In my quest to interest people, and especially those in the architectural profession, in Universal Design and its many advantages, I was encouraged to present a workshop at the Institute for Architecture on the subject.

I had a guest speaker, Stanford Chinyayi, a young Quantity Surveyor from Cape Town, who has done a thesis on libraries on the several campuses at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and their usefulness for persons with visual impairments. He received a distinction and has apparently done presentations to his own profession on it.

I think he didn’t get much of a response. He is a most unusual person, and I was hoping this fresh take on Universal Design would pique interest from the architects.

In all the professions it is mandatory that we do Continuing Professional Development (CPD). This 4 hour interactive session had a high credit rating and 13 people booked to attend.

Stanford felt that the response was good compared to his previous experiences. Since then one of the attendees has spoken to the tertiary institutions in Durban and we are going to do visiting lecturer spots during this first term at one of the Interior design Faculties to first, second and third year students.

When QASA demonstrated at the UIA conference in August 2014, one of the main focus areas of the memorandum of understanding signed by the Presidents of UIA and SAIA was that universal design would be introduced into the tertiary education institutions.

At the workshop I wanted to also stress that Universal Design, or universal access, extends to a much broader field than just the built environment. The lunch was composed mostly of items which could easily be identified for what they were. The chicken was baked chicken legs, so they would not be confused with fish or potato, the greens were a crudite so that all the carrots, tomato, cucumber and celery could be picked up by hand and dipped if wanted; Sandwiches only had one filling each, etc.

I don’t think it was noticed that this was the way it was arranged, but it does obviate the need for signage. Seamlessness and the fact that when you get it right it isn’t noticed, is the key.

I suppose it’s still nagging the reader: what do blind people do in a library? On university campuses the library isn’t how it used to be. There are notices still announcing the need for SILENCE; but in fact a large part of these libraries are audio.

Of course only about 10% of blind people are completely blind. So really good lighting is important. On the other hand, people with albinism are over sensitive to light. However, the digital world and assistive devices and software are wonderful accessories for people with vision impairment.

Quite a few assistive devices have made their way into the mainstream world too, and made life much easier for able-bodied people. Handrails are useful for blind people, as well as elderly and off balance people. Remote controls are definitely now a mainstream item. Even email was invented for a deaf person. Runflat tyres were invented for the disability sector and are now used as standard spares on many high-end vehicles.

And so it goes: integration and the broadening of choices for all.

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