Preparing and Recruiting Designers for an Inclusive Society

Plenary Address, Inclusion By Design
Montreal, Canada June 2, 2001

Elaine Ostroff
Global Universal Design Educator's Network
Founding Director, Adaptive Environments Center

Thank you. I'm honored to be here and to share my values about preparing and recruiting designers for an inclusive society.

In order to have inclusion by design, we need to involve users of all ages, abilities and economic status, so that whatever is designed - buildings, products, information - welcomes the participation of everyone.

There are four topics that I'll present today:

  1. The growing appreciation of design in society;

  2. That minimal compliance is not inclusive design;

  3. Design education strategies - ways that educators around the world have brought diverse users into the teaching and learning process to better prepare future designers for an inclusive society.

  4. And - a new effort, Access to Design Professions, to increase the participation of disabled people in the design professions.


Growing Appreciation of Design in Society

The concept of disability is changing, from the emphasis on the individual to be treated, to the increasing awareness that disability is the result of the interaction between the individual and the environment.

Design can enable or disable. As Adolf Ratzka of Sweden says, "I cannot ride the public busses. Is this because I use a wheelchair or because the busses are not accessible?"

Design has the power to include or exclude. Our colleagues, Stan Jones and Polly Welch at the University of Oregon, Eugene, ask their students to evaluate any design by "Who is included, who is excluded?"

Inclusive design requires meaningful participation by the user, and new expectations by designers that users can provide valuable insights on the usability of any design. We must move to a higher consciousness that the process of designing is not something created by "them" for "us" but something that we accomplish together.

We need the imaginative gifts of every designer, to appreciate the world as it really is; we need the involvement of users to inspire and challenge and inform designers. This means a change in attitude on the part of designers, from thinking about abstract users and grudging compliance with codes to embracing and valuing the human condition.

Minimal compliance is not inclusive design. It often leads to thoughtless, bad design.

The slide shows the interior of the main entrance to a new public library. The major path has two shallow steps. Hidden to one side, by a large stone column, is the narrow ramp leading down to the atrium.

In the slide, people are walking down the stairs which are a safety hazard; they are at a place where everyone involuntarily looks up to see the sky lit atrium and stumbles on the steps.

This is a great bad example of how the designers complied with accessibility standards after the fact, and added the ramp to solve the problem of the inaccessible entrance. It also illustrates the lack of attention to user safety needs and lack of user input.

Inclusive design involves equity. Separate is not equal.

Consider new or renovated buildings that you have recently used. Who would be included by the design, who would be excluded?


Design Education Strategies

It is my pleasure to highlight the work of educators from around the world, from very different types of schools. Each project had a different motivation and different organizational affiliations and sponsors.

They each have developed creative ways to infuse human-centered design into the professional design curriculum. They each contribute to our understanding about the education of future design professionals.

You'll hear about:

  • Ray Lifchez, from the USA
  • In the USA, the Universal Design Education Project
  • In the United Kingdom, Andrew Walker's teaching
  • In Ireland, the DraWare Project
  • In Canada, the Universal Design Institute in Manitoba
  • In Japan, NEC Corporation and Tama Art University
  • In Norway, a nation-wide project



Ray Lifchez, University of California, Berkeley

In 1977, Ray Lifchez, at the University of California, Berkeley, began a way of teaching architecture by involving users in the traditional design studio as a way to introduce students to the opportunities of designing for someone unlike themselves.

His work may not be the first but it is a well-documented example of bringing users into the design studio.

This slide shows the book cover of Rethinking Architecture, with a photo of a man who was one of the user consultants. There is also a video, A House for Someone Unlike Me.

Ray believes that this is a way for students to become very aware of all users - older people, people with disabilities, children. It is not just about access, he says. It is about the relationships between all users.

People with disabilities are "super environmental professionals" who in their everyday lives deal with the complexity of the physical environment. They have an enormous amount to teach the students.

In the video we hear a student say, "It is part of my life; it is how I will be active as an architect."

This slide shows a group of 5 people, 2 students, and 3 consultants chatting informally in the design studio. The consultants gradually became accepted and valued for their insights and contributions.

This slide with 3 people shows the intense and respectful interaction between a consultant, the faculty member, and a student as they examine his house model.


The Universal Design Education Project, USA

The Universal Design Education Project (UDEP) was developed by the Adaptive Environments Center. It was planned in 1989 when the ADA was about to be signed, providing an opportunity to improve design education and student's ability to meet the needs of a diverse society. The approach was to infuse universal design into the curriculum.

UDEP was supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, NEC Foundation of America, the US Department of Justice, and the Center for Universal Design and other foundations.

It invited faculty to submit proposals based on the culture of their own schools, and their own experience and teaching styles. We called it a grass-root effort to support a range of teaching methods that grew out of the faculty and the school. Inspired by Ray Lifchez's work, the Call for Proposals required the involvement of people with disabilities. Each school had different ways to approach this.

The first pilot project in the academic year 1993-94 was in 22 schools across the country. It involved faculty teams in architecture, industrial design, interior design, and landscape architecture. The second pilot was in 1995-96 and included 8 schools - 5 of them from the first group.

The project is well documented in Strategies for Teaching Universal Design with case studies of each of the pilot programs.

The evaluations from the faculty said that the involvement of diverse users was the most valuable aspect of their teaching.

The students said, "I wouldn't design any other way."

Some of the UDEP faculty are presenting at this conference: Louise Jones, Polly Welch and Stan Jones.


United Kingdom, Andrew Walker

Andrew Walker developed and directed this Post-graduate course in Environmental Access at the Architectural Association in London. It was the first qualifying certificate from any institution in the world. Andrew is an architect who is expert in historic renovation. After his accident on a project he began teaching at the Architectural Association and became head of Technical Studies.

The slide includes a very compelling photo of one of the course lecturers, David Constantine, a wheelchair user, as he was photographing in Bangladesh. He was consulting in his work with indigenous populations to set up factories that produce wheelchairs using recycled, local supplies.

The aim of the post-graduate program was to bring together those involved in planning, designing, building, and using environments. The course was multi-disciplinary. People who are directly affected by a disabling environment in terms of gender, race, and disability were naturally included as students, educators and innovators. May of the students came on a work-release program from their design offices.

This slide shows lecturers from the course who bring their expertise to the whole school, through presentations, exhibits and shared projects.

The students are very involved in real-world problems. This slide is in a London theatre as the students meet with disabled actors, planning how to make the dressing room accessible.


Ireland, DraWare Project

The DraWare Project at the School of Architecture, University College, Dublin, Ireland was funded by the European Community. It was a 2-year research project to experiment with teaching methods that would lead to the creation of a more universally usable environment.

The project organizers were sensitive to the resistance to change in an educational system and understood that the traditional methods of teaching reflected different values.

Although the relationship between people and space seems fundamental to the practice of architecture, there were few explicit requirements in the Architect Registration Board, the organization that accredits the curriculum in architectural schools. The project worked to reconnect the students to deeper understanding of the end user, and helped students recognize the dangers of designing for the abstract and stereotypical user.

This slide shows the faculty member, Ruth Morrow, facilitating a large group of students as they present `Stories of Everyday Living' based on visits with people in their homes. This was a collaborative project in which the second year studio participants presented their findings to 4th year students. At the back of the slide there are photographs of users displayed on a line across the classroom.

Not only did the DraWare project provide much deeper awareness of the users, it fostered much better interactions between students. The project used multiple strategies to imbed and infuse an interactive learning process across the curriculum.


Canada, Universal Design Institute

The Universal Design Institute (UDI) at the University of Manitoba has a long history of user-centered involvement. It was formerly the Canadian Institute for Barrier Free Design.

The UDI led a course to train consumers who wanted to become consultants. It was offered in seven locations across Canada. The Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities and the Canadian Human Resources Development Fund underwrote the course. The curriculum was developed in consultation with the instructors, Betty Dion and Gail Finkel, two of the presenters at this conference.

Two of the graduates of the course were hired by the city of Winnipeg as consultants on a streetscaping project; the slide shows both of them taking measurements in a walkway in front of a large building.

The Winnipeg project was extremely participatory. The process involved the disabled consultants along with a diverse group of stakeholders including older people, street kids, the policy makers, building code officials, and designers.

UDI Director Laurie Ringaert teaches a multidisciplinary graduate course, in the Faculty of Architecture at the University. The course, Introduction to Universal Design, involves staff from the UDI and other people with disabilities in the teaching and learning. The course has a lot of real world experience; a recent team project with the town of Ashern, to redevelop an abandoned street, was a first place winner in the Design Exchange Universal design competition. The Ashern Redevelopment Project is on display with the other winners at the conference.


Japan, NEC Corporation and Tama Art University

The four-year collaboration between a large Japanese electronics company and Tama Art University was inspired by Japan's rapidly aging society and the need to design usable and appealing products.

It achieved important results for the company and for the university. The company developed a universal design process for products and the university had a revised curriculum for all four years of their industrial design program.

The slide shows a woman using a public information terminal for an amusement park. The terminal with its adjustable display and user-friendly interface was one of the commercial products developed thorough the collaboration.

When the project began in 1996, experience centered workshops provided the first introduction to the needs of diverse users, through active participation with older and disabled people.

Guidance and evaluations by NEC engineering professionals gave feedback from the high tech production side; feedback from the users helped students reassess their design concepts, with concrete ideas for improvement.

The project demonstrates long-term commercial benefits. These benefits coincided with the new US law, section 508 that requires universal design in purchasing by federal agencies. This was a powerful incentive to convince top management of the consequences of NOT designing universally.

Observation as well as involvement with the target users was an essential part of the project. This slide has 4 images:

  1. In the upper right an older woman, a little stooped in her posture is observed as she opens a door to a store.

  2. In the top center, a group of students and company staff are listening to a blind man explain his interactions with the environment.

  3. In the bottom center, two older women are sitting down, completing a questionnaire.

  4. In the lower left, a tall man is observed as he figures out the directions to assemble a large cardboard package.


Norway, National Approach

The Norwegian Government began a pilot project in 1997 to address what they saw as a fragmented approach to accessibility. They wanted to change the common practice wherein national policies were implemented at a lower level. This purely technical approach was always ineffective and poorly coordinated. Universal design was a vital part of their approach.

The project is led by 2 agencies, the Norwegian Housing Bank and the Ministry of the Environment, with the involvement of many consumer and other organizations.

In order to elevate accessibility to the necessary stage of master planning they initiated several strategies. One important direction was attention to the development of skills and attitudes in the universities. Another aspect addressed the lack of awareness of user needs, and the need for better methods and outreach for user participation.

They developed a 4-year pilot program with universities across the country, adapting the model used by the US Universal Design Education Project. The approach was to offer schools support for their own creative initiatives based on their own identities. The pilot included programs in architecture, interior and industrial design, occupational therapy, engineering, planning and vocational schools.

Over the four years there was a strong shift in the approach from occasional lectures teaching about accessibility based on the difficulties experienced by people with disabilities. This changed to the use of universal design approach as the way that faculty taught about accessibility.

The project is in the midst of being evaluated. A few early results note that faculty believes they are teaching better, they value the involvement of outside users and the improved materials.

One of the projects was at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at Trondheim, in the city and regional planning program. This slide shows the buildings and street of Trondheim. In one exercise, planning students worked with five user groups to analyze specific parts of the city. The users evaluated solutions to problems. The final exam required that the students discuss the consequences of universal design in city and regional plans.

Another project in the Oslo School of Architecture was involved with a project to redesign an old high school to meet new educational objectives and also provide a public use space,n through universal design. The students used a highly participatory process and produced the beginning of the plan for the reconstruction. The slide shows the interior architecture students at the well publicized exhibit of their work.


Access to Design Professions

Access to Design Professions is a project that encourages people with disabilities to become designers. The project is dedicated to Ron Mace, Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

Ron Mace, with his well-known smile, is shown on this slide. He is acknowledged as the man who first promoted universal design as well as inspiring and mentoring many people around the world.

When he died in 1998, his death was not only a loss, it was a harsh reminder how few people there were who had his remarkable mix of experience. The combination of his talents as an architect along with his personal experience of disability contributed to his power as an architect and an advocate for universal design.

In order to learn more how we could attract and support designers with disabilities, we interviewed 33 disabled designers around the world, to learn about their career development. Their stories about their lives, their challenges and their successes are guiding the project. To overcome the invisibility within their professions and to make younger people aware that design is a career option, we are preparing a book of profiles, called Building a World Fit for People: Designers with Disabilities at Work.

There is an International Network about to be launched, and a pilot-mentoring program. We hope that this will both raise awareness in the professions as well as build community for disabled designers.

This slide shows four of the 33 designers that we interviewed who are presenting at Inclusion by Design. They are:

  1. Linnie Tse, environmental designer from Canada;
  2. Robbie Nichols, architect, from the USA,
  3. Taide Buenfil Garza, architect, from Mexico,
  4. Maurizio Antonetti, urban planner, from the USA - with his son.



Our Next Steps

There are many, many resources at this remarkable gathering. I offer some things for you to consider:

  • How can you bring more designers with disabilities into your schools, your firms, your agencies?
  • How can you bring more user/experts into the teaching and learning about universal design?
  • It is happening in separate places around the world.
  • How can we all work together to make a more inclusive society?


Thank you.

Elaine Ostroff 375 River Road Westport, MA 02790 USA
Global Universal Design Educator

Elaine Ostroff