Conceptual Challenges Between Universal Design and Disability in Relation to the Body, Impairment, and the Environment Where Does the Issue of Disability Stand in the Philosophy of UD?

Universal Design (UD), which is grounded politically and sociologically in the long historic struggle of the anti-discrimination and disability rights movements in the United States that occurred between 1970's and 1990's and the market-oriented necessities of an aging society, has been defined as 'design for all' people to the greatest extent possible, differentiating it from earlier concepts of adaptable, specialised or accessible design. UD argues that the design of a built environment must be usable by 'all people', regardless of age, gender, capability, cultural origin or socioeconomic status. UD incorporates some principles to achieve 'design for all' solutions. Although UD is originated and developed within the discourse on disability, its emphasis on the locution 'design for all', along with the writings of proponents of UD, suggests a deliberate broadening but at the same time avoiding giving focus on the issue of disability. Further evidence of this interpretation of UD's approach can be found in the design products that UD promotes. Most examples of products designed in accordance with UD principles are usable by people with diverse 'disabilities'. Advocates' writings reveal that the conceptual foundations of UD rely socio-politically on the 'rights-based' and 'non-discriminatory' attitudes, which have helped to consolidate the ontologically 'non-stigmatising' and 'inclusionary' status of UD. These attitudes have indirect implications for disability. This paper aims to scrutinize UD's concern with 'design for all' by going beyond its promissory design-related claims and unveiling its underlying conceptual and strategic challenges in relation to disability discourse, referring to the historical developmental process of the discourse of disability and its incidence in UD's emerging processes. Referring to the historical developmental process of disability, one could claim that the formulation of the ideals of UD was influenced by the long path of demedicalisation and universalisation of the status of disability. The social constructionist approach of the Social Model and the Minority Group Model of disability that signify the environmental conditions as the primary source for enabling/disabling of the people with diverse disabilities throughout the demedicalisation process of disability inspired the conceptual strategies and authenticity of UD. Descriptive formulations of disability, developed within the international agencies of ICIDH and ICF in the last three decades, have consistently influenced and supported the universalising and anti- discriminatory strategy of UD. The Social Model's distinction of 'disability' and 'impairment' substantiated UD's concern for a non-stigmatizing, inclusionary attitude which the term 'design for all' suggests. This paper evaluates UD from within by drawing attention to its strong and weak sides referring to the conceptual challenges that arise directly or indirectly with reference to the historical development process of the disability discourse.
Citation Formats
M. Erkılıç, “Conceptual Challenges Between Universal Design and Disability in Relation to the Body, Impairment, and the Environment Where Does the Issue of Disability Stand in the Philosophy of UD?,” MIDDLE EAST TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY Journal of The Faculty of Architecture, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 181–203, 2011, Accessed: 00, 2020. [Online]. Available: