Bodies-in-Design: Impairment and Embodiment in Universal Design

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 9:30 AM
Room: Booth 66
Oral Presentation
Rob IMRIE , Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
Charlotte BATES , Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
Kim KULLMAN , Goldsmiths, University of London, United Kingdom
Bodies-in-design: impairment and embodiment in Universal Design

Designed objects and environments are often inattentive to impairment or bodies that do not conform to particular, yet normalised, conceptions of bodily form and performance. This has resulted in a heightened awareness for a socially just design that is sensitive to the complexities of bodily actions and encounters, leading to the emergence of movements such as Universal Design. Drawing on a study on the relationships between impairment, embodiment, and design, this paper considers the diverse ways in which major exponents of universally designed products and services construct the impaired body, or the bodies for which they purport to design. Discussing data from interviews with designers in companies at the forefront of making universally designed products, we consider how the impaired body is designed into the production of various objects and environments, and how far designing for impaired corporeality is possible, and desirable, within the confines of commercially orientated organisations. As our research suggests, while Universal Design purports to design for all, the practices of designers sometimes risk falling back on reductive conceptions of the impaired body that mask the diversity of capabilities and experiences among users of designed objects and environments. We then discuss some of the reasons for such exclusions as well as outline potential ways of sensitising organisations and practitioners to the complexities of bodies-in-design.