Pre- and Post-Survey Results

A group listens to one participant explain an idea at the AccessEngineering capacity building institute.

Before and after the CBI, surveys were distributed to participants to learn more about their experiences with disability and universal design. Some responses to select questions are included below.

In the pre-CBI survey, most participants indicated that they had not been exposed to accessibility or disability in their engineering education. Responses to other pre-CBI survey questions are below.

How would you define universal design?

  • Universal design guides the design of products and environments to be as accessible and inclusive of all people, to the greatest extent possible.
  • Universal designs serve not only one population but the entire population.
  • Universal design considers the actual users of what is being designed, instead of a hypothetical user who tends to look much like the stereotypical design engineer (white, male, and nondisabled). It questions how space/materials/items could be used to understand user experiences beyond a single case scenario
  • Universal design solutions consider all users
  • In my mind, universal design is an approach that recognizes the diversity of human experience and the importance of being aware of it and benefitting from it in the design process.

What is an excellent example of universal design?

  • OXO Kitchen Tools are very universally designed.
  • Curb cuts are usually my go-to example of a great universal design feature. Yes they provide increased accessibility for wheelchair users, but they also are great for individuals with strollers or carts, wheeled luggage, bikes, etc.
  • Captioning online lectures is not only useful for Deaf students, but for those who might have difficult understanding accents, are taking a course in their non-native language, for someone who needs to access the material in a quiet location without disturbing others, or for someone whose audio isn’t working for whatever reason.
  • Crosswalks are much more accessible when they have the rumble strip and voice prompts.
  • Amazon’s Alexa reaches a wider audience by using voice commands to perform interactive and flexible tasks.
  • Motion activated paper towel dispensers
  • iPhone has built in customization for the range of input and output preferences from blindness to low vision to poor dexterity.
  • Keyless door locks could offer a great universal design option.
  • I was at a newer hotel recently that had their room numbers posted on a small plaque about halfway down next to the door. There were numbers, a different but common image for each room on the floor, like an apple or a bicycle, and it had braille numbers. It struck me as very inclusive in both physical and sensory ways.
  • International airports must be prepared to efficiently serve people of all different backgrounds and abilities.
  • Automatic sliding doors are accessible because when people approach, they open automatically.

What should all engineers be taught about universal design?

  • A framework for small design tweaks that improve inclusivity
  • Why universal design is important and how it can help more than “just” marginalized groups of people
  • How to frame the scope of the problem. This is where most engineers miss the opportunity to create something while being critically conscious about their designs. It is important to know the client and the needs of the client
  • Instead of thinking in terms of taking an existing design/product/app and modifying it to be more accessible, think of accessibility as an inherent part of the initial design process
  • That their duty is to society and that doesn’t just mean “the average user”
  • Designing for disability can lead to innovations that become better for everyone
  • Universal design is not something you tack on at the end of a project—it’s a way of thinking and approaching a problem
  • That UD is an extension of usability, which every engineer should be concerned with—UD just considers a wider population than usually addressed under usability

What should all engineers be taught about disability?

  • Awareness and exposure to diversity of human experiences
  • Disability isn’t innately a bad thing
  • People have varying abilities, and that many people with disabilities don’t want to be “fixed”
  • The physical or mental limitations should not disqualify people from the field of engineering
  • The diversity of abilities and perspectives help us design more complete, robust and holistic solutions or designs
  • Engineers should be exposed to varying models of disability, including that disability is a part of diversity

How have you taught students about disability or universal design?

  • I teach them that design is for the inclusion of all customers.
  • I teach my students about social justice in the context of engineering. It doesn’t address universal design specifically, but the intent of the course is to help students develop a critical consciousness.
  • I present UD as an ethical issue related to design, and also an issue of potential design failures.
  • We ask students to critique their designs’ social impact.
  • I hope that I teach them everyday just by showing up in my wheelchair ready to work hard for them and for my school.

After the CBI, responses to the post-survey included the following:

How did your definition of universal design change as a result of attending the CBI?

  • I realized that we need to be doing more to consider what universal design means when considering invisible disabilities. It’s easy to recognize changes that promote accessibility in physical and digital spaces that correlate to specific needs (e.g., ramps or color contrast) that reflect “understood” disabilities. It’s a lot less obvious what “universal design” means when discussing things related to processing information, memory, and organizational needs.
  • I think I started to see the benefits of designing systems on a much broader spectrum rather than trying to “eat at” the overall problem of universal design through solving one underrepresented group’s needs at a time.
  • It skewed towards inclusivity. That was part of my thought pattern before but the conference solidified it. Also I realized that, in our rush to id solutions we frequently don’t take enough time to think it through completely.
  • I recognized that it’s not only about helping people with disabilities—universal design ends up helping most people.

What are additional examples of universal design?

  • Name tag that considers various peoples’ need
  • flexible work schedules, including flexible tenure schedules
  • I would say spectacles, and no-hassle packaging (now an option when you shop on amazon)
  • Touch faucets
  • Table with adjustable heights

What should all engineers be taught about universal design?

  • Engineers should design products that considered different individuals’ needs.
  • Using simulation exercises does not stimulate empathy, but rather sympathy or pity.
  • Do not think of average users; a wider range of users creates better more realistic.
  • Design should be to the margins rather than the average.
  • That it is a key part of good design.
  • The input of individuals with disabilities must be integrated into the development of universally designed products and environments.

What should all faculty be taught about these topics?

  • What can faculty do to accommodate
  • Disability is part of diversity
  • Limitations exist on a spectrum. Disability is not just reflective of these limitations, but is an identity as well
  • How to include UD into project design
  • Making your course more accessible doesn’t make it easy, just includes better practices.