Revistes Catalanes amb Accés Obert (RACO)

Universal design pedagogy through a charrette to increase professional sensitivity

Doris C. C. K. Kowaltowski, Núbia Bernardi, Cláudia Martin


This paper describes a design Charrette conducted in a graduate course on Universal Design (UD) in which students developed a design project for a public-service centre. The Charrette involved potential users with various disabilities, evaluating the design proposal, using tactile maps, as well as other communication media. Wayfinding issues relating to the design of a service centre were transformed into flowcharts, both as diagrams and tactile representations. The participation of disabled users was evaluated. The goal of the Charrette was to understand the effectiveness of this type of teaching method to increase designers’ sensitivity to UD issues and gain knowledge on participatory processes with users who have varied disabilities. The results showed that the Charrette as a teaching method was successful in making the student group focus on the questions of UD. However, students continued to be primarily concerned with the design’s formal aesthetic aspects, and the process differed little from traditional designerly ways of doing things. This demonstrates the need to improve design education, adopting multidisciplinary approaches, which strengthen design considerations for UD. An analysis of the participatory phase showed that potential users with visual disabilities had difficulties understanding the design and wheelchair users criticized various aspects of access and barrier-free wayfinding. Recommendations are presented. To increase the sensitivity of professional designers to UD issues, potential users with disabilities should participate from the start in the design process to give input as the proposal is developed. Introducing a multidisciplinary design team should also be tested to include a larger variety of viewpoints in the design process, which may strengthen the concern for elements of a building design that directly affect person-environment relationships.

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