Last month, we shared part one of Dwell’s two-part video series about designing a shareable urban restroom. They just posted part two:

All in all, a weak effort, I’d say. The stylish build-up for part one implied that in part two we’d hear about a revolutionary new idea in public restroom design, applying universal design ideas about accessibility to public restrooms for all. Instead, we get a tour of one of New York’s self-cleaning portapotties. Ho hum.

Still, it’s interesting to raise these questions and think about their social implications; perhaps someone out there can think about it more deeply than Dwell did. I do recommend checking out another Dwell resource, “An Introduction to Universal Design,” which provides background to the issues raised in the video series:

The classic example of universal design is the curb cut. Initially installed to help wheelchair users navigate from street to sidewalk, these unobtrusive bits of public design turn out to be just as useful for parents with prams and travelers lugging wheeled suitcases. The higher aspiration is full social participation. But as useful as universal design can be, something like a wheelchair ramp sited in an ill-lit side entrance does little to ease the stigma people with disabilities face each day.

Certain objects that exemplify universal design have crept into the wider culture. Certainly Braille on elevator buttons or an induction loop at a bank teller’s window fit the bill, and one even finds universal design that doesn’t wear its “I’m meant for the disabled” badge quite so prominently. The OXO Good Grips potato peeler is easier to use if you have reduced dexterity or weak grip strength, but it is a popular choice for any kitchen.

Perhaps the most common approach, a rough principle of universal design, is to make information about an object or a building available through several senses at once. So pedestrian crossings displaying “WALK” also make noises to help those with visual impairments. Naturally, other people can benefit too – for example, subtitles on the TV intended for the hard of hearing can aid nonnative speakers in learning a language or those trapped in the airport to get their daily dose of news.

Jeremy Adam Smith


Jeremy Adam Smith

Jeremy Adam Smith is the editor who helped launch He's the author of The Daddy Shift (Beacon Press, June 2009); co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct (W.W. Norton

Things I share: Mainly babysitting with other parents! I also share all the transportation I can, through bikes and buses and trains and carpooling.