PLEASE NOTE: The link in this post has been corrected.
The principles of Universal Design (UD) emerged from the disabled people’s/disability rights movement at least as early as the late 1960s. Initially, UD (or barrier-free design) was directed in large part to the development of architectural and infrastructural modifications such as curb-cuts which allow wheelchair users access to city streets, auditory beeping devices at traffic lights to inform blind pedestrians that lights have changed, and so on. In order to counter facile cost-benefit analyses aimed at undermining such measures, disability activists and theorists have long argued that UD improves the lives of all sorts of people, not just disabled constituents: for instance, parents pushing strollers or pedestrians carrying groceries benefit from curb-cuts and ramps ostensibly designed for wheelchair users. At one time directed toward reconfiguring the “built environment,” the principles of UD now underpin modifications in the design of ATMs, household appliances such as microwaves, computer software, and picture telephones so that universal access will one day be realized and not remain a mere slogan.
A “new aesthetic” of UD has been unfolding at Gallaudet University. The refurbishing of Gallaudet is not only aimed at improving human interface with the physical, or “built” environment. On the contrary, the new Gallaudet will be designed to accommodate a widening sense of deaf identity and the meaning of deafness. An article which appeared on the front page of the Washington Post describes some of these changes. Here is an excerpt:
“Sidewalks wide enough to accommodate pedestrians using sign language. Rounded corners and strategically placed reflective glass so people who cannot hear can see who’s coming and who’s behind them. Glass elevators so passengers can communicate with outsiders in case of emergency.” Read the full story here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/03/AR2008100303708.html