intro: the intent of design-for-all (or ‘universal design’) is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.
The term ‘architectural barrier’ refers to any human edifice, construction or installation that impedes the autonomous and safe movement of those with muscular or sensory disabilities. Accessibility for all is a priority to universal design’s policies that more and more often privilege ‘invisible’ architectural solutions that guarantee the absence of barriers.
what: “Good design enables, bad design disables” (European Design for All Declaration, Stockholm, 9 May 2004). Universal design is important to the design of environments such as houses, office buildings, hotels, restaurants, parks, streetscapes, urban planning, swimming pools, trails, historic attractions, museums, exhibits, auditoria, web sites, communication, product design, services and policies. The worldwide movement for human centred design asks designers to rethink some fundamental formal architectural concepts, to contemplate environmental equity for all kinds of users, and to consider a variety of ways the environment can be designed or adapted to accommodate people's changing needs, such as those of the aging or of people who don't speak the dominant language.
why: providing an accessible environment often means adding a few special features designated for accessibility. Providing a universal environment means creating a space that doesn’t segregate some and prevent others from using it independently, but does benefit many whose needs have not traditionally been considered.
who: among the main actors in this field is the European Institute for Design and Disability (EIDD), a voluntary organisation founded in Dublin in 1993. It is the 'umbrella' for national organisations whose members include architects, product, graphic and interior designers as well as professionals concerned with rehabilitation. EIDD is a founding member of the European Disability Forum, EDF, and is closely involved with many of its activities.
In the US, Adaptive Environments is a non-profit organisation committed to advancing the role of design in expanding opportunity and enhancing experiences for people of all ages and abilities. Adaptive Environments' projects vary from local to international. All are characterised by collaboration and user participation. Another prestigious American organisation is The Center for Universal Design, established in 1989 under a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) with a mission to improve the quality and availability of housing for people with disabilities, including disabilities that result from aging.
best practice: the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin - whose prestigious collections include masterworks such as Caravaggio’s The Taking of Christ and The Liffey Swim by B. Yeats - has found it important and necessary to provide equal access for all visitors, thanks to The National Gallery Access Policy, introduced in 1995. The intention behind this policy is quite simply “to provide equal access for all, meaning not just physical access, but also conceptual, intellectual and multi-sensory access”, declared Marie Bourke, Keeper and Head of Education at the National Gallery of Ireland, quoting The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 27) which states “that everyone has the right to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”.
The Gallery started with an Open Forum in 1995 to which all the relevant organisations were invited to discuss the issue of facilities and services for people with disabilities. They came up with new ideas and proposals for improvements based on their individual points of view. Following this, the gallery contacted disabled individuals and organisations, asking them to complete a questionnaire to ascertain their views on a proposed range of services and facilities, to which 37 people and groups responded.
- access-policy facts: today, the National Gallery of Dublin provides the following facilities and services: - an Access Guide in addition to a guide in Braille; - lifts to all levels and platform lifts for wheelchairs/prams; - wheelchairs available on request; - a toilet for wheelchair users; - a low-set telephone located on the ground floor; - a lecture theatre and a multimedia unit equipped with induction loops; - two tactile picture sets available; - guided tours for hearing impaired and visually impaired people; - a disabled parking bay.
- educating the staff: staff members must be able to provide assistance and give information to all visitors, no matter whether hearing, visually or cognitively impaired. To meet these requirements, the entire staff has undergone one week of training since 1995, which is continuously updated. The Disability Awareness Handbook introduces staff members to terminology, provides examples of various types of problems facing people with various types of disabilities and explains how to anticipate problems.