Friday, July 18, 2008

Weaving Usability and Cultures: Culture in the Further Development of Universal Design

Defining cultural component of design ...

"By now most readers of Design for All India have a healthy grasp of Universal Design. Many, perhaps most, have become highly competent in its application as is evident from the articles appearing in past volumes and today. Beyond technical mastery of the Seven Principles, knowledge of best-of-breed solutions, and familiarity with allied concepts such as Visitability, Adaptive Technology, or anthropometrics there is a cultural component to this design approach that is unquantifiably – but undeniably – transforming Universal Design. By systematically and thoroughly examining this cultural component in the coming decade we will discover the true nature of Universal Design to be social sustainability.
Defining the Cultural Component

There are two ways to define this cultural component.

The first is to take the generally accepted meaning of culture as a social system involving ethnicity, nationality, language, arts, shared values or some combination of these elements to define a coherent and dynamic system. The second is to apply the term culture to that system in relationship to persons with disabilities as a whole (pan-disability culture) or as various sub-groups (blind, deaf, deaf-blind, spinal cord injured, post-polio cultures).

Research into response to Universal Design in this first domain is still in its infancy. A rich body of literature will result from future inquiries into adoption, rejection, and adaptation of Universal Design by cultures as they have been traditionally defined. Such study can provide a complementary approach to other inquiries into disability in the field of Disability Studies.

Historically Universal Design arose in the 1970’s as a product of the Disability Rights Movement in the United States. Closely associated with the work and teaching of North Carolina architect and quadriplegic Ron Mace it began to gain widespread acceptance in the 1990’s through a dissemination process that has not been well documented. One theme in that documentation will be the interplay between the cultural values embedded in Universal Design, either intentionally or unintentionally, and those held in locations where it is introduced.

Anecdotal evidence indicates integration of Universal Design in Japan’s Mitsubishi, Toto, NTT DoCoMo and a uniquely Korean appropriation of Universal Design at Samsung. Reference to the Tao and the principle of balance symbolized in Tae Kuk are being integrated into the approach as applied to product design by the latter. Research by Thai scholar Antika Sawadsri (2006) on affective responses to Universal Design in Tai domestic settings is the first of what ought to be a series of similar studies done around the world. Such a micro-scale look at cultural factors involved in receptivity to Universal Design will provide uniquely targeted guidance to social planners and businesses attempting macro-scale Universal Design projects in the same social conditions.

As successful application and adaptive enculturation of Universal Design occurs there will be impact beyond the predictable further inclusion of persons with disabilities into the economic mainstream. From the earliest conversations leading to what we now know as Universal Design pioneer Elaine Ostroff was involved in the arts and incorporating Universal Design. Other positive secondary effects of adoption will include the importation and fabrication of new materials, dissemination of new designs and new construction methods, and the economic enhancement of those able to consult, design, or build according to a culturally appropriate but inclusive norm as populations age. In areas where an age-inversion causes the numbers of elderly to exceed those of youth, adoption of enculturated Universal Design in infrastructure, products, and services will become necessary not only for social cohesion but as a user demand due to the natural conservatism common with aging.
Defining Universal Design

In order to pursue this research priority and ensure meaningful and generalizable results it is important that researchers share a common definition of Universal Design. That definition is found in the Seven Principles of Universal Design but requires ongoing attention to evolving definitions of disability and to local permutations of Universal Design such as Design for All.

The Principles of Universal Design are:

1. Equitable Use: The design does not disadvantage or stigmatize any group of users.
2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
3. Simple, Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level."    (Continued via, Scott Rains)    [Usability Resources]


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