Moving Beyond Access: Translations from Policy to Practices in Interior and Architectural Design

  • Ideas behind universal design have moved from the margins to the mainstream when it comes to designing for access to public buildings such as museums, town centers and schools. Access to space(s), on the most part, have been codified into, for example, Barrier Free Guidelines and Building Standards, that represent ways to create universally designed buildings that are meant to translate the ideas of disability into actual material spaces. Through a series of case studies at various museums in Europe and Canada, this paper critiques the intimate, yet somewhat elusive, relationship between policy and actual spaces. Our case studies involved interviews with the people involved in designing the museums (e.g., architects, project managers, interior designers and exhibition designers), in-depth analysis of the museum spaces, and an analysis of the policies that were used during the design of the museums. When analyzing our case study results, we specifically looked into how translations are made from policy to practice when people outside the norm (those with disabilities) were largely absent from the process. Most significant is the idea that diverse human experiences which are flattened and generalized into policies, will translate into an understanding that the spaces created fulfill the requirements, needs and expectations of a vast range of people. As such, the research reported here begins to unravel how disability and diversity are constructed and produced in design. Further to our critical analysis, we report insights that are gained through our research that have the potential to advance the ways that designers approach the creation of universally designed museum interiors. As such, this presentation promises to provoke design educators and practitioners into reflecting on how disability and diversity are represented and translated from policy to practice.

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