Universial Design 2016 York

I have been very lucky this week to attend the Universal Design conference held on the massive campus of the University of York. I had a fantastic four days and learnt a lot. In fact I am still processing everything and trying to work out what to do with it all.

So to start with - what is Universal Design? It is a term which was coined by architect Ron Mace and ‘refers to the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.’ Or more simply put it is ‘design for all’.

Photo of people getting tea and coffee
A quick break between sessions

A lot of people think this means that it is just aimed at disabled people but really it is about designing something that works for everyone. The best way to think of this is ‘necessary for some, good for all’.

There was a large Norwegian contingent which was interesting as their country is the first to actively try to make universal design a reality with the aim that everything (buildings, websites, services) are fully accessible by the year 2025. This meant that among the delegates they had designers, architects and politicians, amongst others. They seem well on the way to achieve their goal! The rest of us have much to learn from them.

"More simply put it is ‘design for all’"

I arrived on Sunday in time to attend one of a set of workshops while the rest of the week was filled with people presenting papers on a variety of subjects.

The range of subjects made it very hard to choose which talks to attend, but those I did attend were really interesting.

But I have to say it was Mike Paciello’s keynote speech on Wednesday morning which I was most excited about and he did not disappoint.

I have been following him for a while now so to get to hear him speak in person was brilliant. The fact that he made some rather good suggestions on how we can get more business’s to make their digital products accessible to all was a bonus.

Photo of the dinning tables set between 2 trains
Dinner at the National Railway Museum

It was not all work over the 4 days though, and also included a Viking take over, dinner at the National Railway Museum and seeing all the wildlife the University campus had to offer (mostly geese, but I did see a stoat too), but as with all of these things it was the people who really made the event, from Helen Petrie who organised it all, to the speakers, many of which were presenting in their second language, and the delegates who were all really friendly.

The next Universal Design Conference will be held in Dublin in 2018. If you want to learn more about designing a better world that will be the place to go!