ESRC/ERC Seminars

Designing inclusive environments: shaping transitions from theory into practice

The purpose of the seminar series is to provide a forum for both academics and practitioners to conceptualise, and reflect on, the social relations, policies, and practices of universal design from a range of critical perspectives. Embedded into each seminar will be an understanding of UD in a comparative perspective, drawing on both national and international experiences. There will be three seminars.

The seminars are primarily by invite only but there are a small number of places available to those who wish to express an interest in attending. If you are interested in attending any of the seminars, please email Rob Imrie outlining the nature of your interest and why you would like to attend.

The seminar series was funded by the ESRC and supplemented by the ERC grant.

Seminar 1: Understanding universal design, April 19th 2013

The basis of the first seminar is discussion of the conceptual and theoretical content of UD. There is limited critical scrutiny of the underlying epistemological foundations of UD, or discussions of the socio-institutional processes shaping its understanding of, and approaches to, the inequalities of access to, and usages of, places, products, and services. While there are some important, critical, evaluations of UD, these are few and far between (Findelli, 2001, Imrie, 2012). The seminar will seek to identify the different ways in which the term is defined and understood, and discuss the value-rationalities shaping it. These include: (i) UD’s belief in the significance of technology and technical innovation in ensuring accessible design; (ii) Its propagation of market discourses as the basis for product design and development of universally designed environments; and, (iii) Its defence of universalism and an ambivalence towards particularism.

Seminar 2: ‘Design for all’ and responding to the manifold nature of embodiment, December 13th 2013

The UD movement is committed to a user-led inclusive design process that draws on the diverse experiences of people in interacting with the designed environment. However, there is little clarity about how, practically, knowledge of the diverse design needs of people can be generated and designed into the UD process in ways whereby inclusivity can be attained. In particular, how do designers conceive of the body, embodiment, and the diverse ways in which bodies (inter) act in space? How far is the complexity of corporeality embedded into designers’ conceptions of use and users and with what impact on shaping inclusive approaches to design? One dimension of inclusion in/of design relates to users’ interactions with designers. Despite proponents of UD claiming that users are, or ought to be, more than passive recipients of expert opinion, what is the evidence of dissolution of the social relations of ‘design authority’, or the dominance of professional designers as the main agents? The seminar will question how far people’s diverse design needs can be addressed by UD and whether inclusivity in design is possible, even desirable. What might this look like, as the design of products and services will involve reconciling differing capabilities, where not all needs can be resolved in the same way (the example of tactile paving as assistive for some people, yet detrimental to the use of public spaces by others)? ‘Design for all’ is not as simple as the concept sounds, and the compromise of potentially conflicting preferences and attributes is involved.

Seminar 3: Translational practices and the operationality of universal design, February 21st 2014

Part of the challenge in translating UD into practice revolves around understanding what the term may mean and entail for designers and cognate practitioners. How is UD understood by different protagonists and practitioners, how are such understandings shaped by specific, often cultural, influences, and what are the key socio-technical and cultural challenges in seeking to ensure UD has relevance to the multiple ways in which people are embodied within the world? UD is not just a product, technique, service, or artefact, but it is embedded into, and a constitutive part of, social and cultural understandings, relations, and practices relating to the designed environment. UD becomes what it is in and through the socio-material practices of design, and such practices, in relation to UD, need to be further explored. Thus, the starting point for the seminar is that the understanding of UD ought to encompass not only a consideration of the technical aspects of designed artefacts, but also the broader social and political contexts that shape the operationality of the designed environment.  The seminar will focus on various examples of how ideas/concepts of UD are developed, how they are translated into practice, and with what implications for the quality of the designed environment and people’s experiences.

Workshop: Enabling and disabling environments: a community methods workshop, March 14th 2014

How do you experience and make sense of the designed environment as you go about your daily life? In this workshop, we will explore the potential of photos, sound recordings, and video, for understanding and representing disabled peoples’ experiences of the designed environment. Through a series of activities, we invite you to show us places in the local area that are significant to you, from streets and pavements to buildings, public spaces and transportation, and to tell us about your experiences of inclusion and exclusion therein.

The workshop will offer a collaborative and friendly arena for participants to try out different methods and tools for telling about their experiences. Your participation will contribute to the Economic and Social Research Council/ERC seminar series, and also help us to develop a three-year European Research Council funded project that seeks to find out how far it is possible to design the environment so that the needs of different people, including disabled people, are incorporated into places, products and services.