Rob Imrie has been awarded a three year Advanced Investigator Grant from the European Research Council, to the value of €853,000, to investigate the role and relevance of universal design. The research is a collaboration between Goldsmiths, University of London and the Open University.

The three year research programme, From September 2013 to August 2016, examines the proposition that the values and attitudes embedded into the production of the designed environment display little or no knowledge of how to respond to the manifold complexities of the body. This is being explored through the context of disability and design, with the focus on assessing the relevance of the principles and practices of one of the foremost, contemporary, design movements, Universal Design (UD), and how it addresses the problems of/for impaired bodies in interacting with the designed environment.

UD is an increasingly important feature of nations states seeking to develop a fairer society for people unable to access and use, with ease, the designed environment. It is based on the premise that the design of products and environments ought to ‘be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design’ (Mace, 1988: 1). The research is addressing how far the principles and practices of UD are able to facilitate disabled people’s needs in accessing and using the designed environment.

The project is scrutinising, critically, the underlying assumptions about design and embodiment shaping the content of UD, what UD is, as a sociopolitical phenomenon, its interpenetration into, and across, different scales and sectors of society, and, how far it enables autonomy of human-environment interactions by (re) creating artefacts sensitised to the manifold complexities of the body. In doing so, the research is seeking to redress key lacunae by investigating how far UD principles and practices are shaping approaches to the crafting of designed environments, how such practices are governed and shaped by diverse actors, and, how far the differentiated bodily needs of disabled people may be met by the programmes and policies of UD.