America Takes Up the Universal Design "Fashion Trend"

Here are two recent examples of how America is both embracing and diluting Universal Design.

We accepted it as a matter-of-fact statement of what must occur simply for those of us with severe mobility impairments to participate in American society when Ron Mace began talking about it in the 1970's. From the start it was addressed to more than those of us in wheelchairs but we were the ones who ran it up the flagpole and saluted most enthusiastically.

Over time refinements have been made in defining and diffusing Universal Design.
Universal Design Cover.jpg
 The book Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments is currently the best formulation.

Without fully understanding the concept critiques such as in this by Stacey Freed, purporting to reflect Victoria Downing, make statements like:

 "The terms "universal design" and "aging in place" are often used interchangeably. Though related, the concepts do differ slightly (and universal design is a bit vague)."

The suggested alternative? -- "good design principles."

But if we get lost if we follow the gag order not to present Universal Design in its historical context. Universal Design arose from the lived experience of marginalization of people with disabilities. It was distilled through the professional competencies of architects and others who either had or were intensely and personally involved in disability and persons experiencing disabilities. 

Of course it is nothing more than "good design principles." However, these principles where never put into practice in the history of the world prior to the formulation of Universal Design out of the lived, and very politically astute, experience of people experiencing disabilities.

It may indeed be good marketing to  "Stay away from words like 'old, elderly, handicapped, infirm, aging, senior,'" It is another thing entirely to bury the history and social critique that is Universal Design.

Otherwise it runs the risk of becoming a collection of specialty fixtures, a checklist of code features, and a new way of making bathrooms pretty.

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