Universal Design TED Talks

Recently, we had a Good Fit Poor Fit listener write in hoping to learn more about Universal Design. Like many of us these days when seeking to learn something new, our listener was scanning the web for TED talks that discuss Universal Design but was having trouble finding what she was looking for.

We agree that TED talks are great resources that can expose us to innovative and inspiring stories shared by diverse groups of individuals. So, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite Universal Design TED talks below.

All of these talks offer the opportunity to learn from others with distinct experiences but similar passions for Universal Design. Just as we always strive to do here at The Universal Design Project, we learned a great deal from these speakers and hope you will too.

Marcus Adrian – TEDxGatewayArch 2018

“Human ability is not all or nothing”. Marcus Adrian discusses the importance of understanding people’s abilities and strengths when engaging in the design process. This points to the value of an interdisciplinary team when it comes to Universal Design.

Elise Roy – TEDxMidAtlantic 2015

Elise Roy also captures the importance of diverse teams in her talk about “designing for disability”. Her assertion that “when we design for disability we all benefit” perfectly encapsulates the idea of Universal Design. She gives some great examples of things that were originally “designed for disability” but that many of us have come to enjoy!

Rebecca Langbein – TEDxJeffersonU 2019

Rebecca Langbein is an engineer turned occupational therapist (OT) who discusses how the knowledge and collaboration of both professions can be “an interprofessional dream team.” She gives examples of how understanding user perspective and preference is extremely important in the design process to create spaces, products, and technologies that are more accessible and equitable in their use. Her unique cross-disciplinary skillset allows listeners to see the value in the skills an OT will bring to a project by partnering with other professionals. Her call to action is to break out of our professional bubbles to make our communities more inclusive and welcoming so people can do the things they want and need to do.

Sinéad Burke – TEDNYC 2017

Sinéad Burke describes experiences in which the design of spaces inhibits her autonomy and independence. She offers insight into the ways in which environments can be disabling when they are not designed correctly. Sinéad urges listeners to think about the people that are excluded from participating in spaces that are supposedly “accessible”. She challenges us to view design as a privilege and an opportunity that can be used to include diverse voices and perspectives.

John Cary – TEDWomen 2017

Architect John Cary offers a broad view of Universal Design as a powerful tool to create dignity for underrepresented groups. Similar to Sinéad, he encourages listeners to think about who gets left out when design teams are homogenous.

Michael Nesmith – TEDxBoulder 2016

Michael Nesmith offers a unique perspective, asserting that Universal Design is a spectrum. He highlights the fact that in different environments and times in our lives, we are all likely to encounter disability in some form.

Leacey Brown – TEDxRapidCity 2016

Leacey Brown echoes Michael Nesmith’s point about the potential for all people to become disabled at some point. As a gerontologist, she talks about aging as an important design consideration and also explains many terms that you often hear in conversations about Universal Design.

Rosemarie Rossetti – TEDxHilliard 2018

Rosemarie Rossetti discusses how she went from living in a home that intensified her disability to designing and building a model home using Universal Design principles. Join Rosemarie on a “virtual tour” of this home to see and learn about various features that make it usable for all people.

Each of these speakers has come to Universal Design from a different path, further emphasizing the importance of varied voices in the design process. From their stories and experiences, we can learn a great deal about designing with empathy in a way that is inclusive, simple, and equitable.

Do you have a favorite Universal Design-themed TED talk? Let us know in the comments below!


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