Universal Design Forum focuses on accessibility and awareness
May 21, 2014

Universal Design is an architectural concept to make structures, products and services more functional and user-friendly for everyone -and a recent forum at Georgian College it was an opportunity to hear examples of how universal design works -and of particular interest to the college, how it can be applied to education.

Georgian College Dean of Students Michele Beudoin, left, and Susan Ruptash, managing principal at Quadrangle Architects, speak to Georgian professor Costan Boiangiu at the Universal Design Forum.

Georgian College Dean of Students Michele Beaudoin, left, and Susan Ruptash, managing principal at Quadrangle Architects, speak to Georgian professor Costan Boiangiu at the Universal Design Forum.

Georgian hosted a Universal Design Forum in partnership with Independent Living Services on May 20 at the Barrie Campus. Costan Boiangiu, co-ordinator of Georgian’s Architectural Technology program, was pleased to see one of his former professors, Susan Ruptash of Quadrangle Architects, was a speaker. He learned many architectural theories in her courses and is promoting universal design concepts to his architectural students, who are working on projects for a company that designs seniors’ co-housing. In co-housing, seniors each own a percentage of a house they share with others.

“Students are keeping these ideas in mind when they design their projects,” said Boiangiu. “They are using professional standards of housing and bringing the advantages of universal design to their projects.”

That is the best way to ensure universal design is utilized to its fullest potential, says Ruptash – to focus on accessibility for everyone while still in the planning stages.

Participants at the forum spoke about how universal design can make a difference in planning, education and building. Matt Campbell, a vision-impaired Georgian alumnus who now works as a sales person and representatives of other colleges spoke about inclusive research in the postsecondary system and others spoke about technology to aid universal design.

Universal Design not only addresses the needs of people with disabilities, but also includes the needs of children, seniors, people who are temporarily injured or ill, as well as different body sizes and shapes. Ruptash, managing principal of Quadrangle Architects in Toronto, said her company planned for all types of accessibility when designing its new offices.

“There has to be buy-in at the top. . .we need to live it,” she said. “Design has to start right at the front door.”

As a result, said Ruptash, Quadrangle has no front door – it has a sliding wall that leaves plenty of clear floor space. The company created more usable space by reducing the sizes of workstations and designing them to be reconfigured for multiple users. It also made more collaborative work spaces with great light and great views, where people could work collaboratively.

Instead of stacking a storage room with junk, she said, they used the room to make a bathroom accessible to many mobility devices. They brought the storage areas out into the open space, creating storage bins in a wide variety of widths, heights and colours. Signage was made in raised textures and strong contrasts, while carpeting was chosen to change colour, pattern and texture from room to room, appealing to visual and sensory input.

“There are lots of ideas you can incorporate if you think about them early,” said Ruptash. The power of change comes from the base of knowledge. Universal design can be an incredibly powerful thing.”

Universal design, the design of products, structures, services and environments accessible and user-friendly to people of all ages and abilities, is a concept Georgian College is fully embracing.