University at Buffalo Continues to Lead in Universal Design with New Research on Access Iconography

Universal Design Identity Project Logo

The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center) at SUNY - Buffalo is moving forward an important element of Inclusive Destination Development with a grant from National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

I am increasingly perplexed, while negotiating inaccessible public spaces plastered with wheelchair icons, what purpose they serve when the door they are on has no automatic opener or the aisles and fitting rooms inside are too narrow for a wheelchair." ApparentlyBeth Tauke, UB associate professor of architecture, and Alex Bitterman, assistant professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology have been wondering the same thing.

Have you ever wondered what the wheelchair symbol that you see on parking spaces and public bathroom doors actually means?", is a question behind their research into disability access iconography..

An identity program usually consists of a logo and accompanying typeface, a slogan, soundmark or jingle, and rules for the use of those elements," says Tauke. "Creating a nontraditional identity program that can be used by everyone, regardless of culture, language, and physical, cognitive and perceptual ability, however, is quite a challenge." She points out that a hearing-impaired person often cannot hear a jingle, for instance, and a visually impaired person cannot see a logo.

We also must consider the 'meaning' that a particular visual symbol or tune imparts to individuals of particular ethnic, racial, social, age or ability groups so we don't send conflicting or offensive messages."

Bitterman says the team's first step has been to investigate the public attitudes of a broad group of people in many countries toward accessibility symbols and toward universal design itself.

"Our research needs to reflect real-world opinions of a very large section of the population," Bitterman says, "and by the end of the summer we expect to have surveyed more than 2,500 people in 115 countries who speak more than 75 languages and range from children to adults over the age of 100."

"We will use their input to produce a universal-design identity program that features variety of new techniques," Tauke says.

Further Reading:

Developing an accessibility identity program

What is the UDid Project?

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