Universal Design-athons at Marymount University and Mount Ida College
In 2013 and 2014, two faculty from different Interior Design programs committed themselves and their students to spend two days joining hackers, designers, technologists, care-takers, and persons with disabilities to share ideas and create accessible products and technologies that would solve every day problems. These events turned out to be just what these faculty were looking for, to provide hands- on learning opportunities for their students and join in participatory methods as part of a movement for accessibility for the masses. After serving as academic partners alongside United Cerebral Palsy at the Enabled by Design-athons in Washington, D.C., Moira Gannon Denson, Interior Design faculty member at Marymount University and Stephanie McGoldrick, Interior Design faculty member at Mount Ida College decided to integrate universal design events of this kind into their own curriculums. This would allow them to bring a greater awareness of accessibility and provide participatory experiences to all of their students and their local communities.
Design-athons On Campus:
Using the knowledge gained at the Washington D.C. events, Moira and Stephanie developed a plan for their integration of universal design engagement, planning universal design symposiums and design-athons on their campuses. The events coordinated by these two professors provided a platform for students and design professionals to engage with and learn from individuals with varying disabilities, in order to better approach future design solutions. A primary component of the of the 2-day design charrettes were the empathy exercises, in which participants simulated various disabilities and limitations. These activities gave students an opportunity to “step into someone else’s shoes” and experience challenges that may be encountered by someone with a disability. The key impacts of these events are the connections students make with experts and professionals in the field of universal design, as well as the interactions with individuals who have disabilities or limitations. The collaboration that occurs with these individuals, who shared their personal experiences living with a disability, has a lasting impression on the students and helps to inform their design solutions.
The charrette participants created design proposals and prototypes that met the needs of the user experts. Outcomes of the charrettes directly reflected their observational research or findings from these discussions and their experiences completing the empathy exercises. Design ideas, including a cell phone case that provides greater ease of use for someone with dexterity issues and a wearable device that detects water temperature for individuals with sensory limitations, were critiqued by a panel of experts. The design-athons, coordinated by Moira and Stephanie and hosted by their institutions, allowed their students to develop team-building, quick-thinking, and empathic skills while creating solutions that are mindful, integrate new technologies, and serve as better design solutions for all.