Most designs are flawed. Universal design is about creating a world that is adaptive and inclusive for people no matter what they need – and without singling them out. Thinking about what other people might need help with can be the shortest path to making someone’s day or even life better.
Let’s first discuss what you should know about Universal Design. The main objective of Universal Design is to reduce obstacles so that all people can use a product to their greatest ability. This design should create products with multiple means of representation, action, expression, and engagement for it to be used universally. Some obstacles to include when designing: language, sight, hearing, age, disabilities (mental/physical/invisible), other barriers that prevent the use of a product. Designers claim that accessibility inhibits aesthetics but actually accessibility is often a driving factor in aesthetics.
Here are 5 universally designed products SJU students see every day:
In Fall 2019, a new ramp was completed on SJU campus, stretching from the side of Sweeney Field near Mandeville Hall towards Bellarmine Hall. Before, the pathway had a steep set of stairs and now this ramp gives all members of the community full access to campus.
Gender Inclusive Bathrooms
These restrooms are open to any user regardless of gender. There are many benefits to implementing all-gender restrooms in facilities. It helps resolve public safety concerns and public health issues. In the past, transgender people often face harassment in sex-segregated bathrooms or are often denied access to a public restroom which therefore can lead to health complications. Also, these bathrooms provide accommodations for people with special needs. Having gender-neutral restrooms resolve multiple issues people face. In Spring 2015, the Saint Joseph’s University student body worked together to bring gender inclusive restrooms to campus. There are 30 single stall bathrooms all throughout campus as well as one multi-user restroom in Drexel Library.
Curb Cuts on sidewalks
The places where the sidewalk has been cut out to allow for easy movement of people, luggage, strollers, etc. from the sidewalk to the road. They are sloped slightly like small ramps. Curb cuts are becoming more popular. They are all throughout SJU campus, more specifically, at the most popular intersection, Cardinal Ave & City Ave.
We all use elevators when it’s more sensible than stairs but for some, elevators are the only option. Elevators are in almost every public building but access to elevators in residential places is still rare. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported, “A quarter century later, our analysis of United States (U.S.) housing data suggests that although around a third of housing in the U.S. is potentially modifiable for a person with a mobility disability, currently less than five percent is accessible for individuals with moderate mobility difficulties and less than one percent of housing is accessible for wheelchair users.” It is critical to have accessible housing in order to enable people with disabilities to live independent lives with a minimal amount of support. It is also essential for people with disabilities to participate in society by visiting the homes of friends and family. Students have access to elevators in all residential buildings and most academic buildings.
Full Length Mirrors
Full length mirrors are an ideal universally designed product. From babies to adults, from misfit bodied to able-bodied, all people have access to the mirror and that is what universal design stands for. Bathrooms on SJU campus have large mirrors above the sinks. Some bathrooms also have full length mirrors.
This idea emerged from architecture and industrial design and now has moved to technology and products with the age of the Internet. Universal design is a growing practice but it is not perfect. In theory it is the most idealistic, but universal design comes with complications. It is an ongoing process that involves interdisciplinary and epistemic ideals. According to Aimi Hamraie in “Building Access: Universal design and the Politics of Disability”, she says, “The danger of universalizing disability, or ratcheting up its importance, is that disability is played as a trump card, neutralized or seen as transcendent (and somehow not materially real). For people with disabilities, the experience of oppression is undercut, their situated knowledge is ignored.” It can be dangerous to think of disability as universal because it undermines the oppression and injustices people with disabilities are facing. In theory, universal design must always be seen as an experimental approach where each case is different, taken from many fields, and understands all the different, complex relationships involved.
As we continue to create and innovate, we must break down the barriers of the normate template. Representation matters in everything we do. Even though SJU has many universally designed features, there is always room for improvement. We must share what we have learned to our community because the more people know the better chance we have of making Hawk Hill a more accessible place.
By: Sarah Harwick