Findings from the Primary Research

Exploring Universal Design Teaching at Trinity College Dublin and Universal Design in Practice at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) - Background and Methodology

Trinity College Dublin was selected as the research site for this study as it contains a wide variety of programmes and a strong basis in Engineering including a history of teaching Universal Design. Additionally, it operates under significant policy related to accessibility in its facilities and offerings.

In order to determine the degree to which Universal design is included in Trinity College Dublin curricula, interviews were carried out across a range of academics. Representatives from Engineering, Computer Science, School of Business, Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy were interviewed. These 10 interviewees were academic staff with lecturing hours.

The goal of the consultation was to gather opinions, attitudes, practices and outcomes related to increasing the profile of Universal Design thinking in the teaching of design. A semi-structured questionnaire was developed to guide the interview process (see Appendix A).

Qualitative data was collected through confidential, recorded face-to-face, in-depth interviews. The interviews lasted approximately 40 minutes each. The respondents were given background information on the purpose and the sponsor of the research.

The interview questionnaire focused on:

  • Understanding of Universal Design
  • Introduction of Universal Design to
  • Current Universal Design Teaching
  • Future Universal Design Teaching

Discussions were also held with 5 representative European experts in the field of Universal Design. These discussions were non-structured but covered the same material as the formal interviews held with Trinity College Dublin academic staff. The findings from the experts are reported here, alongside the results of the Trinity College Dublin staff findings. Selected quotations from the interviews and discussions can be found in Appendix B.

Additionally, the responses of the Director of Graduate Studies of one School, the Disability Services Office and the Director of Trinity College Dublin's Centre for Academic Practice and Student Learning (CAPSL) were also collected. Trinity College Dublin policy and practices documents relevant to Universal Design in the campus Built Environment, Web Accessibility and Student Services were also reviewed. A summary of the excerpts from the questionnaire sections relevant to Universal Design policy at Trinity College Dublin is provided in Appendix C.

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Findings and Discussion from Primary Research

Universal Design Practice at Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin has policy and programmes in place to address Universal Design in the campus Built Environment, Web Accessibility and Student Services. The terminology associated with the activities of these areas of policy, programmes and practices associate closely with accessibility and diversity. The degree of understanding of Universal Design in these practices was not determined although there appeared to be a strong focus on disability.

Defining Universal Design and Shaping Universal Design Teaching

A key issue identified in the primary research was the need to define and shape what exactly is meant by Universal Design and what exactly teaching Universal Design should involve. There were disparities in the understanding of the term Universal Design among respondents. Therefore it can be supposed that these disparities will be passed on to students, both in their understanding of Universal Design and in how it should be applied. It was apparent from the primary research that discussion around the subject of Universal Design remains largely disability-focused.

Irish legislation (Disability Act, 2005) defines Universal Design as:

(a) the design and composition of an environment so that it may be accessed, understood and used -
(i) to the greatest practicable extent,
(ii) in the most independent and natural manner possible,
(iii) in the widest possible range of situations, and
(iv) without the need for adaptation, modification, assistive devices or specialised solutions, by persons of any age or size or having any particular physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual ability or disability, and
(b) means, in relation to electronic systems, any electronics-based process of creating products, services or systems so that they may be used by any person.

The key points from this definition are - "regardless of age, size, ability or disability". Interestingly, age was only mentioned once in the interviews, and this referred to "older people" (i.e. Age in a narrower disability-related context and not age in the broadest sense of the term to include all ages). Size was not highlighted at all in the interviews. Furthermore, wider concepts related to Universal Design as per other jurisdictions were not discussed, for example, consideration of gender, culture, nationality, educational background, socio-economic status, etc. However, engaging with people with disabilities during the design process is only one aspect of Universal Design. Therefore it is important to include a wide range of users, apply user-centred methodologies, and the focus should look beyond disability.

The Importance of Universal Design Champions

The primary research highlighted the importance of individuals in driving Universal Design teaching at third level. These may be individuals with experience on how accessibility problems and barriers negatively impact a wide range of people. Knowledge of Universal Design and its application in curricula can reside with individual teachers that champion or prioritise Universal Design as a topic of importance.

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The Importance of Communication and Collaboration between Disciplines

The uptake of Universal Design by teachers from a wide range of disciplines was highlighted by a number of respondents as a necessary future strategy for implementing Universal Design. One example suggested the potential for collaboration among teachers involved with medical professionals, physicists and engineers to work together on solving a design problem. Another example included the potential for communication between design professionals and occupational therapists or speech and language therapists.

Lack of Resources

Limitations in resources were perceived as being a barrier to further expansion of Universal Design teaching. Lack of funding and lack of room on the curriculum were highlighted as issues.

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