Last updated on November 13, 2019
Gavin: Hello everyone, welcome to our podcast on universal design accessibility, my name is Gavin O’Rielley. I’m from Cinnaminson, New Jersey.
Paige: Hi my name is Paige Kutzera, I am your other host, I am from western Maryland and we both attend school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
G: This is going to be essentially a student podcast run about accessibility and universal design. It’s a topic that we all have an invested interest in as students and as a community and it’s something that we feel needs to get a little bit more attention, just based on looking at our surroundings, as students especially in university buildings since people come from all over and have varying levels of need. The purpose of this podcast is going to be partially expository, it’s going to partially informative, and it’s going to be partially interview based. We’re going to be talking a little bit about history, we’re going to be talking a little bit about principles and just the general goal is to be able to, for you the listeners, to walk away with a different way of seeing your surroundings, especially if you live in an urban environment, and maybe come away with ideas about what we can do to include people who may have disabilities or other issues with accessibility.
P: Yes and as communication students we feel a special calling almost to address these issues on our campus because its part of our job to address and see those who are not always immediately seen. We want to make sure that this accessibility and, we’ll later talk a little bit more about universal design as well and the differences between the two, is applicable to everyone not just those who are in wheelchairs or on crutches or maybe have a disability that’s seen. We want to make sure that we are addressing our concerns to everybody– in web based, podcast based, how the school interacts, how other buildings in the area do what we are trying to do and how we can work together to improve them. So this podcast is just going to be in the aspect of a multi faceted project all over focusing on accessibility and universal design.
G: Right, and that’s important to bear in mind is that you know accessibility and design are much more than just getting around in your day to day life. Although that is extremely important, It’s about how you process information depending on whether you have issues with taking in things with your senses or moving around in a physical space, design encompasses all of that. So hopefully you’re going to get to learn a lot about changes to all sorts of different environments. Just to talk a bit about the differences between universal design and accessibility, universal design is about more than just defining things in terms of accessibility or disability. Its really a philosophy that seeks to benefit everyone. What we mean by that is that it seeks to provide for better usability, it seeks to make things as usable as possible regardless of your age or ability or your situation. It’s design to remove barriers to promote inclusivity even to include other cultures. So if you’re thinking about universal design in terms in design buildings–just in terms of physical accessibility, we are looking to talk a little more broadly than that, it’s about what information is accessible as well.
P: And accessibility kinda goes down to some of the smaller basis of every day learning, especially a learning institute like Gavin and I are recording in right now. When we start this discussion and when we start these topics and explaining further more about what they mean in a broader sense and in a detailed sense, we want you guys to think back to ways that your learning is accessible to you, what type of learner are you? I am very visual, what about you Gavin?
G: I am also very visual person. I’m you know, I am a big reader but I tend to get lost in words very easily, I like to see my way around, I am very bad at following directions just by hearing them.
P: Oh same.
G: And it’s an interesting thing to think about, accessibility, because you know, a lot of, most of us are fairly able bodied people and if you’re more of an able bodied person who is pretty good with taking in directions and things like that you don’t really think of things in terms of what it would be like if you didn’t have the capacities that you have.
P: Oh true, like if I could not hear as well as I do now, or if i can see maybe as well as I’m used to, how that would definitely change and effect my learning and my accessibility in this world, on this campus, on the web. I personally feel like whenever I do learn something I do it best by seeing it and then I do it myself and then I watch a teacher do it, or whoever is teaching or instructing repeat their actions and then I repeat them and then it’s kinda like a back and forth until I’m finally feeling like I’m understanding what’s going on and that’s from somebody who does not suffer from any disabilities per say. That doesn’t necessary apply to me and I still feel like it takes me a while sometimes to learn things, so, just kinda to put things in perspective as we continue to discuss accessibility and universal design to kind of put your place and put yourself in the shoes of those around you of what accessibility and universal design is going on near you.
G: Right. You don’t always think about things in terms of, you know, what if you lost your sight or what if you only had use of one hand, so that, all that sort of consideration in terms of how we can design buildings to be a little bit better, how we can design spaces to be a little bit more usable, are really important and they are not necessarily things you hear talked about all that often. I know I didn’t really consciously think about it until we started this project.
P: It’s gonna be really interesting to see how we are able to take the information that we are learning and apply it to everybody, and it’s not easy. If it were easy our university would be implementing it right now and so would a lot of other places in the world and in our state of Pennsylvania. For example, in the city of Philadelphia to be just a little bit more specific. If everybody really took the time to make everything accessible and really apply universal design then, one would be a lot more broke.
G: Haha yeah.
P: We wouldn’t–it would take a lot more time and it comes down to the fact that we have to take into account the people that aren’t always seen and I think that’s one of the big differences between accessibility and universal design or one of the big things I should say that sort of ties them together. It’s because they have a very similar goal although they are different. So, accessibility really is a better quality of life for a wide range of individuals, right Gavin?
G: Right and when looking at this issue, it’s really more about just implementing good design, it’s not really about singling people out based on what they can or can’t do and that’s a dimension of why this is so difficult to get people to move. It’s because redesigning a building is difficult. You know, a lot of older buildings, especially i’ve noticed in Philadelphia, really aren’t built to standards of whether or not people can get up and down different floors easily, or whether they can get in and out or navigate the buildings easily, and that’s not always something you can rearrange that easily. You know, adding in an elevator to a building that’s like forty years old, like a modern elevator is a difficult thing. It requires a lot of time and money. So, it’s about trying to find a way to incorporate better practices into new buildings that we build, while also finding means to make things easier and in a way that’s sort of negotiable and cost effective for buildings that are maybe a little bit older but that are still in use.
P: Totally, and I think something that is interesting to consider throughout this process as well when considering things like buildings and such is who runs these places. And we’re gonna kinda discuss that on this series of podcasts — is who can we speak to to make changes, who is in charge of these things, what plans do they have for the future, and in a broader sense one of the main goals of this overall podcast and a main goal for accessibility and universal design is increasing human ability for all. We really want to make everything accessible and universe, and excuse me, universally designed for the greater amount of people. So, who runs this? Whose in charge? We reached out just out of curiosity to some people on our campus just to kind of find out what it’s like to be an officer or be in a position to help people that have accessibility issues, and they were not too comfortable with commenting at this time.
P: Which is really interesting.
G: Yeah, its, and I understand why. Because as I said before, there’s some instances where there’s just nothing that can be done about it without opening a can of worms on a really complex situation of, you know, financing and construction. They, I guess, they’re in a position where they have to make a decision whether or not to do something about this issue. There’s a lot of effort into making things effortless. There’s a lot of effort that goes into making things effortless which we don’t often see and, often it can be a lot more than you anticipate. You know, you can look around and see things that maybe would make things easier for a certain group of people to get around if they are dealing with a certain disability but, actually putting that into effect is often way harder than it looks.
P: Exactly. And it’s not a change that’s going to happen overnight. And were not expecting it to, that’s something that we really want to make clear within this podcast and within our project that is developing from multiple angles and we’ll kind of delve into that in the future and give you guys a look at some other different aspects that we are approaching this overall accessibility and universal design goal. Right and we do understand that this takes time, it takes money, and it takes a lot of effort along the different pieces. You can’t fix it in a week or in a day or in even in one interview. So, we want to remind everybody that we are all still learning so, we will get there eventually, slowly together, but, for now the main purpose especially of this podcast in a sense, is to — and through these interviews that you will see is just open a discussion about it to get people talking about it and more aware of their surroundings and the people that maybe you’re not seeing. And if we can start that, then I think it will be a lot easier to take more physical steps to making a campus or city or state more accessible for all.
G: Exactly. And thats, that’s a good point that it, it can’t be fixed in a short amount of time and it can’t be fixed by only a few people either. Its wherever you are, it’s an issue that has to be fixed by people even who don’t deal with these problems first hand to advocate for people who do. If its one or the other trying to advocate for the issue usually it’s not gonna happen. It takes a community of people that try to fix how the way community deals with the problem. And of course it takes a lot of time too. So, that’s kind of gonna be part of the effort is making people a little bit more aware of it, making you our listeners more aware of it, and our, we ourselves are gonna try to become more aware of it as well.
P: Mhm, yeah.
G: So it’s gonna be a journey.
P: It is, it’s interesting to see everybody on our team trying to come up with different ways to approach this project. Its like tackling a giant monster that you cant even see its head or its feet.
P: You just see the whole body and the whole purpose and I know were going to discover a bunch of different limbs, and other things that we just haven’t, we haven’t reached yet and that’s ok. We’ll get there eventually and we’re working on it. But going back a little bit to accessibility and universal design to clarify for our new listeners what is the main difference?
G: Between accessibility and universal design the main difference is design is more about how you can make a space more usable for everyone, not a specific group of people, just everyone. In case you’re wondering there is a degree of literature about universal design. You can find it on universaldesign.com. In fact, there’s extensive literature including manuals about how spaces should be used, what the standards are and principles that can be put into play to effect universal design in a given building. But as I said before it’s really, it can be summed up as the effort that goes into making things effortless. It’s about making information as easy as possible to find and as organic as possible to find. One of my favorite things that I saw is the principle called the principle of least astonishment, I found that on simplicable.com, which is another great resource if you’re looking to learn a little bit more about building design, but it’s essentially a rule of thumb that states user interfaces are best when they aren’t surprising. Which essentially means you shouldn’t have to spend minutes on and pondering where you should go on a given building. It shouldn’t take you forever to try to find where guidance is or you should be able to easily find a person who can tell you where to go etcetera. Same thing applies to technology. They shouldn’t have to bend to use technology. Technology should be created to suit them.
P: No it’s totally true and even just in a more physical aspect to side from technologies well — universal design accessibility is not just adding a wheelchair ramp outside of a building or putting a ramp or putting it in the back near the garbage or near just like a muddy area or something where it distinguishes that you’re different from somebody else because you have a different exit or entrance to use and even though that’s not labeled this ramp just for people who currently use a wheelchair. People who do use a wheelchair or are on crutches know that this is the ramp that’s made for them and it just distunighes them in a sense that I probably wouldn’t appreciate at all or this is your entrance. It’s a ramp, but it’s not at the front of the school or its not at the front of the building its in the back or its all on the side and it gives off an air of the sense that you’re less important because not everybody thought of you or thought about how to accomodate you. Something that I found a lot, to be very interesting throughout this project and kind of hitting on technology a little bit, like Gavin was mentioning is that people who are just sensitive to lights and colors or fonts that are too big or too small and everything in between, and there are computer programs that can run accessibility tests and I think that’d be real interesting if we continued or started to implement them just to kind of see. One of the most hated fonts, Gavin’s gonna laugh, one of the most hated fonts ever is comic sans. As communications majors we hear so much hate on comic sans the font and it seems silly, but I did a little bit of research and it turns out comic sans is one of the easiest fonts for somebody who suffers from dyslexia to read.
G: I have a strange fondness for comic sans. It’s very funny and it’s also easy on the eyes you know?
P: It’s easy on the eyes. It has the way that the letters are shaped with the c’s and the s’s help people who have trouble mixing up their letters distinguish them better. So, it’s just the little things like that that I think we are kind of brushing aside in a means of aesthetically pleasing or something that’s visually appealing. Unfortunately Gavin is in the minority when he says he’s a big cosmic sans fan.
G: Gaha I have accepted it.
P: But just kind of moving forward I hink we have to find a good balance doing something that isn’t an eyesore but something that’s beautiful for everybody who can use it.
G: Yeah and I think that actually a really important distinguishing feature is not all accessibility is achieved in universal design, but universal design is meant to treat all comers equally.
P: So true.
G: You know, something like a sans serif font helps out a person without dyslexia as much as it does a person with dyslexia. Its something thats going to help everybody in terms of making a building better you know? It’s not directed at any one particular group of people. Its directed at everybody and some changes will help certain groups of people who may be affected by disability more than people without a disability, but no change is meant to be specific or unnecessary.
P: Oh completely and we’re not at all — we wanna make a point that were are not trying to make a distinction between people who suffer from a disability and people who do not. We are all people, we are all loved equally and we’re in no means trying to single people out or make that distinction through our interviews or through any of the topics that we are discussing. We’re merely just trying to open up the door for a conversation of all types of people and that means discussing these types of people and we’re gonna have people who suffer from a disability or seen and unseen people who suffer from a temporary disability etcetera and kinda see the thoughts on it too. So we are taking suggestions and options and we’ll get back to you guys more with the social media that is being developed for this project from other students in the department. So we will eventually have information for you guys to send in requests or research or topics you wanna hear or people you think could be great to speak to.
G: Right. I guess what we could also do is talk a little bit about specifics of what we wanna do going forward and maybe issues we’ve talked about in terms of design issues or design problems that we looked into. Transportation is a big one.
P: Transportation is huge especially in a city like Philadelphia. Transportation is not easy to come about if you’re even slightly impaired at the time.
G: Yeah, its rough and especially in an urban environment you’re dealing with a lot of flat surfaces separated by stairs.
G: You’re dealing with a lot of buildings that have multiple floors which are tricky to get around.
P: And old.
G: And older yeah.
P: Philadelphia is an older city, its historic. Not everythings renovated.
G: Right which is why I brought up that point earlier of buildings that are a little bit older and it’s difficult to update those buildings so sometimes you have to sort of reverse engineer a solution based on what you can fix and what you can’t fix, realistically. All of that is incorporated in the design process so it’s all included.
P: Now, I think that this is a really good place where we’re going to start and hopefully in the coming weeks, something else that we’ve noticed too is other than transportation being a main issue is atmosphere, we’ve seen a lot of classroom buildings just through our light research. We haven’t even really dug a deep hole on this just by simply skimming the surface — how lights are harsh, fire extinguishers and fire alarms like the ones that you pull are not an equal height for everybody. What if you are in a wheelchair or if they’re too high too low, water fountains that aren’t able to be easily accessible for everybody just some things like atmosphere or available seating, things that just aren’t very thought into deeply for everybody thats available. So atmospheres a big one, I think on college campuses just everywhere from what we’ve seen at other Philadelphia schools and i’ll be interested to see how kind of developed that idea a little bit more outside and inside. What about the stairs on the campus but also what about the lights and the rooms that dont have the chord to pull?
G: Right. Signage is also a big one.
P: Signage is huge.
G: Having matched around a given campus is also extremely important having those maps be easy to navigate. Especially if you’re trying to show people around an entire space things can get pretty small so it’s hard to figure out where exactly it is you’re going, where exactly you are oriented. Signage inside of buildings is a huge thing. Sometimes buildings are built in a way that it’s hard to number them in a way that flows easily, that’s easy to get around and honestly I sometimes get lost in these buildings,
P: Oh still till this day I get lost.
G: Yeah I have a pretty bad sense of direction, but it’s not a good sign,
P: No same, but we can’t figure it out sometimes and we attend this university.
G: So when you reach that level of familiarity, it just, imagines what it’s like if you’re just visiting this place it’s not easy.
P: Insanely overwhelming. I can’t even begin to imagine.
G: And this is a problem that exists just about everywhere, you know? And that’s a thing, this is not limited to universities or schools or educational institutions. It’s not even necessarily limited to cities although cities, they’re the brunt of these issues. It’s something that has a place everywhere.
P: Yep that’s true. I’ll be interested to see how we move forward with this project, and like we mentioned we are taking suggestions and commenting concerns from everybody who is a listener so welcome, return next week. Were going to discuss a little bit more about accessibility specifically and have a couple interviews to just start to open the floodgates for what’s to come.
G: That’s right we’re gonna be hearing from students. Ideally were gonna be hearing from some faculty. Were gonna be hearing from staff who help manage facilities and transportation around campus. Were just gonna be trying to get the weeds a little bit with it and see what they have to say in terms of managing the design process, in terms of finances, in terms of logistics and so on. Like we said multiple times, it’s gonna be a learning process. We don’t necessarily know what we’re gonna learn but I think either way it’s gonna be interesting, it’s gonna be enlightening and we’re gonna learn something from it.
P: Thanks so much we’ll see you guys next week.
G: Thank you.