Communicating Universal Design Across Virtual and Built Environments

  • If we are interested in better, more inclusive, fairer design, use, and benefits of our environments, society, and, especially, technology, then communication is key. This is especially the case if we seek to address the epochal challenge of taking universal design from the margins to the mainstream.

    So what’s involved in communication and universal design? Where does communication fit into universal design? And, armed with more inclusive communication and media, how can we communicate more effectively, more broadly, and with more influence concerning universal design?

    In this talk, I give an overview of the state-of-the-art of universal design in communication. I pay particular attention to the transformations in communication and media that digital technologies represented. With the advent of the Internet, social media, mobile phones, tablet computers, and associated technologies, digital technologies are embedded in many (most) people’s everyday lives.

    Access, affordability, skills, and literacy in digital technologies are increasingly required in our cities, rural, regional, and remote areas, for people to engage in education, do basic citizen activities, gain government services, access social support (for instance in disability services, aged care, or welfare), connect with friends, families, and intimates, participate in politics, work, and many other things.

    So: what’s the story with universal design in these essential and other areas of communication? Are technology companies – including the global players we rely upon, for instance, in the social media area – implementing universal design? What of initiatives such as web accessibility, or universal design in mobile phones? What about the accessibility of content and information across traditional communications forms as well as new digital media formats? What are the roles, and track records, of the different levels of government in Australia? What are the other players involved, and how might we improve things?

    And what of the emerging issues where our ‘virtual’ and ‘built’ environments are now converging and crossing-over? If we struggle with inclusive and universal design in our current cities, how can we ensure ‘smart cities’ are built, from scratch, on universal design principles? What about the new frontiers in transportation systems, from ‘sharing economy’ platforms and services (such as Uber) through driverless cars to reconfigured public transportation? Communication, especially through apps and digital platforms, plays a crucial role in these new, hybrid virtual/built environments, but as yet universal design is not well understood or embedded in the templates for conceiving and creating our future environments.

    These issues of universal design in the dynamic area of digital technology helps us frame and address the issue of how we take our communication about universal design to ‘the next level’, taking it mainstream, as it were.

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