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By contrast, gender-neutral restrooms are often also single-user and disability accessible, making them sites of collective access and facilitators of interdependence for trans and intersex people, as well as single people, families, and companions. Single-user restrooms too can also be too narrow, accessible only via stairs, or otherwise poorly designed.

The difference lies in how designers address multiple and intersectional use. Understanding all of these uses as within the purview of UD's "universal" invites conversations about the interdependence of feminist and disability politics, defining a common stake in bathroom access.

Attention to technical aspects of design, if framed through particular values, can be a means of material-discursive activism addressing body-environment relations and reconfiguring a space's parti. Aging is a fundamental concern of UD and related strategies, such as "transgenerational design" or "aging in place" Pirkl and Babic These strategies advocate for the flexible design of buildings such as homes that can accommodate people from childhood through old age.

The utility of accessible design for aging has become part of the argument for UD as a "rehabilitation strategy" Sanford Both aging and disability are stigmatized identities that confront medicalization, structural inequalities, and language that defines them as problems to be "solved" Wiles and Allen , However, the introduction of aging into disability access has reframed the medical model of disability by focusing on a person's learned adaptation to the environment. As social gerontologists Janine Wiles and Ruth Allen , write, "interactions between a person's relative 'competence,' in terms of mobility for example, and the characterizations of the built environment, for example in terms of accessibility", mark the body and the environment in a relational system.

Person-environment theory addresses both physical barriers to access and inclusion and how people develop strategies to interact with and push back against these barriers. In other words, this theory accounts for how two people with the same category of disability can have very different competencies in navigating the environment. Such a strategy calls for built environments to function as enablers , providing resources for misfits to navigate environments without requiring retrofits Steinfeld ; Wiles and Allen , Person-environment theories give meaning to both the symbolic work of the built environment and the functional and embodied experiences of spatial use.

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As Dyck remarks, however, existing models often feature an "untheorized body and a static conceptualization of the environment" Dyck , A feminist disability UD theory premised on interdependence takes person-environment theories of aging one step further. UD focused on aging and the lifespan must account for cognitive, emotional, and sensory misfitting, in addition to physical disabilities.

Aging produces multiple and often simultaneous impairments, challenging UD to address diversities within the category of disability. For example, one area of UD research is wayfinding, that is, the study of how people navigate space. Attention to wayfinding has encouraged designers to think about how people with Alzheimer's or dementia navigate their homes and how people with low vision, dyslexia, and other disabilities construct cognitive maps and navigate unfamiliar places Arditi and Brabyn ; Zeisel, Silverstein, Hyde, Levkoff, Lawton, and Holmes, Design features like predictable layouts, tactile maps, and auditory signals prioritize multiple forms of wayfinding access.

Understanding the interdependence of aging-related disabilities with these other examples can expand the scope of the universal to include access for a range of emotional, cognitive, and sensory capacities, in addition to physical, mobility, or strength-related access. Because UD claims to address the range of human variation, it must account for a range of bodily sizes, including embodiments that are characterized by cultural conceptions of small and large stature, thinness, fatness, and non-normate weight.

Recent feminist disability studies work on short stature Kruse and fatness Herndon ; Longhurst demonstrates the relevance of critical theories of embodiment to broad accessibility. The introduction of size as a category of interdependence shows the significance of spaces that either "reinforce [or] contest dominant discourses about body shape and size" through their design Longhurst , The aspect or dimension of the category of size that receives most attention in UD is the space required for assistive technologies such as wheelchairs, power-chairs, and scooters to navigate doorways, halls, restrooms, and landings.

Although studies of wheelchair space requirements have been part of rehabilitation research since the late s Nugent ; Steinfeld , they have recently expanded with the introduction of new mobility technologies and powered chairs Steinfeld et al. Because the normate template keeps a walking and fleshy body at the center of thinking about design, buildings often fail to consider space requirements for bodies that use technologies to navigate space. A UD theory of interdependence must recognize the relationship between users bodies and technologies, understood as assistive devices or the built environment itself.

A second aspect or dimension of bodily size is relevant to UD. Disability geographer Robert Kruse argues that misfitting for people of short stature "cause[s] people to be 'placed' due to their body type"—a process he calls the "staturization of space" Kruse , , Noting the similarities between staturization and other spatial segregations, Kruse confirms the role of the normate template in the active production of misfits and thus the requirement for retrofit.

Like staturization, another range of size—body shape and weight—produces similar misfits. For example, when airplane designers prioritize spatial efficiency, they de-prioritize bodies that take up more space. As a result, fat, tall, or pregnant people may be required to use seatbelt extenders, purchase extra seats, or vacate airplanes entirely. The sizeism of normate space makes it more difficult for certain bodies to fit in spaces and also produces emotional and affective exclusions for people whose bodies continually misfit existing designs Longhurst , The social justice understanding of a UD politics of interdependence must direct critique at the emotional and affective dimensions of misfit that normate built environments produce, in addition to the actual built environments themselves.

I do not mean to suggest that the emotional lived experiences of people within these environments are uniform across aspects of bodily size, but rather that size and space requirements can be a way of addressing multiple forms of exclusion from built environments. Although broad accessibility for size can keep all three of these categories in mind, it must, nevertheless, still contend with conflicting access demands that arise when designers must account for a range of embodiments.

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For instance, the construction of tall doorways for tall people does not guarantee access to doorknobs for short people. Doorways that are large enough to accommodate wheelchairs and wide bodies may need to be taller. The new spatial round configurations of Deaf Space may affect the wayfinding of people accustomed to linear hallways and spaces. These tensions reveal the work that collective access must do to avoid the assumption that all misfitting bodies have the same spatial needs and to avoid recourse to design solutions that invoke the notion of "resource scarcity" in order to advance arguments for continued lack of access.


To build broad accessibility, UD can consider environmental health and access as race, disability, and environmental justice questions. According to the UD notion of "social sustainability," accessible and healthy environments, along with resource conservation and green design, are necessary to achieve meaningful environmental justice Fletcher Thus, the notion of social sustainability contributes a broad understanding of access that centers disability and environmental health within existing environmental justice concerns with race and class oppression analysis.

Feminist worker's movements have drawn attention to issues of air quality and workplace pollution connected to the phenomenon of sick building syndrome Murphy Environmental anti-racism movements have protested the historical economic and legal segregation of poor people of color within spaces with disproportionate pollution, environmental allergies, and lack of access to green spaces and food Cole and Foster The demands of these movements, though not always framed in this way, are ostensibly about disability , understood both in terms of material arrangements of misfit and also issues of health and illness privilege that built environments produce.

Though social sustainability argues for the inclusion of disability access within environmental sustainability, it must, nevertheless, more explicitly center racial and economic justice, thinking about how access to clean air and water, food, parks, and transportation occurs according to histories of racial and economic privilege at the scale of cities and regions, in addition to the techniques of green design.

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Social sustainability can bring race, class, disability, and gender justice into conversation with considerations of aging and size through value-explicit design strategies. The common denominator of all of these efforts is the role of space in the production of structural inequalities and inaccessible and harmful built environments. For Weisman , social segregation and harm to the natural environment are entwined with the design of the built environment, requiring a politics of interdependence.

Weisman writes,. Cities and suburbs, workplaces and dwellings, architecture and nature are juxtaposed as detached spatial realms, segregating and supporting differential status and power to women and men, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, gay and straight, able-bodied and disabled. As we approach a new century, these old dichotomous paradigms are no longer workable. The problems of global homelessness, poverty, and environmental degradation, the escalation of social chaos, violence, and disharmony worldwide, and the bleak and hostile environments of so many cities require healing and the restoration of wholeness within the art of living.

Architecture, too often regarded merely as a matter of style, is now a matter of survival. After eleven thousand years of building to protect ourselves from the environment, we are discovering that what and how we design often diminishes our health and the viability of the planet.

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Although other UD proponents have approached intersectionality at the level of the individual, Weisman's design philosophy of global interdependence reveals what is at stake for alliances between UD and environmental justice movements in the contestation of the normate template.

If broad accessibility takes up environmental health and social sustainability, it can expand the definition of access to include issues that intersect race, class, disability, and gender, such as air quality, environmental allergies, and food access. A feminist philosophy of disability and disability politics of interdependence invites us to imagine what UD could be if it focused its social sustainability efforts on desegregating cities, planning accessible gardens, encouraging clean air, and creating safe, reliable, and accessible transportation systems.

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Having explored some avenues for a UD politics of interdependence, I now turn to another framing of "universal:" added value. According to the concept of added value, designs that produce disability access also have added value or benefit insofar as they are useful to nondisabled people. The difference between broad accessibility and added value is subtle.

Both of these framings of universal emphasize the usability of designs to multiple types of bodies or people. What distinguishes broad accessibility from added value is that although the former broad accessibility focuses on the social justice implications of segregation and exclusion from the built environment, the latter added value emphasizes often to nondisabled consumers the market value of accessible designs Mace Added value is exemplified by claims that accessible designs have usually economic value for "other people" beyond the benefits of disability access. Considerable attention within the UD literature has been paid to demonstrating that a market demographic exists for broadly accessible designs Hannson , 23; Steinfeld and Maisel , UD proponents argue that design with broad consumer appeal has the "added value" of de stigmatizing disability access by taking it out of the context of a "special needs accommodation" Steinfeld and Maisel , This framing is in response to the preponderance of assistive technologies that are only usable by individual people with specific types of disabilities, have a medical aesthetic, and are excessively costly Mace ; Mueller Accessibility requires de-stigmatizing, however, only if disability is taken for granted as a stigmatizing quality.

Positioning UD as benefitting "other people," in addition to disabled people, contributes to the impression that valuable design requires utility for nondisabled people in order for its creation to be justified. In turn, the concept of added value itself becomes stigmatizing toward disability as a category deemed to have not enough value. Unlike broad accessibility, which expands the category of "all" to include multiple stigmatized minority embodiments, within added value, it seems, disabled people themselves are never enough to comprise the category of "all," regardless of how demographically pervasive they may be.

The notion of added value enters UD through its alliances with industrial design and product design, which are historically linked with efficient mass production for consumers. Thus, added value does not maintain the aspects of broad accessibility that invite alliances and interdependence, such as the shared use of the same public built spaces, buildings, and cities by different people.

Though added value examples of UD may not carry the supposed stigma of disability, they nevertheless present a fragmented approach to the achievement of social justice goals, an approach that relies on individual access to consumerism. Often, UD advocates and practitioners invoke the notion of added value to show that UD is marketable and worth investment because of its flexibility to multiple embodiments and identities Mueller ; Vanderheiden Recall that flexibility is one of the Seven Principles of Universal Design.

Flexibility can mean adaptable designs that can be used in different ways or by different bodies. For example, adjustable office chairs can accommodate a range of body heights. Classroom and meeting spaces with chairs and tables that are not bolted to the floor can allow reconfiguration of the room layout to serve multiple purposes. Because of its perceived openness to possibility, flexibility is a value invoked by liberation movements Titchkosky , For instance, feminist architect Karen Franck writes that the feminist "desire for complexity [within architecture] is allied with an attention to multiple use, and more generally with awareness of change and the need for flexibility and transformation" Franck , Similarly, Weisman aligns feminist design with transgenerational design when she writes that houses must be flexible to aging Weisman , Thus, flexibility is a potential material-discursive strategy with which to address broad accessibility.

However, maintaining the minimal amount of flexibility can become an excuse for continuing to center a normate user in design Titchkosky , If added value emphasizes nondisabled consumers over the maintenance of broad accessibility, the social justice value of flexibility can slip into a more neoliberal and individualized conception of access Imrie , As cultural critic Henry Giroux has argued, the association of individualism and consumerism with greater choice and freedom is an orthodoxy "fundamental to the construction of the neoliberal subject" Giroux , In late capitalism, industrial design and product design have incorporated the neoliberal tendency to mass-produce individual products and technologies that are flexible and usable by a range of embodiments Thorpe , Flexibility makes it possible for the designers, fabricators, and constructors to enjoy the economic benefits of economies of scale through single designs that can be marketed to a range of potential consumers.

Despite UD's participation in critical discourses around broad accessibility and access by design, the materialist and anti-capitalist stance of feminist architectural theory and disability geography drops out of UD when added value becomes the strategy for promoting accessibility. And, in fact, product manufacturers have been quick to use it as a marketing tool to expand markets, particularly to the older population.

Steinfeld and Tauke , Added value framings thus risk making UD concepts—such as social sustainability and interdependence based around aging, gender, size, and race—into marketing tools. In this framing, misfit ceases to have political potential beyond the freedom to consume and access new technologies, regardless of whether these technologies are affordable or accessible to marginalized people. Although it is true that products must be marketable in order to be produced in the first place, the necessity of these products and the politics of the achievement of flexibility must also be questioned.

To avoid depoliticizing flexibility, added value should not be used as a justification for broad accessibility or a politics of interdependence. Disability access, like racial desegregation, should be understood to have intrinsic merit as a feminist and social justice goal that does not require additional consumer benefits to serve as validation. To avoid de-centering disability, a feminist disability theory of UD must follow Weisman and Mingus to adopt a disability justice notion of collective access.

What would it mean for designers committed to universal access and social sustainability to take up interdependence and collective access? In addition to the recognition of design as a value-laden activity that produces material-discursive effects, and beyond the adoption of a goal of broad accessibility, further work on a feminist disability theory of UD must address the neutralizations, omissions, and ignorance that extant approaches to access perpetuate.

In particular, this work should attend to how racism and economic injustice are structural conditions that both create a lack of access and are perpetuated by consumerist and added value positions. Who has benefitted from value-added UD products? Who has been left out? How can UD address the structural conditions that prevent disabled people, people of color, and poor people by no means mutually-exclusive groups from training in the design professions? How can the UD concept of social sustainability become a collective access strategy for anti-racist urban planning, rather than a buzzword for the promotion of gentrification or "smart growth?

The application of U. To address these issues, a feminist disability theory of UD work should build upon existing work on international UD efforts Mullick, Agarwal, Kumar, and Swarnkar ; Sandhu That is, a feminist disability theory of UD should consider what collective access and interdependence mean in the context of international movements for disability justice. For instance, what is the status of designer expertise in international UD projects?

What kinds of knowledge are privileged? What broader ideologies and values does the promotion of U.

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  5. UD principles serve internationally? How has the enforcement of disability access become contingent on neoliberal economic reforms justified according to added value? How have users and designers pushed back against these values and ideologies? A feminist disability theory of UD based on disability justice, collective access, and interdependence can understand value-explicit design as a form of activism within the design professions. UD practitioners and theorists, building upon the theory outlined here, could continue to develop strategies for participatory design, shifting from value-explicit design for disability to design with and by misfitting bodies more generally.