Published October 1, 2020
A quarter of a century. That’s how long a UB center that specializes in advancing universal design has been continuously funded.
The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, or IDEA Center, was just awarded another five-year, $4.6 million grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research for the center’s Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Physical Access and Transportation (RERC). The RERC is in partnership with the University Health Network in Toronto and the University of Michigan, among other stakeholders.
Over the past two-plus decades now, the IDEA Center — which is housed within the School of Architecture and Planning — has worked to advance the field of universal design. The center is a globally recognized leader in the field.
The center’s work has included developments to improve access to public transportation for people with disabilities, as well as a first-of-its-kind program, called isUD, that grants certification to buildings that prioritize inclusivity within their design and operations.
The funding comes at an exciting time for the center’s work, as the RERC will now be led by Jordana Maisel, director of research for the IDEA Center. In addition to new leadership on the project, there are new UB faculty members and community partners involved, as well as new research methodologies being employed.
“We’re really pushing universal design to the next level by supporting its commercialization and widespread implementation, and building the business case for it,” Maisel says.
This new round of funding marks the fifth cycle of five-year funding for the RERC, a project that touches a broad scope of domains, including museums, hospitals and office buildings, streetscapes, transportation systems and housing.
The new cycle will support the center’s ongoing work, while paving the way for new projects and partnerships:
The IDEA Center partnered with Touch Graphics Inc. to develop products that advance wayfinding in the built environment, such as this interactive touch model of the Smithsonian.
With the new cycle of funding, the IDEA Center will also expand its partnership with researchers in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “While we will continue to partner with our colleagues at the University Health Network in Toronto and the University of Michigan, we are extremely excited that this new cycle of funding is also bringing in new UB faculty from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences,” Maisel says.
Toward that end, Victor Paquet, professor and chair of industrial and systems engineering, and Chase Murray, assistant professor in the department, will develop and deploy improved modeling practices to evaluate the efficacy of incorporating intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and shared autonomous-vehicle fleets into existing multi-modal transportation systems. The project aims to overcome first- and last-mile challenges, with a specific focus on access to health care. It will assess how these technologies can improve efficiency, reliability and usability for all, but with particular attention to older adults and individuals with disabilities.
A new project evaluating the health benefits of universal design will be led by Lora Cavuoto, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; it will utilize direct measures gathered from wearable technology to document things like stress and heart rate in hospital settings that do and do not incorporate UD.
“This project represents an extension of an important collaboration between the School of Architecture and Planning and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences that has been ongoing for over 20 years,” Paquet says. “While I have worked as an affiliate member of the IDEA Center since 1999, I am very excited that other ISE faculty will have important roles on this project. Together, our schools, along with our other university and community partners, will advance the research and practice in universal design for the benefit of all, and especially for those who have disabilities.”