Universal Design (UD) is not a new concept. In 1997 a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental researchers, led by the late Ronald Mace, an internationally recognized architect, formulated a set of 7 principles aimed at creating inclusive environments inherently accessible to all. The full incorporation of the 7 principles, would mean that all people would be able to access both the built and social environment.  

PRINCIPLE ONE: Equitable Use – The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

PRINCIPLE TWO: Flexibility in Use – The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

PRINCIPLE THREE: Simple and Intuitive Use – Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

PRINCIPLE FOUR: Perceptible Information – The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

PRINCIPLE FIVE: Tolerance for Error – The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.

PRINCIPLE SIX: Low Physical Effort – The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Size and Space for Approach and Use – Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.

These principles were the driving force behind the conference that Sue Sanossian, our Corporate Secretary, and I recently attended; the UDL-IRN International Summit 2018 "Learning Designed for Everyone", (Universal Design for Learning and Research Network), in Orlando, FL. We were there along with 500 other enthusiastic professionals who are dedicated to ending discrimination and promoting access for all.

With sessions ranging from UD in the classroom, to education programs incorporating the 7 principles of UD, it seemed that incorporating UD into education could remove stigma and both enable and benefit all – not just those covered under legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

I presented on the wider use of captioning and its impact beyond disability; highlighting the development of preschool literacy in younger children who, by looking at the captions on TV, and on video, have an early opportunity to learn to read. I also discussed the benefits of captioned content on TV for seniors, in particular those who might be experiencing the common hearing problems associated with ageing.

My presentation noted that those with English as an additional language (EAL) could also have a second chance at learning, both at home and in the classroom, by seeing the captioned content and then receiving the transcript. 

Moving from presenting to exhibiting, we found the interactions at the conference were enhanced by the unique interactive learning centre, replacing the traditional exhibition space. This interactive centre, which encouraged practical demonstrations and interaction, enabled us to demonstrate programs and explain how Ai-Media’s suite of services embraces the UD Principles and could meet some of the challenges faced by attendees.

We met many fellow delegates and heard in more detail about the challenges they face. Many of the challenges related to the increasing number of students with Mental Health issues, which are now of major concern in Universities and Colleges in the US. Delegates also expressed concerns about being unable to provide for students not covered by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), for example students with English as a Second Language (ESL), who were unable to access content thus disabling them by creating barriers to learning. Delegates were particularly interested in the opportunities for these students presented by Simple Text  captioning which was originally developed for students with autism.

The conference ended on a high with interviews being filmed and live streamed to Facebook and YouTube and an invitation to present on Visible Classroom at next year’s conference accepted, in anticipation of another great event.

On reflection in the days after the conference, the impact of captioning as core component of UD and all that it seeks to achieve, and reinforces Ai-Media’s mission of global impact one word at a time.

UD really is the answer to everything!

Eileen Hopkins in a striped top

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