consumer perspective. In a global economy driven by technology, the pace of life is making usability more important. The cost of low productivity, inconvenience and errors is simply too high. The aging of the population worldwide is another important driver, especially in the highly developed countries that are still the prime market for consumer products.

Norman (2004) illustrates how products that are functional create a positive emotional response but other factors also come into play in the realm of emotions. For example, if a product is associated with design for disability, it can become stigmatized and avoided, even though it may have significant functional benefits. Universal design seeks to provide the benefits of enabling design without the negative connotation of design for disability.

The contemporary model of disability explicitly recognizes that both the social and physical environment are factors in the disablement process (see, for example, World Health Organization, 2001; Brandt & Pope, 1997) and that the process is not a direct causal relationship but, rather, highly probabilistic, i.e. impairment may have different impacts depending on the person, the environment and the resources available. This model shifts the focus of rehabilitation more towards the social and physical environment as an enabling force. Even more important, it recognizes that the process of disablement is actually universal and highly variable. Environment, as in the case of any child who has no way of reaching a school, can create limitations on activity and participation, even without the presence of impairment. Furthermore, the impact on two people with the same impairment can be very different, depending on personal factors. For example, a family who can afford private transportation could bring their child to school if there was no accessible public transit, while a family without those means cannot.

Contemporary disablement theory, then, puts more emphasis on improving the general environment although it recognizes that there will always be a need for assistive technology like hearing aids and wheelchairs. ”Universal design”, “inclusive design” or “design for all” are all names for a similar concept. The goal is to provide benefits to everyone by making the physical environment more usable, for a broader range of people, in more situations. By producing an environment that is more inclusive, there will be less need for specialized products for people with disabilities. Moreover, the benefits for all will generate a larger constituency to support the provision of increased usability. Universal design proponents argue that if this new paradigm is widely adopted, people without “disabilities” will become more effective advocates for improving access for those who have “disabilities.” They also believe that the practice of universal design will lead to greater social integration of people with disabilities, which will address social participation outcomes more effectively."    (Continued via uiGarden)    [Usability Resources]

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