UB Architects Receive $3 Million Federal Grant To Establish Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center

Release Date: April 6, 2000 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center) in the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning has been awarded a five-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

The grant will establish at UB one of three Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centers (RERC) that will study universal design in partnership with representatives of the design and disability communities nationwide.

The new RERCs at UB and North Carolina State University will be devoted to the study of universal design and the built environment. The third, a collaboration between Gallaudet University and the University of Wisconsin's Trace Center, will study universal design and telecommunications access.

The new center makes UB the only university in the nation with three federally funded RERCs. The other two conduct research on assistive devices for older persons and technology transfer involving assistive devices.

The new UB RERC will be headed by award-winning architect Edward Steinfeld, professor of architecture, director of the IDEA Center and nationally recognized as one of the early developers of the concept of universal design.

Universal design refers to environmental, structural and product design that not only provides access for those with disabilities beyond that required by law, but makes products and places easier to use, more enjoyable and more marketable to all members of a community or market base.

"The establishment of this center will further UB's status as a national resource on advanced and accessible design," Steinfeld says.

"Our goal is to assist in building the universal-design community nationwide. We'll help develop resources for universal-design practice throughout the country and facilitate a dialogue on its practice and delivery."

Steinfeld says the center will take a "soup-to-nuts" approach to universal design through nine projects that fall into five categories -- research, development, training, technical assistance and dissemination of information.

The projects will involve collaboration among several members of the faculty of the UB Department of Architecture, as well as major local and national agencies, corporations, design firms and consultants.

The major research initiative, the Prototype Anthropometric Database Project, will be co-directed by Steinfeld and Victor Paquet, UB assistant professor of industrial engineering. It will establish precise parameters for use when designing spaces and products for people who use wheelchairs.

The Visitability Initiative, co-directed by Steinfeld and involving collaboration with visitability advocate Concrete Change of Atlanta, will sponsor training and action-research in five cities to develop visitability demonstration projects, such as ground-floor entries and bathroom access for people with disabilities.

The Buildings-in-Use Project, to be directed by environmental psychologist Gary Scott Danford, UB associate professor of architecture and research associate at the IDEA Center, will demonstrate the advantages of universal design by comparing and contrasting existing access in eight buildings nationwide. The results will include research tools for designers across the country.

Through the Product Development Initiative, the center will work with the national design community to develop awareness of universal design and promote the development of new prototypes for innovative products designed according to the principles of universal design. The initiative will be directed by industrial designer and urban planner Abir Mullick, UB associate professor of architecture and research associate with the IDEA Center.

Mullick also will direct a related initiative, the Product Evaluation and Testing Process. Through this process, the center, with assistance from the UB RERC on Technology Evaluation and Transfer and the Western New York Independent Living Center, will allow for the evaluation and testing of the above-mentioned prototypes, as well as others solicited at large, and the development of a "commercialization package" to help bring each prototype to market.

In the training realm, the Curriculum Models Project will develop a model curriculum for multidisciplinary coursework on universal design within the UB schools of Architecture and Planning, Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Health Related Professions. It will be directed by graphic designer Beth Tauke, UB associate professor of architecture and research associate with the IDEA Center.

One of the principal aims of the UB RERC is to educate the public nationwide about the nature and benefits of universal design.

To this end, the Conferences and Exhibit Project, directed by Mullick, will develop conferences on universal design, beginning with "Designing for the 21st Century II," to be held June 14-18 in Providence, R.I.

As part of that project, the center also has acquired the rights to reproduce "Unlimited by Design," a multimedia exhibition of more than 300 exemplary examples of universally designed products developed by Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. RERC staff will accompany the exhibit to cities across the country to generate interest in universal design and support the development of demonstration projects in target cities.

The Publications and Videos Project will produce video programs and booklets for consumers and maintain a quarterly column in Universal Design Newsletter, a national forum for architects, designers and consumers interested in state-of-the-art information on this subject. It will be directed by Danise Levine, architectural research associate with the IDEA Center.

Finally, the new RERC will offer a fee-based Technical Assistance Program that will provide fee-based consulting services to the business and design communities and access to a network of U.S. experts in universal-design philosophy and practice through a toll-free hotline operated by the UB Center for Assistive Technology. Levine will direct that program as well.

Among the organizations and individuals who will be key collaborators in the RERC's activities are Adaptive Environments, the lead agency in promoting the practice of universal design; Aztech, Inc., which began as part of the RERC on Technology Transfer at UB and is now an independent corporation that specializes in markets for older Americans and people with disabilities, and the Center for Assistive Technology, a team of professionals that serves as an information clearinghouse and evaluation center on assistive technology.

Other collaborators are Concrete Change in Atlanta, which promotes the removal of physical barriers to social contact by those with disabilities; Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum; Formosa Design, which consults in ergonomic research and design (interface, product design, development of product criteria and information design); Hannah Design, headed by Bruce Hannah, one of the original curators of the "Unlimited by Design" exhibition; Roebuck Research and Consulting, a human factors data consulting firm on productivity, safety, health and convenience, and Universal Designers and Consultants, publishers of Universal Design Newsletter.

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