Friday, July 04, 2008

Adopting the Universal Design Approach Instead of the Stigma That Creates Poorly Accessible Enviroments

The benefits of universal design ...

"The idea behind Universal Design is to create products and services that can be usable for people of all ages and physical abilities. As well as consumer products, this approach is also applied to industrial products, communications technology, buildings and the built environment – in fact anything that is designed to be used. Sometimes this approach is known as ‘Inclusive Design’ and the terms ‘Inclusive’ and ‘Universal’ can be used more or less interchangeably in this context.

The practice of Universal Design is becoming increasingly widespread, although practitioners and researchers acknowledge that there is still resistance against it from some quarters (Ostroff, 2000: 43.10; Welsh & Jones, 2000, 51.3).

It has been more than half a century since the enactment of the first piece of legislation in the United States to protect the rights of people with disabilities. That legislation (Architectural Barriers Act, 1968, in Steinfeld et al, 1979) was very specific and addressed at the mostly the impact of stairs and ramps. However, the content of legislation has progressed worldwide towards a broader definition of the population who could benefit from the development of ‘user-friendly’ environments, i.e., environments that are responsive to users’ varied abilities. From the political standpoint recognition of the needs of disabled veterans and institutionalized individuals with disabilities was a driving factor. And today the notions of accessibility and usability of built environments have expanded the definition of disability beyond the medical view regarding lack of personal capacity for the undertaking of certain activities.

Therefore, the current definition of user population who benefit from Universal design includes a vast and diverse range of people such as all who temporarily or permanently must cope with extreme, unusual or unique daily challenges to use the built environment. Children, pregnant women mothers with infants and older adults are examples.

Temporarily injured people, distracted pedestrians, unskilled cyclists, and even people who are intoxicated are sometimes included in the definition of people with a “disability.”

On this basis, disability can be seen as a misfit between an individual’s abilities and the supportive resources of products, services or the environment for achievement of functional goals and social acceptance.

However, the main focus has remained on the needs of people with permanent disabilities (Bowe, 1978). In the past, the proportion of people with permanent disabilities was not as high as it is now. There is a strong correlation between age and disability – the older we are the more likely we are to become disabled. This means that as the average age of the population increases, which it is rapidly doing in developed countries, the greater the number of people who benefit from Universal Design."    (Continued via uiGarden.net, Marcelo Guimaraes)    [Usability Resources]

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