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Building Justice: How to Overcome the Inclusive Design Paradox?

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A major barrier to designing inclusive built environments is inherent to the very idea of inclusive design: this idea prescribes designing environments that address the needs of the widest possible audience in order to consider human differences, yet taking differences seriously may imply severely restricting 'the widest possible audience'. Inclusive design thus faces a paradox that is naturally connected with a question of justice. In confronting this paradox, we are investigating to what extent the theory of justice as fairness may apply to design. According to this theory, whether a design allows for equitable use is to be deliberated by users under a veil of ignorance concerning their own capacities or limitations. Since this can hardly apply to single artefacts, the social distribution of usability seems the proper domain of fairness in design. Under this reading, differences in usability are acceptable if overall usability for the 'worst off' is maximized. What this means for built environment design is explored in this article: how to understand usability, how to distribute it socially, and how to identify the 'worst off' in this context? In considering these questions, we seek to contribute to strengthening the theoretical basis of inclusive design, while offering built environment professionals a hold in confronting its paradox.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 March 2018

More about this publication?
  • Built Environment is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. With an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries and providing global perspective, each issue focuses on a single subject of contemporary interest to practitioners, academics and students working in a wide range of disciplines. Issues are guest-edited by established international experts who not only commission contributions, but also oversee the peer-reviewing process in collaboration with the Editors.

    Subject areas include: architecture; conservation; economic development; environmental planning; health; housing; regeneration; social issues; spatial planning; sustainability; urban design; and transport. All issues include reviews of recent publications.

    The journal is abstracted in Geo Abstracts, Sage Urban Studies Abstracts, and Journal of Planning Literature, and is indexed in the Avery Index to Architectural Publications.

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