Rethinking Our Values to Achieve Emancipatory Design

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Jennifer Webb
Brent T Williams


The need for inclusive environments accommodating the entire range of human functioning, both people with disabilities as well as those who are not presently disabled, has not been achieved despite decades of discussion and a growing list of standards and legislation. Perhaps because disability has always been a part of human existence and has been part of the discourse in environmental design for decades, it is not viewed as emergent and the inclusion of people with disabilities is not seen as a crisis. Nonetheless, people with disabilities represent one of the largest marginalised segments of our population. Inclusion does not subvert the other issues with regard to function or aesthetics but fulfils all criteria necessary to achieve good design.

This paper explores critical aspects of emancipatory research and identifies opportunities for what should rightly be called emancipatory design. The most significant characteristics relevant to developing emancipatory design values include: 1) redistributing power within the social relationships of design; 2) adopting the biopsychosocial model of disability; and 3) facilitating users’ reciprocity, gain and empowerment. These fundamental strategies are necessary to ensure a long-term engagement in social justice and achieve good design.

Inclusive design is essentially a value-based process, which takes as its premise the fact that everyone has a right to participate in community life. Consequently, a powerful argument to support the importance of teaching inclusive design is the need to assist students in the development of their own set of values to underpin their future practice as built environment professionals. Inclusive design can fulfil this important function. It is clear that teaching students to administer technical codes or interpret legislation for equal rights is an important part of the preparation of a student for professional practice, but this approach without the philosophical underpinning is unlikely to result in an inclusive environment.1

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How to Cite
Webb, Jennifer, and Brent T Williams. 2018. “Rethinking Our Values to Achieve Emancipatory Design”. Idea Journal 14 (1):96-109.
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