July 3, 2019
Dad, The Original Inclusive Designer
As an architect and interior designer, I have long been acquainted with accessible design. The ADA, American with Disabilities Act, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. These standards are applied to any goods, services, facilities, or accommodations in any public place. They make sure that a person in a wheelchair can access the building, that there are parking spots close to the entrance, that bathrooms accommodate people in wheelchairs, and so on. These standards are regulated by building codes and building code officials.
Universal Design also addresses buildings and other environments that people use. It is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their size, age, ability or disability. Basically, Universal Design means that a space should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. It can mean signs or symbols that can be understood by people who speak other languages, or braille signage; or the use of lever handles on doors for people who can’t grab a door knob due to low hand strength, or people who are carrying groceries or children. Universal Design is not regulated by standards or laws; it is guided by seven principles that may or may not apply to a particular situation.
Lately, I have been reading about Inclusive Design. It is a methodology that came out of digital technology and encompasses a full range of human perspectives. It is based on the idea that every design decision has the ability to exclude or include people. It focuses on the diversity of people and the solutions that work in a variety of situations — because everyone gains and loses abilities over the course of their lifetimes.
As I read and learn more about this concept, it makes me think that my father was an inclusive designer long before the phrase existed. When he found designed objects that didn’t work for him, he was excluded from participating. So he created and adapted things so that he could play with others. For example, he designed an over-the-bed table that allowed him to use a computer keyboard, so he could communicate with friends and family and do his own shopping. This was one of many clever pieces he designed or modified that allowed him to be included.
At Millea Living, this is how we view our products too. Our pieces that have multiple functions, so that anyone can use them; yet for people who need them for support or safety, our pieces work really hard to allow the user to be independent, safe, and able to participate in their own care.
I still need to learn more about Inclusive Design, and I need to continually seek advice from people who encounter designed objects that reject them. Armed with this knowledge, we can continue to expand belonging and participation, which are among our most important human experiences, and a constant target of our efforts at Millea Living.