Inclusion & Access: Revisiting Universal Design




By Danielle Toronyi, Research Development & Knowledge Manager at OLIN


OLIN Labs seeks to design for Disabled people and their unique needs by revisiting Universal Design and asking designers to assess our existing design models and projects in order to more intentionally include Disabled folks as stakeholders and experts in the design process.

Landscape architects and urban designers are tasked with the critical responsibility to design inclusive and accessible environments for all users - those with physical, intellectual, developmental, or cognitive disabilities. Since 1990, ADA standards have required the built environment meets the needs of the majority of those with physical disabilities and/or people who use assistive devices.

In 1997, the Center for Universal Design at NC State University, led by Ron Mace, created the seven Universal Design Principles which expanded the understanding of accessibility and provided a new approach to designing for Disabled people. Universal Design is defined as:

The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

The utilization of Universal Design principles has since grown to include UX, educational design strategies, as well as influenced the built environment.

Abled designers won’t know all of the difficulties that Disabled people experience in the built environment. While empathetic design calls for designers to put themselves in the mindset of people underserved by public space, it is imperative that Disabled people and Disabled designers be treated as experts of their own lived experiences. Abled designers can also advocate to better include stakeholders with disabilities in the design process and work to understand how public policy can deeply influence Universal Design.

The OLIN Labs Inclusion and Access initiative seeks to revisit Universal Design in order to identify similarities across the needs of multiple Disabled communities and demonstrate that while different Disabled communities’ needs may be different, the design solutions are often universal. By approaching design through the lens of the social model of disability, designers can begin to engage in the practice of Universal Design by identifying and designing out barriers to full social inclusion.


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