This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

IDEA Center get $5 million grant

Award continues funding of rehabilitation research on universal design

Published: November 10, 2005

Contributing Editor

The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center) in the School of Architecture and Planning has received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to fund a second five-year cycle of its Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Universal Design and the Built Environment (RERC-UD).

Although the IDEA Center is the grant recipient, in operating the RERC it now will collaborate with the Ontario Rehabilitation Technology Consortium (ORTC) and representatives from the design and disability communities nationwide.

Co-directors of the center are architect Edward Steinfeld, UB professor of architecture and director of the IDEA Center, who is nationally recognized as one of the early developers of the concept of universal design, and Geoff Fernie, vice president for research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, a member organization of ORTC.

They and their staffs will research and develop critical tools to advance the field of universal design and develop exemplary products and places through industry partnerships.

Their education and dissemination activities will increase awareness of the RERC activities and universal design in general, as well as improve capacity in research and practice.

All of these activities will be founded on, and guided by, a model of evidence-based practice, which should result in demonstrated improvements in a client's outcomes, economic performance, productivity, customer satisfaction and cultural measures.

Universal design is an approach to designing products and places to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Universal designs are more useful, attractive and more marketable to all members of a community or customer base. It is an area of research to which the UB IDEA Center has devoted itself for nearly two decades.

The new grant will continue to fund research and development projects, education programs in universal design and information dissemination programs through the RERC-UD at UB.

"One research project will evaluate the effectiveness of universally designed environmental features and provide evidence to support guidelines for the application of universal design," Steinfeld says.

"In some fields," he acknowledges, "there exist critical gaps in knowledge that impede the practice of universal design. A second research project will provide new human-factors information to those fields through a set of four studies that focus on different aspects of human performance and usability.

"A key development project," he says, "will generate evidence-based guidelines to assist in the practical application of universal-design principles.

"The guidelines will link research to design practice, and help designers, builders and manufacturers increase the value of their products and environments," he says.

Steinfeld explains that a second RERC-UD development project will produce a suite of evaluation tools to be used to develop and evaluate designs. A third project involves the development, with industry partners, of a series of exemplary universally designed products and environments.

"Our training goals include the increase in the number of professionals in the field of universal design through continuing education," Steinfeld says.

"We also will develop and coordinate a consortium of emerging university programs in universal design, and continue to be a comprehensive source for educational resources," he says.

"Finally, we want to provide opportunities for advanced study in this field."

To this end, the grant will support the timely and flexible dissemination of research data, publications and tools developed through its research and development activities to the RERC's target populations. It will permit the RERC to educate the general public through mass-media publications, model homes designed according to the principles of universal design and the publication of an online newsletter.

The RERC also will present a conference focusing on improving networking and communications among stakeholders.

According to Steinfeld, the RERC-UD will further UB's reputation as a national resource on rehabilitation technology and universal design.

He points out that other research centers at UB have related missions. Among them are two other centers funded by NIDRR: the RERC on Technology Transfer and the Center for International Rehabilitation Research Information and Exchange, both based in the School of Public Health and Health Professions.

"The new grant for the IDEA Center also will establish a working, cross-border collaboration with rehabilitation researchers in Canada," Steinfeld says, citing organizations in the ORTC that will be involved in some of these activities. In addition to the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, they include the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center.