Ebook: Design for Inclusion
Current ideas about human diversity often highlight the importance of the relational and dynamic nature of interactions across different domains of human function, activities and participation. Universal Design (UD) is defined as design that is usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible and without the need for adaptation or specialization. The term ‘universal’ is intended to embrace human diversity, making it the opposite of the one-size-fits-all approach.
The Universal Design conference series was started in 2012 with the aim of promoting UD as a discipline-independent philosophy and approach which can transcend the boundaries between communities of knowledge and communities of practice. The first part of this book is a collection of 6 invited papers arising from some of the informal and semi-formal discussions and debates which took place as part of the UD 2022 conference in Italy. Authors were invited to submit papers presenting real case studies, and asked to discuss not only the opportunities and strengths, but also the challenges encountered when implementing UD in various domains. The second part of the book presents 6 essays by researchers who have worked on different aspects of UD over the years, each written from the perspective of the author’s own research strand.
The book will be of interest to all those working in the field of universal design and inclusivity.
Although the origin of the term ‘design’ comes from the applied world of industrial product design where ‘user testing’ was already part of the industrial production process, it is thanks to the pioneering work of Ronald Mace (1985) that the term design has been reconceptualised as a domain and discipline-independent process, applicable to any product, space or service. In addition, by using the term ‘universal’ Mace implies that any product, space or service should meet the needs, preferences and expectations of real human beings in specific contexts. Mace introduced a core conceptual and methodological shift: the notion that design should address the multiplicity of human beings, not an idealised standard: ‘Universal design is design that’s usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design’. It is clear from the definition that ‘universal’ is intended to embrace human diversity, and is therefore the opposite of the one-size-fits-all approach.
Modern conceptualisations of human diversity highlight the importance of the relational and dynamic nature of human-context interactions across the different domains of human functioning, activities and participation (ICF-WHO, 2001). The multi-dimensional nature of environmental factors (see the range of ICF Environmental Chapters, encompassing the human, built and natural environment) and the complexity of human-environment interaction, necessarily require a multi-disciplinary and multi- scale approach to design if they are to achieve inclusion. It is within this conceptual framework that both the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD, 2006, Art 4f), together with the subsequent UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, promote Universal Design as the optimum approach to ensure that all human beings, including people with disabilities, can enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms (EU Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities 2021–2030).
The force of UD as a discipline-independent philosophy and approach is precisely what we need to transcend the boundaries between academic disciplines and separations which currently exist between communities of knowledge and communities of practice. One way to foster cross-disciplinary encounters and dialogue is to create opportunities and formats that allow academic, governmental and professional communities to come together. This is the tradition of the Universal Design conferences, started in 2012, the last edition of which took place in Italy in 2022.
In addition to the main thematic sessions, UD 2022 offered several informal and semi-formal occasions for discussion and debate. This volume gives value to the outcomes of these sessions. Authors were invited to submit papers that presented real case studies, with the request that they discuss not only the opportunities and strengths, but also the challenges encountered when implementing Universal Design in different domains. During the mini-sessions (in the form of science cafes) authors had the benefit of being able to present their studies to a wider audience, promoting an enriching exchange of views for both speakers and listeners. These papers form the first part of this volume.
The second part of the volume includes scholarly essays by researchers who have worked on different aspects of Universal Design over the years. Although working in different fields, they share a UD framework and philosophy. We asked each of them to contribute their theoretical, philosophical, and methodological essay from the perspective of their own research strand within UD.
The publication was financed by a contribution from the University of Trieste_FRA (University Research Funds) 2022 and with funds from the Research Programme Project: ‘Observatory for the analysis and monitoring of the quality of the Plans for the Elimination of Architectural Barriers, aimed at the construction and adoption of a structured methodology for the analysis and monitoring of the quality of PEBAs, for convergence to the general accessibility mapping system and support for the actions provided by LR 10/2018’, funded by the FVG Region – Public Works and Buildings, Policy Service for Urban Regeneration, Housing Quality and Education Infrastructure Area.
Despite laws, policies, and political visions to create cities and societies for all, barriers still exclude people from using buildings and public places. The commitments made in global agreements such as the Convention on Rights for Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development require significant changes in urban planning to meet the variety of needs and conditions in the population. Implementing Universal Design (UD) in urban planning processes is one important step towards a society for all.
Three recent studies in Sweden focused on UD in the urban development - how, where and what factors that supported or impeded UD along the planning and construction processes. The whole process, from signs in visionary programmes and development plans to process-related factors and visible results in the completed buildings and places, were analyzed from a UD perspective. The findings highlight three critical areas to pay particular attention to, when implementing UD in the built environment: Competing and contradictory interests, Critical choices and aspects and Images of the user. These challenges need to be addressed by all actors involved, together in a in a goal-oriented work, to reach common understanding on how an inclusive built environment can be designed and realized.
Research has yet to full investigate the multidimensional factors and mechanisms that contribute to access and adoption of Assistive Technology (AT). This mini-session aims to explore this gap by providing initial indicators for the social return on investment (SRoI) for including mainstream consumer technology in AT provision schemes and report on an analysis of key stakeholder perspectives and documents funded by the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI).
Unlike physical barriers, communication barriers do not have an easy solution: people speak or sign in different languages and may have wide-ranging proficiency levels in the languages they understand and produce. Universal Design (UD) principles in the domain of language and communication have guided the production of multimodal (audio, visual, written) information. For example, UD guidelines encourage websites to provide information in alternative formats (for example, a video with captions; a sign language version). The same UD for Learning principles apply in the classroom, and instructors are encouraged to prepare content to be presented multimodally, making use of increasingly available technology. In this chapter, I will address some of the opportunities and challenges offered by automatic speech recognition (ASR) systems. These systems have many strengths, and the most evident is the time they employ to convert speech sounds into a written form, faster than the time human transcribers need to perform the same process. These systems also present weaknesses, for example, a higher rate of errors when compared to human-generated transcriptions. It is essential to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of technology when choosing which device(s) to use in a universally designed environment to enhance access to information and communication. It is equally imperative to understand which tools are most appropriate for diverse populations. Therefore, researchers should continue investigating how people process information in a multimodal format, and how technology can be improved based on this knowledge and users’ needs and feedback.
Accessibility is a central element of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy: it is both a human rights imperative, and an exceptional business opportunity, as mentioned by UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. Accessible tourism for all is not only about providing access to people with disabilities, but also addresses the creation of universally designed environments that can support people that may have temporary disabilities, families with young children, the ever-increasing ageing population, as well as creating a safer environment for employees at work. It must also be considered that accessible tourism benefits everyone: as more individuals enjoy the opportunity to travel, the tourism industry gets more visitors, longer seasons and new incomes. This contribution presents the approach taken within the Italy-Croatia Interreg Project “E-Chain – Enhanced Connectivity and Harmonization of data for the Adriatic Intermodal Network”, focused on the provision of useful and personalized information for the traveling user.
Since our PhD, we aim to rethink the transposition of universal design (UD) in museums for narratives, specifically on labels. We have conceptualised a model of universal label, adding inclusive and communicative writing: inclusive, by using universal design merging on the same device several forms of communication (sign language, Braille, easy to read); communicative, because it explains and learns how citizens perceived as disabled communicate. UD writing could initiate and encourage communication. In this paper, we applied our reflections on UD writing to the label of The Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum.
Improving the accessibility of Italy’s cultural heritage is one of the essential conditions for ensuring its qualitative fruition and, therefore, one of the main tasks of the Ministero della Cultura. Recent renewed interest in this issue has led to the launch of a series of important ministerial initiatives, both at the central and peripheral levels, with the main objective of seeking that delicate balance between the demands for conservation and protection and the improvement of the level and quality of accessibility.
This article discusses universal design as a concept and strategy in light of human diversity. Inspired by the German-American philosopher Hannah Arendt, plurality is understood as a condition of humanity. From this recognition of human diversity, the term ‘universal’ is analysed, focusing on the ambivalences inherent in the concept. I argue that universal design, as a human rights concept, must respond to human plurality and avoid the ableist risk of excluding persons and groups of people, when implementing universal design strategies. Interdisciplinary knowledge, education and skills are important for the practice of universal design. According to Article 4 of the Convention On The Rights Of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), new research is needed to apply universal design strategies in different contexts. I then focus on disabling barriers in education and research. I conclude by arguing for developing a culture of access and embedding universal design strategies in disability research recognising the socio-cultural aspects and human plurality.
Our everyday reality is perceived as more complex, unpredictable, and filled with barriers created by not-so-evident factors that can stifle thought, reflection, and the desire and energy to act. All of this intertwines with the reduction of physical and psychological well-being for many people, encouraging the presence and escalation of situations of vulnerability which are rapidly increasing nowadays. In addition to the more traditional and known ones, such as vulnerabilities connected to the presence of disabilities or diseases, today other forms of vulnerabilities are strongly emerging, such as environmental vulnerabilities or vulnerabilities connected to climate change, ecologic vulnerabilities, financial vulnerabilities, ‘health-related’ vulnerabilities, digital vulnerabilities, and professional vulnerabilities. Considering this standpoint, in this chapter we will focus to inclusivity, sustainability, social and environmental justice, human rights. Furthermore, we introduce the construct of Society 5.0 that aims to improve the living conditions of everyone and to relatively resolve problems at the micro-, meso-, and macro-social levels.
The level of inclusion of all its members in the complex of community activities is a fundamental indicator of the progress of a society that wants to be defined as civil and there is a rising awareness about the evidence that diversity and inclusion are linked to positive outcomes. The Universal Design approach is increasingly recognized as the one that helps to shape environments – in terms of physical and virtual environments, as well as buildings, goods and services – 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 in particular on some critical issues and implications inherent in the practical application of UD principles, as well as on the importance of its multidisciplinary dimension, which also entails a different attitude towards the training of professionals.
This essay discusses Universal Design (UD) with respect to language and communication rights. Because Universal Design approaches aim at meeting human variability from the get-go, they must be able to address linguistic and communicative variability. Variability must individual variation in language functions and communication activities in the absence of disability and variability when speech, language or communicative disorders are present. Current conceptualizations of speech, language and communication disabilities take a person-centered approach and a bio-psycho-social framework of health and disease (WHO-ICF) that encompass three ontological domains: body functions and structures, activities, and participation. The framework crucially lists environmental factors that interact with each domain. I illustrate how UD can successfully be integrated with an ICF framework in the domain of speech, language and communication impairments; I then propose that the ICF model can be extended beyond disability to non-clinical populations and settings, to meet the communication rights for all.
Today, against the impacts of aging population and the increase in social unbalances and demands, the call to make European cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable puts the construction of equally distributed well-being conditions at the core of urban regeneration processes. From this perspective, accessibility to city spaces plays a significant role when understood as a right to citizenship, and as a crucial agent of socialisation. This chapter investigates accessibility as a set of spatial conditions allowing people (regardless of their age, gender, health, wealth and social status) to autonomously and sustainably move every day between their houses, public spaces and equipment. The assumption is that taking accessibility as a key attribute of cities helps conceptualise their spatial quality as a “performance feature” to be defined in relation to how individuals concretely act in places, according to their different bodies, needs, perceptions, lifestyles and co-existence habits. By recalling some past and present planning and design theories and practices, different physical and social dimensions of accessibility are questioned. The aim is to show the need to address urban regeneration towards the cities’ transformation into more “place and people sensitive”, inclusive and “proactive” environments.
Although its importance is undeniable, designing in a more inclusive way is not yet fully adopted in the field of design and planning, whose reference continues to be the standard man. An approach which not only excludes people with disabilities, but also other categories that diverge from the physical and cognitive characteristics of the standard human model, such as women, the elderly, and children. This problem affects different contexts and can be observed especially in the area of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), which are often designed without taking into account the peculiarities that distinguish these categories of users. Referring to the categories affected by the digital divide, the article reflects on the need to promote specific methodologies, such as Universal Design and User-centered Design, so that attitudinal and psychological issues related to different categories of users are considered.