Ebook: Universal Design 2021: From Special to Mainstream Solutions
Universal Design is a process for creating an equitable and sustainable society. It is a concept committed to recognizing and accepting each individual’s potential and characteristics, and promoting the realization of a built environment that does not stigmatize users, but enables everyone to participate fully in their community.
This book presents 32 articles from the 5th International Conference on Universal Design (UD2021). Previous Universal Design conferences have been organized biennially, but the 2020 conference was postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions, and eventually held online from 9 - 11 June 2021. UD2021 brings together a multidisciplinary group of experts from around the world to share knowledge and best practice with the common goal of shaping the way we design; avoiding stereotyped or discriminatory views and solutions that could stigmatize particular groups of people. The articles are organized into chapters under seven broad themes: universal design and inclusive design; user experience and co-design; access to education and learning environment; web accessibility and usability of technology; architecture and the built environment; mobility and transport; and designing for older people.
The current situation has highlighted not only the importance of web accessibility, the user-friendliness of interfaces and remote connections; during the last year, the importance and quality of our daily living environment, access to services and green space has also become ever more obvious. This book will be of particular interest to those working to enable all those with disabilities or impairments to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.
This special issue combines 32 articles from the 5th International Conference on Universal Design (UD2021) organized by SOTERA, the Research Group for Health and Wellbeing Architecture, at Aalto University, Finland. We are celebrating 150 years of Art, Design and Architecture education in 2021, and inclusiveness is one of the major themes. Previous Universal Design conferences have been organized every two years, starting in Norway  and followed by Sweden , England , and Ireland , but the 2020 conference was first postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, and was finally organized online in 2021. The conference offered the possibility to share knowledge and best practice, and to network with people from all over the world.
The current situation has highlighted the importance of web accessibility and the user-friendliness of interfaces and easy to use remote connections, and many of us have moved seamlessly into remote work. At the university, new ways of teaching and learning may also have benefited those with dyslexia or other sensory limitations which may cause difficulties with participating in lectures. However, we have all also experienced the limitations of current technology and seen the need for its development from the point of view of users. The EU directive on Design for All (2016) and the standard (2019) encourage the design and construction of websites and mobile applications to make them more accessible to all users, in particular those with disabilities, but everyone benefits from easy to use solutions and wider access to services, and persons with disabilities and older people will also be better integrated in society as a result. The EU has also recognized that Universal Design has potential for both innovation and economic growth.
The importance of the quality of our daily living environment, access to services and green environment has become ever more obvious during the last year. The key to our wellbeing lies in our daily life and home environment. Population ageing is a global trend, but this demographic change may bring positive impacts, enhancing socially sustainable development, providing new solutions for the employment and better integrating of older workers and people with physical or sensory disabilities into our communities. These developments will affect the way we design our housing, work environments and services. As the UN convention of rights of people with disabilities (2006, article 9) states:
“To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.”
Universal Design is a human rights movement. Its aim is to find solutions that enhance equity and equality in society, recognizing each person’s potential and accepting people’s individual characteristics. It promotes a realization of the built environment that does not stigmatize users and enables everyone to participate fully in their community.
Universal Design is part of the process for creating a sustainable society, and it has both economic and social impacts. The objective is to develop solutions for a variety of users, including the most vulnerable, involving them in the design process. The UD2021 conference gathers together a multidisciplinary group of experts from different parts of the world with the common goal of shaping the way we design, avoiding stereotyped or discriminatory views and solutions which may stigmatize particular groups of people. The articles in this book have been organized into seven chapters under the broad themes of: 1. Universal design and Inclusive Design; 2. User experience and co-design; 3. Access to education and learning environment; 4. Web accessibility and Usability of technology; 5. Architecture and the built environment; 6. Mobility and transport; and 7. Designing for older people.
With this preamble, it is particularly gratifying to be able to welcome you to read this publication with its wealth of new examples of Universal Design in action. The community of researchers, designers, policy analysts, activists, students and interested individuals around Universal Design is growing. We are delighted to spread the awareness, and hope to see you at our next event.
Helsinki, April 2021
Ira Verma, DSc. in Architecture, Scientific committee UD2021
Laura Arpiainen, Director, SOTERA research group
 The Delta Center, Trends in Universal Design, Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs, The Delta Centre, Oslo, 2013.
 H. Caltenco, P.-O. Hedvall, A. Larsson, K. Rassmus-Gröhn, B. Rydeman, Universal Design 2014: Three Days of Creativity and Diversity. IOSPress, Amsterdam, 2014.
 H. Petrie, J. Darzentas, T. Walsh, D. Swallow, L. Sandoval, A. Lewis, C. Power, Universal Design 2016: Learning from the Past, Designing for the Future, IOSPress, Amsterdam, 2016.
 G. Craddock, C. Doran, L. McNutt, D. Rice, Transforming our World Through Design, Diversity and Education, IOSPress, Amsterdam, 2018.
Certainly, the issue of accessibility has, in addition to a well-known social value, obvious economic repercussions. However, these are not easily measurable, as they can be investigated only on the basis of indicators that are mainly qualitative and indirect. That said, this paper will highlight some aspects that can be considered a first approach, identifying the variables and key players in the economic field.
The approach, according to the principles of Universal Design, already identifies economic implications related to the design of spaces, objects, and services. The socio-economic relevance has also been underlined within Sen’s economic theories based on the capability approach and is generally referable to the theme of corporate social responsibility. In recent years, all this has been finding a universalistic synthesis in the enunciation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The analysis is conducted according to an interdisciplinary qualitative approach from two main perspectives: the company and the public administration.
The study highlights how accessibility—understood according to a broad meaning that considers material and immaterial factors—assumes significant economic value with different specificities, depending on the reference actor (company/public administration).
In particular, it is evident that for the company, the issue of accessibility (both with regard to products and services and organizational profiles) is taking on an increasingly important dimension with reference to marketing and ratings.
The present work defines with clear evidence the main areas in which the economic value of accessibility appears, although a more in-depth study is needed to define metrics useful for quantifying the phenomenon. The study can be useful in various public and private sectors that involve policy-makers, designers, managers, and companies that produce goods and services.
Industry and academic perspectives have become more focused on designing for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) over the past few years, both in general and particularly within the built environment. This renewed interest appears to have stemmed from a basis of respect-based ‘due diligence’ in 2018 to one of necessity in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic brought areas of difference into focus and exacerbated them, making it harder for people to live their everyday lives. In this paper, the authors seek to bridge the divide between academia and industry on the subject of Inclusive Design (ID) through their use of a combination of an academic and grey literature review as well as empirical research conducted with scholars and practitioners. These multiple methods focus less on the academic perspectives and more on how the industry has responded to the research and market demand. It clarifies nuanced differences among ID-related terms, provides best practice examples for wellness in the built environment, and identifies governing body guidelines (i.e., principles, protocols, policies) that have been enacted for ethical and business differentiating purposes.
It is sixty years since ASA A117.1 was introduced in 1961, and fifty years since the US Senate Special Committee on Aging hearings on barrier-free environment in October 1971. During these years, the word “barrier-free design” was replaced with universal design, or inclusive design, with the notion that the need is not limited to people who have disabilities, but that more people will be affected by poor design. How far have we progressed in these years to solve the problems? This paper tries to examine what we have now and what still need to be done, on environments, products, and services. To sum-up major findings, the built environment is more considerate to people than before thanks to ADA and other similar laws and regulations, but improvement of existing infra/structures is slower than desirable.
Aesthetic experience of the built environment involves all our senses: the sight of colour and form; the echo in a room; the smell of wood; the touch of handrails; the refreshing cool air on the skin, and so on. However, the definition of universal design sets no criteria for aesthetics, only stating the functional requirements that need to be met. The term for many architects and planners is still too closely associated with legislations, regulations, and standards. Buildings designed by some of the pioneers of modern architecture have been briefly mentioned in relation to universal design: Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright’s use of the ramp as an architectural element, Mies van der Rohe’s plans, the fluent transition between inside and outside, through which people may move easily and effortlessly, and Alvar Aalto’s design of details, such as door handles suitable for people of varying heights. However, their architectural works have greater potential as sources of inspiration with respect to moving buildings in a universal direction. Rem Koolhaas’ innovative design for a client with reduced mobility and his library projects are examples of how a contemporary architect has used Le Corbusier’s architecture as a source of reference. This paper refers to or includes works made by the above-mentioned architects to illustrate universal design and thereby discusses architectural qualities and aesthetics in relation to the needs of people with reduced mobility, vision and hearing.
Universal Design (UD) aims to provide designed environments that allow users to fully participate in all kinds of activities. Especially, the design of Sport and Leisure buildings should support and encourage the participation of mobility and sensory impaired people in any physical and social activity. Yet, the variety of physical and social users’ needs calls for different approaches to investigate, analyze and assess how the environment fulfills users’ needs and expectations.
This paper presents a new analytical model that: a) investigates how people with mobility, visual, and hearing impairments interact with specific architectural features; b) links the examined user-environment interaction with the user’s personal assessment of the spatial experience.
The study employs the literature review of the existing analytical models, which are based on the concept of user-environment interaction and framed around empirically deducted basic human needs. These models address the issue of user-environment fit by focusing on the identification of environmental barriers. Also, some of these models are too descriptive and cannot inform the practice in creative design processes.
The proposed analytical model, which is built upon the theoretical concepts of affordances and usability, aims to develop a qualitative evaluation method for identifying environmental facilitators by linking the design of architectural characteristics with the influenced perception of users of the physical and social aspects of the built environment.
The model consists of three groups of elements: (1) users’ physical abilities; (2) architectural features and (3) usability criteria. The inter-relations of each element across the groups develop the narrating scenarios that can be investigated from the user’s perspective.
This new model does not only advance the understanding of the spatial experiences of persons with mobility and sensory impairments but also offers new insights for exploring UD solutions by identifying the architectural features that enlarge the spectrum of possible user-environment interactions.
This paper presents the findings of a user study conducted at a company, a global leader in its industry, in order to engage experts by experience in the research and development of the company’s future products. People who have life-changing experiences such as being ill or having a disability, and who are trained to consider their environment in terms of those experiences, can be called experts by experience. They can be inventive in creating solutions to the challenges of an inaccessible environment. Currently, their expertise is primarily used by the public sector, mainly in welfare and health-related initiatives. The corporate sector seems to have not yet actively engaged them. This study adopted a design research approach and applied a case study method to a research and development project conducted at a company. The user study comprised experts by experience testing a physical prototype that had digital content, by thinking aloud, interacting and participating in a design game. The aim was to understand the strengths, opportunities and development needs of the prototype, as well as to gain the experts’ insights into future requirements and how to meet them with similar products. The study resulted in usability-, appearance- and feel-related product qualities, as well as ideas regarding the product’s potential applications and digital content. The findings suggest that trained experts by experience can provide a company with information that could act as design drivers that benefit strategic development. Due to the inclusion and empowerment of users, as well as fostering their equality, engaging experts by experience in research and development could also be considered to be an example of corporate social sustainability and responsibility.
Technology has potential for improving the lives of persons with severe disabilities. But it’s a challenge to create technology that improves lives from a person’s own perspective. Co-design methods have therefore been used in the design of Assistive Technology, to include users in the design process. But it’s a challenge to ensure the quality of participation with persons with significantly different prerequisites for communication than ourselves. It’s hard to know if what we design is good for them in the way they themselves define it, in a communication situation, which has to be significantly different than traditional co-design. In this paper, we present a new approach to co-design with persons with severe disabilities. We call this process “trans-create”, based on the creative translation we use when translating between cultures. We found that by using familiar artifacts that could be added and removed in the co-design process, we had a language for communication. By adding a personalisable digital layer to the artifacts, we could adapt, scale and redesign both tangible, visual and sound qualities in the situation dynamically. For example, by making it possible for the user to choose and activate a pink music cover card (RFID) that turns the lighting of the entire room pink and changes the music. This implies changing the distinction between designer and user, between the design process and the use process, and the view of what we create during a co-design process. That is why we have chosen to call this process “trans-create”, instead of co-create, what we create for “living works”, instead of design, a hybridisation between design and use, process and result.
For the creation of inclusive design solutions, designers require relevant knowledge about a diversity of users throughout the design process. Besides understanding users’ needs and expectations, the ways in which users perceive and experience the environment contain valuable knowledge for designers. Since users’ perceptions and experiences are mainly tacit by nature, they are much more difficult to communicate and therefore more difficult to externalize. Hence, more insight is needed into the ways designers can build knowledge on Universal Design through direct user contact.
In a project called ‘Light up for all’ architecture students are asked to design a light switch and socket, elegant, usable and understandable to the greatest extent possible by everyone. Two workshops with user/experts are organized in the first stages of the design process in which students could gain insight into users’ experiences and perceptions through direct contact. Three data collection techniques are used to analyze the teams’ design processes: (1) a design diary, (2) observations of the workshops and (3) a focus group.
By means of analyzing collected qualitative data, we have identified three different design aspects that affect designers’ UD knowledge building process. First, findings give indications on values and limitations of working with selected design artefacts when externalizing users’ experiences. Second, the value of stories clearly affected designers’ deeper understanding about users’ experiences. Finally, results show that in some situations, designers encountered contradictory information between observations and verbal conversations. These insights may help researchers to better understand designers’ process of building knowledge on UD from users’ experiences and perceptions, which may result in better incorporating users’ experiences when designing for everyone.
International regulations about Accessibility and Design for All are clear. They provide two guidelines to ensure equality, autonomy, and non-discrimination, such as Reasonable Accommodation and Universal Design (or Design for All). Reasonable Accommodation leads to Adapted Fashion, which adjusts clothing to the body (average clothes for the average consumer). Universal Design leads to Inclusive Fashion, which creates clothes for everybody even if you have a body issue. Design for All (or Universal Design) implies projecting from the beginning to the end of the design process based on inclusion. In this context, the Museum-Foundation Juan March in Palma was the starting point to conceive, develop and communicate a collaborative and transdisciplinary design project; it was designed under the principle of Universal Design. This transdisciplinary co-design project took place during the first semester of the 2019–2020 academic year with a third-year BA in Fashion Design students. They designed an inclusive ready-to-wear fashion micro-collection, which focused on sensitizing BA in Fashion Design students, promoting a change of attitude, and fostering a better understanding of the challenges clothing design process. Students were invited to complete two online questionnaires to collect data on the project. The first survey was used to assess alumni’s perception of acquisition, development, and/or consolidation of key competences in participating students and control groups. The second survey was used to assess alumni’s activity on the project among participating students. This project was aimed at sensitizing BA in Fashion Design students, promoting a change of attitude, and a better understanding of the challenges clothing design process. After visiting the museum, getting inspired by their artists and their works of art, creating a mood board, and drawing the first sketches, two groups were created to develop an inclusive, ready-to-wear fashion micro-collection. Each collection focused on a different users’ profile: one group worked with a model with achondroplasia (woman), and the other group worked with two wheelchair models (man, woman). Despite the mixed results, the main objectives of the project were reached. As members of a school community, students must learn about other realities that differ from their everyday environment. As members of a school of design, students must be aware of an important prospective market niche and expand their fields of action that must include Design for All. In any case, human diversity is the key concept to approach user-centred design in the twenty-first century. The «Museum and Inclusive Fashion» project was part of an ongoing academic research project funded by the Balearic Government (2017–2020). This article reflects the views only of the authors, and the Balearic Government cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
We present a pilot study on three Italian Universities using a multi-domain set of indicators for Inclusion. The indicators are expressed in the coding system of the International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health – ICF – (World Health Organization, 2001).
We selected three medium-sized Italian Universities: Brescia, Trieste and Venice. We combined a student-centered Universal Design philosophy for the built environment and Universal Design for Learning for the instructional environment. We identified four ICF Environmental Chapters (E1, E3, E4 and E5) and made them specific to the Academic context. Within the four Environmental Chapters targeting the physical, instructional, cultural, communicative, social and recreational domains we developed a 35-item checklist to fill out. The indicators were qualitative, quantitative or a mixture of the two. The three Universities shared the same instruments. Our main finding is that, although accommodations for students with disabilities exist as mandated by Italian law, the prevailing implementation is an individual accommodation based approach, rather than a universal design approach for the benefit to the greatest extent of the student population.
The TINEL Project is running a series of camps for staff at higher education institution to support them in developing inclusive eLearning. The first camp was conducted face-to-face, but the coronavirus pandemic meant that the second camp was conducted online. This created a case study in inclusive eLearning in itself and allowed us to experience and reflect on the challenges and opportunities of inclusive online teaching and learning. This paper presents the structure and content of the two camps, our reflections on moving from a face-to-face to an online situation and our elaboration how the UDL principles apply to eLearning to create Universal Design for eLearning (UDeL). We found that because we already had a syllabus for the camp prepared, transferring it to an online camp did not present a great number of challenges. Some aspects of the online situation were actually advantageous (e.g. presenting all materials digitally and making them fully accessible) while others were difficult to overcome (e.g. engaging all participants in online activities and discussions). We provide a set of recommendations of how to implement the three principles of UDL in eLearning situations.
Accessibility in higher education campuses of India paves way for inclusion.This paper shares perspectives from three diverse campuses from India and highlights the accessibility paradigms in their respective contexts. It further elaborates the contextual measures of accessibility and universal design from these examples with larger focus on physical attributes of accessibility. Challenges of historic and mixed use campus alongwith high ecological footprint pose distinct perspectives to accessible built environments in higher education. Comparative understanding of accessibility through structured metrics and mapping with Universal Design goals leads to development of a framework to assess and guide universal design approach in higher education in similar contexts. It argues that Universal design approach requires a contextual interpretation for contexts like these and may reflect new interpretations to existing theories. New Education Policy by the Government of India and Covid’19 as pandemic have furthered the need and understanding of accessibility in higher education with some degree of universaliaton and some degree of contextualization.
The purpose of this paper is to introduce participants to our journey of integrating Universal Design as a central part of a new Technological University in addressing the challenge of a consistent quality experience for all learners. Adopting and combining both the principles of universal design and universal design for learning is not to make it easier but to offer a framework of principles and guidelines to make education appropriate and challenging for everyone. Ken Robinson wrote “A vibrant school can nourish an entire community by becoming a source of hope and creative energy…Poor schools can drain the optimism from all the students and families who depend on it by diminishing their opportunities for growth and development” (1)
Providing access to high quality books for all types of readers is a premise for cultural democracy. Many people, however, have challenges reading mainstream books. There might be diverse reasons why people find reading challenging. Some examples are reading impairments, reduced vision, cognitive impairments, learning a new language, or due to stress, fatigue or illness. To ensure everyone access to literature, it is therefore vital to produce books that can (and will) be read by a wide range of users. This case study addresses the following research questions: Do adapted books represent accessible or universal design? Can adapted books be perceived as motivating to read for all types of readers? Are “special books” necessary to ensure that all users have access to high quality literature? In Norway, the association Books for Everyone develops adapted, printed fictional books to accommodate various types of reading challenges. This paper examines the production of these books and uses this collection to investigate the research questions. The main finding is that most of the books by Books for Everyone can be considered examples of universal design, rather than “special books” directed at a very narrow user group. Moreover, there seems to be a limited need for “special books”, except for books targeting readers with severe cognitive or sensory impairments. By applying the universal design approach, fictional literature can potentially make books more accessible for all types of readers.
We present a novel and versatile online resource named Clothes4all which is a website, web application, and tool likewise, and which can be used to study various aspects of web accessibility. The article elaborates on the tool’s development, its features and possibilities, as well as use and potential methodology. Clothes4all mimics a web shop for clothes and consists as such of a set of coherent web pages that can be freely used, studied, and extended as desired, in particular aiming at user trials. The site’s main feature is that single or multiple accessibility barriers can be injected into or removed from its web pages in a controlled manner. The primary application area of Clothes4all is the testing and validation of accessibility checkers and validators themselves, and hereby the site is expected to eventually contribute to more accessible web pages. A secondary application area is education, as Clothes4all is a great resource to learn about web technologies, web accessibility, assistive technology, user diversity, impairments, and other aspects of online accessibility.
Disability has been redefined by the World Health Organization as a function of a person’s interaction with the environment and not merely an innate part of a person. This redefinition highlights the need for inclusiveness in design solutions. To aid this, we apply and test the potential of different tools that restrict designers’ physical abilities at deriving inclusive design perspectives among designers. Various tools and simulated conditions are often adopted in user-centered design to sup-port need-finding by eliciting rich data on users’ needs and guide designers to empathize with users. Simulation tools that restrict designers’ physical abilities have been applied to understand certain perspectives of people with physical challenges, yet these tools lack the ability to evoke an inclusive design perspective among designers. Through a co-creation workshop, participants were exposed to two forms of simulations: direct and situational physical impairments. This was achieved using different tools that simulate the same physical restriction. In this study, a noise- canceller and earphones were used to simulate a reduced hearing attention. Participants were asked to generate user needs and design functions by applying both the simulation tools. The study results comprise the outcomes of 33 participants who volunteered to participate in a co-design workshop that provided a venue for them to interact and work alongside users with physical challenges. This paper analyses the inclusiveness attained through different types of simulated conditions. With a growing need to create tools and technologies that delight the user, it is necessary to equip designers with the tools that would help them with the process. The study demonstrates the application and impact of one such tool.
The accommodations in exams (for example, scribe, compensatory time, and magnification) are widely used for many years to accommodate persons with visual impairments (PVIs). Nowadays, most of the exams are conducted using computers and web-based technologies, referred to as Computer-based tests (CBTs). These CBTs play an important role in the professional assessment of an individual, starting from university admissions, courses evaluation, and grading, to recruitment in various sectors like banking, software, railways, etc. Barriers in accessing certain components of the CBTs limit the utilization of Computer-based technologies for PVIs. In this research, the availability and effectiveness of common accommodations in CBTs were evaluated and reviewed. To the best of our knowledge, this is one of the early attempts from India to systematically study the effectiveness of these accommodations. Driven by a universal design approach, it can play a key role towards the development of an inclusive examination system.
This paper investigates the philosophical and designerly questions of how the concepts of familiarity, orientation, and habituation can be used to understand a self-moving (semi-autonomous robot) table at home. Tables are familiar habituated objects in domestic settings for people with various abilities. We explore the idea of a self-moving table through the lens of universal design. Phenomenology is applied to get a grip on ways of orienting and being oriented by such habituated familiar objects. Specifically, we investigate how the t-able is used as a telephone table, where the telephone is always charged and in a fixed place on the table. This is an attempt to make the telephone easier to use and relate to at home. The paper aims to inform future robots’ design for the independently living elderly by designing robots mainly from natural materials, such as wood. We also discuss similarities and differences between the universal design of the built environment and ICT environments with this paper.
The study has the objective of designing AR tourist guide mobile app within an academic teaching framework facilitating collaborative (e.g. external commercial partners), cooperative (i.e. external academic experts) and user-centred design (UCD). The tourist guide app, VisitAR, is a digitized tour application that portrays information in the form of landmarks and information windows. VisitAR provides a seamless walking experience in real-time by using your location, and triggering pop up information windows while you walk at Carlingford Ireland. The application testing was completed by using several usability evaluation methods i.e. technical field testing, living lab testing including speaking thoughts out loud, usability focus group testing and usability analysis As a result, by teaching UD within an experiential, living lab, a more realistic design context is provided, addressing realistic UX and SD, allowing deployment of potentially commercially viable solutions, which address the needs of a more diverse range of end users. As part of this case study, both qualitative and quantitative data related to UX, usability and SD from each stage of development was evaluated.
The purpose of this study was to review the qualitative literature on cognitive accessibility in a digital environment and areas of inquiry for future qualitative research in this context. The focus of this literature review was to identify qualitative research in the cognitive accessibility field and how commonly this term is mentioned in qualitative research articles. In this study, a literature review was conducted on selected qualitative research studies performed globally related to cognitive accessibility. This literature review analysed through meta-synthesis. Based on the results of the literature review, an understanding of existing qualitative research was obtained in the cognitive accessibility field, as well as topics for further qualitative research in the cognitive accessibility field.