IDeA Center Receives $4.6 Million Federal Grant to Advance Universal Design

Grant builds on four decades of research on accessibility and universal design

Ed Steinfeld and Jonathan White study a model.

Edward Steinfeld, SUNY Distinguished Professor and director of the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center), works with a student in the IDeA Center. Photographer: Douglas Levere

By David J Hill

"The primary goal of the new grant cycle will be to advance the practice of universal design as an evidence-based endeavor."
Edward Steinfeld, SUNY Distinguished Professor; director, IDeA Center
University at Buffalo

Published October 12, 2015

The School of Architecture and Planning's Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center) has received a fourth round of federal funding to continue its work on a wide range of universal design projects.

Universal design strives to improve usability, health and social participation, while accommodating the diversity of abilities and needs in the population. The grant continues a streak of Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) funding previously awarded to the IDeA Center that began in 1999.

The five-year, $4.6 million grant took effect Sept. 30 and was awarded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living (#90RE5005-01-00).

  • An evaluation of the effectiveness of universal design (UD) in practice in the built environment to characterize and quantify the value of increased UD implementation. As part of the NIDILRR-funded initiative, UB researchers will evaluate a Fortune 100 company’s office building, a transit station, and a local housing project and streetscape design that either have or plan to include UD goals in their design process and construction. To gauge the strength of the design, the team will invite people with disabilities to compare their experiences navigating the UD site to their experiences navigating a comparable building that does not incorporate universal design.
  • A series of human factors studies that target critical accessibility, safety and usability issues for individuals with impairments. For example, researchers will address strategic needs for knowledge in three areas: (1) improving usability and safety of stairs and walking surfaces through new and improved standards and products, (2) identifying user requirements and best practices for smartphone apps used in wayfinding, and (3) developing and testing product evaluation methods that can be implemented in the new product development process.
  • With a variety of industry partnerships, the team will develop several innovative products and bring others, already underway, to commercialization. Products include smart signage and wayfinding systems, tactile warnings for cold weather climates, and innovative recreation facilities for children.

The effort will also help increase the pool of professionals who practice universal design, with research dollars supporting advanced graduate assistantships and continuing education, as well as outreach to community members and other key stakeholder groups at the local, regional, and international levels.

The IDeA Center works closely with researchers in the School of Public Health and Health Professions and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at UB. In addition to its work on universal design, the IDeA Center is also collaborating with colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University on a second five-year RERC cycle to advance public transportation for people with disabilities.