Authors: Jenny Darzentas and John Darzentas
This reflective paper speculates on the problem of Design for All (also known as Universal Design) and its very low rate of uptake, in spite of widespread acknowledgement of its centrality and importance. The paper argues that framing the problem with the aid of systemic approaches will help not only to understand some of the reasons for the low uptake, but also to see ways forward to increase uptake, and thereby accelerate the learning and adaptation of the organisations that are tasked with adopting and implementing Design for All, as well as more global and proactive adoption by societal elements in general.
Design for All is the term adopted by the European Union for a policy of not “designing out” vulnerable populations. Following on from the Universal Design movement in the 1970s in the United States, the EU placed emphasis on the removal of barriers of access to products and services for persons with disabilities. Furthermore, the ageing of the population has put these issues high on the political agenda. All this places a clear direction on the social aspect of design, and in turn of design’s impact on society.
The problem of awareness, once very high on the agenda of those working in Design for All, is no longer such a priority. Awareness has been greatly aided by the communities and organisations of disabled and elderly users, who have made visible both the problems and the needs of these populations. Nor should, altruism be seen as a prime motivation- there has been the widespread dissemination of the message that some form of temporary disability is likely to affect all of us at some time in our lives, and, as we all hope to live long lives, we should also design for our “future selves”. Finally, a further type of outreach is education. Design for All is on the curriculum of Universities, and seeks to influence and engage younger generations of designers in their formative years.