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On March 9 we convened in New York City for the first UD NYC conference.  The vision of Jeane Tumbaga, co-created with Shallon Gammon, this new event decidedly made a positive impact.

The exciting welcome video set the stage for an energetic and informative day at this premiere boutique conference.

A fascinating intro by Garth Hollsinger kicked off the event with an outsider’s perspective on UD.  He is currently working on such projects as the creation of a drone superhighway for the delivery of emergency medical supplies.  Thought-provoking points such as “Does an incubator for UD exist?” and “What do you mean by UD?”  A true UD incubator, not to my knowledge.  But we do have the IDEA Center at Buffalo and some firms are doing excellent work with UD.

Here are some highlights….

Tracey Needles presented a revolutionary project:  in her capacity as a facility manager at Google, she created a UD and accessibility maintenance plan.  Based on her crucial observation that accessible environments become less so with user behavior, she developed a training program, which includes sensitivity training and a points program for good accessible environmental maintenance.

“Create aspirational products people will not simply need, but actually want.” was the core message presented by Rob Van Varick of Michael Graves Architecture & Design, who walked us through the reimagining of a walking cane in that context.  The result:  a model which comes in different colors to coordinate with your outfit or mood, different handles for different needs, and two easily changed bases/feet depending on use.

At UD NYC, Rob Van Varick puts UD into a needs based hierarchy.

Rob Van Varick of Michael Graves Design puts UD into a hierarchy based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Rob Van Varick presents new cane designs.

The cane reimagined: the walking stick by Michael Graves Architecture & Design

Leading experts of Universal Design were there:  Ed Steinfeld of the IDEA Center at Buffalo, John Salmen of Universal Designers & Consultants (“UD must be context sensitive”) and Mary Jo Peterson.

Dynamic speaker Matthias Hollwich, author of New Aging, moved us into a new realm with “the beauty of design can also fight age discrimination.”

Universal Design for learning was movingly presented by Jan Wilson, which as a person with learning disabilities, moved me to tears.

Yes, I presented, too:  Universal design must be viewed as a missing variable in public health.  It must be seen as a resource to harness the power of our infrastructure and housing stock to enable all citizens to thrive.

My favorite presentation was by Steve Murphy.  Steve is an Accessibility Advisory Coordinator in Ontario, Canada.  He presented on his simple and powerful community outreach project of having students build ramps to provide access to local businesses.  Steve is charming and funny, and his work is an important example.  Steve also has a speech impediment which was a direct reminder to all attendees about how varied, capable, and wonderful we all are.  And that’s at the core of what UD is about.

We hope to see you in NYC for next year’s conference!  Remember, it’s not just for New Yorkers.