CARP supports Universal Design Innovation

“Inclusion is a process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging.” – Early Childhood Forum, 2003

Terms such as Universal Design, Barrier Free, Accessible Design and Inclusive Design, are complementary and sometimes over-lapping notions referring to buildings, products, services, technologies and environments that are accessible, usable and effective for everyone, not just people with particular impairment or needs. In an aging and increasingly urban, society, it is encouraging to see these issues and efforts to improve accessibility and inclusiveness for everyone are now a regular part of public discourse, including the discourse on Age Friendly Cities. The idea is to find solution that everyone can adopt and use (Think easy grip utensils). In Canada, the concept has been introduced through building codes and human rights legislation.

New editions of the National Building Code of Canada feature specific measures to ensure that everyone can have access to public spaces. Currently, there is talk of shifting from a prescriptive code to a performance-based code. For example, instead of telling you how wide the door should be, it is suggested that you be told that however wide you choose to make the door the outcome should be that it be wide enough to allow for wheelchair access.

One possible benefit of this outcome is that by virtue of making the intent of the regulation obvious, the execution would be more effective. No one would mistake the requirement as a maximum requirement if the desired outcome was explained to them. Presumably then, standard door width would also change along with wheelchair technology (power wheelchairs, for instance, are much larger than manual ones) without constantly having to make changes to the building code.

Critics of this approach argue that the approach places too great an onus on regulators, designers and developers who will be forced to make decisions regarding the standard. Given that Universal Design is a relatively new model, it is also possible these professionals may not have received an adequate formation that would allow them to make such decisions.

Fortunately, this type of design is increasingly being recognized as a specialization and new courses and programs specializing in Universal Design are being accredited across Canada.

Universal Design is a very versatile concept with many applications. The qualities of digital tools, content and environments have made it possible to radically rethink and reform notions of disability and accessibility in a digitally mediated world. This has led to more sustainable, integrated and personally optimized design strategies. This shift in accessible or inclusive design has significant ramifications not only for accessibility legislation, guidelines and policy but the design and development of information systems, practices and processes in general. There are compelling reasons to make this corresponding shift that go well beyond a wish to “accommodate people with disabilities.” Jutta Treviranus

Innovation will play a pivotal role in the application of this new paradigm. New technology and the digital environment only serve to increase the number of tools and possibilities available to designers and to the public. In the context of CARP’s support for initiatives that contribute to the advancement of Age Friendly Cities and the spirit of inclusiveness in Canada, CARP is pleased to endorse the Centre for Inclusive Media’s research projects for Inclusiveness and Accessibility, including: