Design for all Senses. Accessible Spaces for Visually Impaired Citizens
Doctoral thesis, 2000
The central purpose of this study is to contribute to our knowledge of designing in a way that can be supported by the knowledge of the situation, and by the experience and expectations of those who are affected by design. In this case it means to enable us to find methods that can support the development of design actions to improve the accessibility of public open urban places for visually impaired persons, enhancing their perception and understanding of space, increasing their possibilities of orientating and taking independent decisions, and enabling them participate in the city life. To fully achieve this aim it is necessary to understand their rights as citizens, and also their particular needs and problems arising from the reduction or absence of vision.
To achieve this aim three design projects for a central urban area in Brazil were developed involving different professionals working under different constraints. The specificity of each design situation brought the possibility of integrating and combining the different spheres of knowledge necessary to solve the problem from an Universal Design perspective. In this way, theoretical knowledge about spatial perception process, supported the understanding of the first-hand information given by visually impaired persons, and oriented the process of a differentiated spatial analysis based on a non-visual frame of reference. Consequently, the generated knowledge is essentially contextual, being the search not focused on the development of model solutions to be applied in different situations. What is searched is to support the analytical capacity and reflective attitude, which are necessary to solve complex problems such as designing for persons who have different needs and abilities.
The initial intentions evolved into a more general questioning about architectural practice. This practice usually focuses on the technical and visually aesthetic dimensions of space, often leaving aside its other sensory attributes, and the life that animates space. Studying space in a different light, brought reflections about the need to consider the 'invisible' and usually disregarded non-visual attributes to improve spatial quality, not only in the design of accessible spaces for the visually impaired, but for all persons and for all senses.