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Editorial in Search of Universal Design

Editor's Note: Image: Humourous graphic of a penguin in a bow-tie and top-hat, leaning on a cane.

Whenever the term "access" is mentioned, most persons immediately think of curb cuts, ramps and accessible washrooms. This is somewhat understandable, since the International Symbol of Access remains a stylized wheelchair. However, other groups of persons with disabilities also face "access" barriers, which require attention and action.

For persons who are blind, partially sighted or Deaf-blind, our "access" barriers include the lack of print materials in formats we can read (braille, large print, audio cassette or computer disk), the need for more interveners, increased availability of mobility instruction, access to a growing range of everyday products which are increasingly operated through digital menus, and the right to vote and bank independently and in private like other citizens do.

These are some of the access issues that will be explored in this issue of the Canadian Blind Monitor.

The Trace Research and Development Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has defined Universal design as "the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems, and processes) which are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions, and circumstances)."

Universal design has two major components:

1) Designing products so that they are flexible enough that they can be directly used (without requiring any assistive technologies or modifications) by people with the widest range of abilities and circumstances as is commercially practical given current materials, technologies, and knowledge; and 2) Designing products so that they are compatible with the assistive technologies that might be used by those who cannot efficiently access and use the products directly.

Clearly, many of our access barriers could be overcome by incorporating "universal design" principles and features into the design of all new products and services. This way, all persons could use a given product, and there would no longer be the need to retrofit, which is usually far more costly. Isn't it time business, which increasingly talks about the benefits and growing markets associated with making products usable by all, walk this walk and implement universal design features so all of us can go about our daily lives independently and with dignity?

Last September, the NFB:AE was ten years old--an important milestone in the history of any organization. At our biennial Conference held this May in Montreal, we celebrated this important event by presenting Certificates of Recognition to ten individuals who have played an important part in our ten year history. This issue also includes some material from our Conference, an event which was characterized throughout by Montreal's famous joie de vivre.

I believe those present in Montreal came away revitalized, and we hope those who could not attend will get involved and join in this important work of barrier removal so that we may achieve our goal of first-class citizenship for all Canadians, including those of us who are blind, partially sighted or Deaf-blind.