Designing for the Disabled

Contributors: Dr. Herbert Lowe & Ollie Jones IV

Everyday people living with disabilities live lives of courage, hope and dignity. Along the way, they teach the rest of us the true meaning of grace. 

According to the United Nation human rights office, there are 650 million people around the world living with disabilities; some are very visible and others are less obvious.

For a very long time, persons with disabilities made up the world’s largest and most disadvantaged minority. But thanks to a number of enlightened individuals and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the international community is responding to the long history of discrimination, exclusion, and dehumanization of these people.The purpose of this article is to focus on what has been and is being done in the areas of design to facilitate the disabled individual and how these designs are helpful to the population at large.

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THE TREND: Creating Awareness among Designers

The trend in making products – and information – more accessible to those with any kind of disability is gathering momentum. Interestingly, seeking design solutions that meet the needs of the disabled results in a better overall design, benefitting both the able and disabled.

New terminology has been coined to describe inclusive design processes, such as accessible design, barrier-free design and assistive technology. Universal design is a relatively new approach that has emerged from these models and describes the design elements of buildings, products, and environments that allow for the broadest range of users and applications.

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DESIGNING FOR DISABLED CHILDREN

Children with disabilities often have far fewer opportunities to play than other children, not only because their abilities are limited but because those limitations are barely, if at all, taken into consideration in play product design. Institutional appearance, high cost and low entertainment value are common drawbacks in products designed only for = children with disabilities. Through programs such as, Let’s Play based at the University of Buffalo (New York), which collaborates with manufacturers to optimize universal features in toy design, children with disabilities can be included in the design process.

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By expanding the ability- range of toys to include features that disabled children can master, (known as the from-able-to-disabled universal design approach) more children are able to benefit. On the other hand, the from-disabled-to-able approach can also broaden play options for children without disabilities. Therapeutic toys with greater play possibilities mean children without disabilities can also enjoy the entertaining elements of the toys while working on skill development. The larger production volume from a wider market, which would include all children, could also significantly lower product costs making the toys more affordable.

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