Moving from the margins: Embedding inclusive thinking in design education

  • In Australia, people with disabilities across the age spectrum still encounter barriers to participation in the community because designed environments are not responsive to diversity. More needs to be done in design education to embrace and promote inclusive attitudes and universal design thinking to help address exclusion in everyday environments. One way to achieve this is by shifting design education thinking about disability from access compliance to more inclusive and spatially just thinking.

    Studies examining design education about disability has illustrated that designing for disability is often taught as accessibility and access compliance (Boys, 2014; Geoghegan, 2015, Harrison et al, 2015). Rarely are questions raised about why accessibility is needed in the first place (Harrison et al., 2015) or what social norms and stereotypes about users underpinned design decision that led to designed environment not being inclusive of an array of users (Boys, 2014; Geoghegan, 2015). Furthermore, studies have found that when Universal Design principles or inclusive attitudes are taught, they are not well embedded within full degree courses (Harrison et al, 2015).
    There are many ways design education can promote inclusion. Awareness-raising approaches is one such method, however, as it is still an emerging area, it is important to assess its effectiveness as an educational approach.

    This paper contributes to this discussion on education approaches in universal design via a pilot study of design students learning in Brisbane Australia. The presentation will discusses to what extent student’s attitudes and awareness towards designing for diversity alter or increase from their learning about social-spatial justice and inclusive design pedagogy, and what value does awareness-raising education have on student’s learning about designing for diversity. Identifying the impact of inclusive design approaches on student’s learning could help to shift it form the margins, and see it embedded within curriculum of design courses.


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