Envisioning Universal Design: Creating an Inclusive Society -- October 2-3, 2003
II. Introduction and Meeting Overview
On October 2-3, 2004, a distinguished group of individuals (cf. Appendix A) met at the Arts Endowment in Washington, D.C. to review the last decade of progress in universal design and to identify ways to further advance the practice of universal design. Sponsored by the NEA, NIDRR, and the two NIDRR funded RERCs on Universal Design and the Built Environment in cooperation with the AARP; the meeting consisted of 37 select representatives in the fields of design, education, government, the arts, and consumer/community services.
The universal design movement has made dramatic advances. However, it is still marginalized and not integral to mainstream design education and practice. The challenge for this meeting was to build on earlier accomplishments and strategically assess opportunities for the infusion of universal design to ensure more inclusive communities.
Participants were selected by a broad range of criteria to reflect diverse representation from design disciplines, including private/public affiliation, academic, urban/rural/regional and socially oriented design organizations not previously identified with universal design.
Arts Endowment Chairman Dana Gioia opened the meeting, reminding participants that the NEA has a long-standing history of involvement in universal design, having called a meeting in 1990 to create a leadership initiative on the topic. A decade later, the Endowment’s 1999 Universal Design meeting consolidated much of the learning in the area that had occurred over the previous ten years.
“In my travels around the country as the new NEA chair, I have seen the impact of these efforts in buildings that the Arts Endowment, the Humanities Endowment, and the Save America’s Treasures program have retrofitted with aspects of universal design.
“Although much has been done, there still remains much to do in the area of universal design. This is the reason for our two-day meeting. Too many architects continue to use the minimal ADA guidelines or are reluctant to incorporate universal design principles into their projects. The charge of this gathering is to recommend next steps for the public and private sectors in order to infuse universal design into the strategic thinking of community leaders, consumers and designers.
“The Arts Endowment has an obligation to serve all Americans—if they are hard to reach, that just means we have to do a better job of reaching them. The best art should be made available to the broadest possible cross-section of the American people. In this I am reminded of the achievements of the WPA during the 1930s in democratizing American culture.
“If our goal is to make art accessible to all Americans—a goal that has to be adopted both in the material universe as well as policy circles—we must make sure people, for example, can attend a theater and experience a performance or visit a museum with ease and dignity. The National Endowment for the Arts is the largest annual arts funder in the United States. But it represents only 1.5 % of arts expenditures. The Endowment works best when it provides leadership and catalytic funds, by building partnerships and consensus. Our mission is to find a message and provide the leadership so that people and organizations working separately on these issues will focus and work together for the cause of universal design.”
On Day One, after Chairman Gioia’s opening remarks, Ed Steinfeld, Laurie Ringaert, Molly Story, and Elaine Ostroff followed with presentations that described the major efforts of their organizations, the NEA and related national and international developments during the past five years. On Day Two, four working groups in the areas of research, development, dissemination and education determined the current needs facing universal design and made recommendations that were prioritized at a concluding plenary session.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal