UB Expert Co-Chairs International Conference on Best Practices in Universal Design

June conference examines the design of buildings and services for people of all ages and abilities

Release Date: June 3, 2011

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Edward Steinfeld is co-chair of the International Conference on Best Practices in Universal Design to be held in Toronto.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As baby boomers reach retirement, University at Buffalo Professor of Architecture Edward Steinfeld will co-chair an international conference on a topic that could improve the quality of life for aging populations around the world: universal design.

The International Conference on Best Practices in Universal Design is one of six conferences taking place in Toronto between June 5 and June 8 as part of the 2011 Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology (FICCDAT). More information on all the conferences is available online at http://www.ficcdat.ca.

Steinfeld, director of UB's Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center), is co-chairing the universal design conference with his son, Aaron Steinfeld, a systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, and Peter Blanck, chair of Syracuse University's Burton Blatt Institute. Jordana Maisel, the IDeA Center's director of outreach and policy studies, has also played a major role in organizing the event.

Universal design refers to the creation of buildings, products and services that are accessible to people regardless of their age or ability. Besides elders, such commodities could benefit diverse groups, such as people with disabilities and veterans injured in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The universal design conference will cover subjects including housing and home modifications, along with public building and community environments. Through speakers, poster sessions and discussions, participants will learn about best practices, research methods and ways to disseminate information relating universal design.

The third day of the event will focus on accessible transit, with presentations on broad topics such as barriers to mobility for older people using public transportation, and narrower topics such as a cross-disability study on the usability of ramp slopes.

The day's activities will double as the State of the Science Conference for the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Accessible Public Transportation, a multi-year effort that the Steinfelds are leading to study and develop methods to empower consumers and service providers to design and evaluate accessible transportation equipment, information services and physical environments. Carnegie Mellon is the center's lead institution.

Though the universal design movement has made significant progress, there is a strong need to advance evidence-based practice, Edward Steinfeld says. Researchers and service providers must evaluate current knowledge, identify limitations in current research methods and design practices, prioritize future research needs and disseminate information about successes, he says.

The June conference is important, he says, "because it will explore new and exciting strategies to help support our increasingly diverse population. It will bring together professionals and experts from around the world to address critical issues and questions about universal design in a format supporting dialogue and discussion."

Edward Steinfeld is an internationally recognized expert on accessibility, design for the lifespan and universal design. He serves on the board of directors of the Global Universal Design Commission, and is one of the authors of the Principles of Universal Design. Current activities include development of universal design standards, design of a demonstration bus and development of a textbook on universal design.

Edward Steinfeld is also principal investigator of the RERC on Universal Design in the Built Environment, which encompasses research and development projects on topics including home modifications and the design of public rights-of-way such as sidewalks and street crossings. Both the RERC on Universal Design in the Built Environment and the RERC on Accessible Public Transportation are funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

With Katherine Seelman of the University of Pittsburgh, Edward Steinfeld recently contributed a chapter on enabling environments, which covers accessibility and universal design, to the World Report on Disability, a joint publication of the World Health Organization and World Bank. The report launches on June 9 at the United Nations in New York City.

FICCDAT 2011 brings together six conferences focused on enhancing the lives of seniors, persons with disabilities and their family caregivers. The festival's organizers include Coordinator Helen Gurlesky and Co-Chairs Andria Spindel, president and CEO of March of Dimes Canada, and Geoff Fernie, vice president of research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute and a co-director of the RERC on Universal Design in the Built Environment.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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