One shoe off

October 8, 2008

Universal Design stuffs …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Liz @ 8:42 pm

Via  Temple University’s Disability Studies blog, this Washington post article (free registration required) about Gallaudet University‘s new development, which has been big news in disability circles here lately, because it will be “mixed” development — mixed not in the traditional real estate state, but in that it will be specifically created for use both by the Deaf and hearing communities. The article makes much of the whole “insular community opening up to the outside world” aspect, but being the geek that I am I’m most excited about the design aspects. Universal design is a mental hobby of mine (in that it’s something I like to read about and think about and geek out about). Gallaudet’s architectural and aesthetic vision includes elements like these:

Sidewalks wide enough to accommodate pedestrians using sign language. Rounded corners and strategically placed reflective glass so people who cannot hear can see who’s coming and who’s behind them. Glass elevators so passengers can communicate with outsiders in case of emergency.

And

“It’s a way of designing buildings that support and express deaf cognitive and social sensibilities,” Bauman said. “It means lots of spaces that encourage people to come together as a community and be free of barriers to visual communication.”

The university has tested the aesthetic on campus with the construction of a $32 million language and communication center, which features a glass elevator and rooms spacious enough to allow students to sit in large circles and converse.

The aesthetic also could mean avoiding wall patterns that are distracting or colors that blend too easily with skin tones and make reading sign language more difficult.

For the Sixth Street project, it will probably mean a preference for ramped walkways, as opposed to stairs, which can be difficult to navigate while conversing in sign language. “You have to stop and look at the steps, and it interrupts the conversation,” Bauman said.

The Temple U. blog post concludes that this kind of attention to design — which benefits not just the Deaf community it had in mind, but a whole host of diverse communities — “[is] not about ‘special accommodations,’ it’s about considering, from the start of any project, our preconceptions about who belongs where.”

If you are as big of a nerd as I am, here’s a list of Universal Design principles from North Carolina State’s Center for Universal Design.

Related to universal design and accessibility (specifically communications accessibility), consider this post from Emily on the inaccessibility of NPR.

She writes:

Some people would argue that the Deaf community as a whole would not be interested in the option of hearing news.

And I do agree that I love things like Sign News or online news outlets that are given in ASL as they are available.

But I would also argue that there is no difference between the extremes of educated and not-educated Deaf as educated and not-educated Hearing. I wonder how one could judge that a culture is not interested in the option, when the option has never been offered.

Besides, if there is anything the Deaf community – especially in America – has fought for consistently from the beginning – is the right to have the same options as hearing people, and then choose for themselves whether they are interested or not.

So my first battle of the day, because fighting battles is what I do, was to send one more email to NPR requesting easier and better access to transcripts for the Deaf community.

What would universally accessible media be? Are we moving closer to universally accessible media? Can we apply universal design principals to the media that we have, or do we need to start all over with something new? Thoughts?

(In case you’re too lazy to click the universal design link above, but you still want to play, here’s the definition I’m working from: [courtesy of the Institute for Human Centered Design] Universal Design is a framework for the design of places, things, information, communication and policy to be usable by the widest range of people operating in the widest range of situations without special or separate design.)

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