I’m a skeptic
OK — I just heard about a webinar that is coming this week:
Designing products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design: Dr. Sharon Joines at the Center for Universal Design of North Carolina State University, will talk about how universal design, sometimes referred to as “lifespan design” or “transgenerational design,” encompasses and goes beyond the accessible, adaptable and barrier-free design concepts. Dr. Joines will explain how Universal Design is an effective marketing tool as well as a design concept since products and spaces that are more universally usable are marketable to nearly everyone
Its sponsored by the Green Parking Council and you can go to their web site to get more information. Conflicts determine that I won’t be able to attend the webinar but I had this little nagging voice deep inside asking questions.
Since my discussions in the UK with Helen Dolphin, head of the Disabled Motoring Group, I’ve been a little gun shy on this topic so I thought I would ask her opinion. Here’s how she responded:
Hi John, I am also a great sceptic of this. In the UK we have so called “homes for life” which have things like ramps instead of stairs but there will always need to be a need for adaptation. For example the needs of disabled people are so diverse, our Chairman who is a wheelchair user always requires a bath whereas other wheelchair users require a shower. The adaptations for someone with a visual impairment are very different to those with mobility difficulties or speech problems. There are also some people with mobility issues who find a few steps easier than a steep ramp. Taking my own house, I have a tiny button entry pad as I can’t use a key, not very accessible for a blind person. So I guess in short, there are of course some things that can be done like putting in a downstairs loo and not making the doorways too narrow but other adaptations are very disability specific and certainly not going to be needed by everyone.
I think her concern is that when we head down this path, we begin to go for a ‘one size fits all” and in doing so, of course it doesn’t. Its been my experience that whenever well meaning groups attempt to fix a problem, others pop up. One that comes to mind is cost. There is no question that disabled friendly environments cost more than the alternative. So if we require that booths used by valets be wheelchair accessible even though a person in a wheel chair could not be a valet, it increases the costs and money goes into a place where it well never be used, and diverted from places where access for disabled is needed.
One thing that meeting Helen told me is that there is more to the disabled than just blind or halt. Helen can walk (on artificial legs) but also uses a wheel chair — she can’t climb the smallest step, but can navigate well in the flats. She has no hands but a prosthetic device on one arm that she uses to pick up some things. She cannot use most any type of device that requires inserting keys, coin, or bills — which means she can’t pay for parking at any machine we currently use. But, she can drive. Her dog is a great help, and can open doors (when they are adjusted for him), and certainly handles many ‘fetch’ and like tasks.
My experience is that disabled ‘adapt’ more to the world around them, than the world adapts to them.
All that being said, technology can help in many areas, and certainly in the area of collecting money through the use of contactless cards and the like. However we may have a way to go if we expect some disabled drivers to input their license plates and drop coin or insert cards into the machine.
There’s a lot to consider in this area.