Reflections on Universal Design & Justice

Susan S. Szenasy, editor of Metropolis Magazine, addressed the designing for the 21st century III conference last December in Rio de Janeiro. Her presentation appears in Metropolis as, "What Happened? Where Do We Go From Here?."

She writes:

So the growing impact of these two sister movements, sustainability and accessibility, lead me to think that the English historian Arnold Toynbee might have been correct when he wrote that "The 20th century will be chiefly remembered by future generations not as an era of political conflicts or technological inventions but as an age in which human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective."


My own life is certainly proof of the 20th century's daring to "think of the welfare of the human race as a practical objective." I arrived in the U.S. when the brutal, repressive regimes of the Soviet Bloc were beginning to crumble, starting with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Soviet Communism didn't fully fail until 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. But the welfare of the Eastern Bloc nations slowly began to improve after 1956, although there were vicious crackdowns before that could happen.

This slow change pattern that I have been describing to you, both in the environmental movement and in international politics, is merely a gentle reminder that institutions and behaviors evolve slowly, incrementally. Then something happens like the Berlin Wall falling and the whole system suddenly seems to fall with it. The reality is that what you are involved with now--the good work that you are doing around every human function everywhere--is shaping future changes in attitudes and approaches to social equity and universal design. There is a long and difficult road ahead but the roadbed has already been cut by you. The time is coming for building that road to a design that no longer needs to call itself "sustainable" or "universal"--just good, need-oriented, environmentally sensitive design. Just design. Design with justice at its core.

That is what we are working for - justice. Justice like a leaven throughout human activity and artifact. Justice like a dream coming into reality or, like "A Trend on the Horizon."

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