February 25th, 2002

Universal Design and Disability

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RESNA Announces 25th International Conference on Technology & Disability.

RESNA is the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America. It is an interdisciplinary association of people with a common interest in technology and disability whose purpose is to improve the potential of people with disabilities to achieve their goals through the use of technology.

The 25th International Conference on Technology and Disability will be held June 27-July 1, 2002 in Minneapolis, MN. Highlighting the conference is this year’s research symposium, “State of the Science of Universal Design Research” which is jointly hosted by the two Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERCs) on Universal Design.

According to RESNA, universal design is not about meeting standards but increasing usability, usually beyond the goals of existing standards. Universal design integrates accessible features into the overall design of a product. The appearance of products, environments, and systems plays an important role in universal design, which strives to eliminate the stigma associated with products “for the disabled.”

Why should the rehabilitation technology community be interested in universal design? First, even assistive technology needs to be made as universally usable as possible. Some people with disabilities have more than a single disability. Everyone ages, and when they do, functional abilities usually decrease. Better design of devices can increase function and reduce stigma for a wider range of people with disabilities. At the same time, if made more broadly usable and appealing, “assistive” devices might be produced in larger numbers, which would make them more readily available and less expensive.

Second, disability is not a static characteristic of an individual but rather, a characteristic of the dynamic relationship between the individual and the environment. Through design, we can make everyone more “able.” If the general environment is more accommodating, people with disabilities may move about more easily and their need for assistive technology may be reduced.

Rehabilitation specialists and mainstream designers must work together to create the most accommodating
and usable world. The rehabilitation technology community represents a major resource of information and experience that can be applied to universal design. Moreover, universal design offers new opportunities for our professional community to influence mainstream design activities.


The Symposium will include presentations from Human Factors and Ergonomics specialists in biomechanics, anthropometry, and product/environment design. For more information or to register for the conference, see RESNA.



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