University at Buffalo | School of Architecture and Planning
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About Us

The IDeA Center is dedicated to making environments and products more usable, safer and healthier in response to the needs of an increasingly diverse population. The IDeA Center’s activities are based on the philosophy of Inclusive Design, often called “Universal Design” or “Design for All.” It is a way of thinking that can be applied in any design activity, business practice, program or service involving interaction of people with the physical, social or virtual worlds.

Our Mission

The IDeA Center practices human centered design through research, development, service, dissemination and educational activities. The primary goal of the Center is to produce knowledge and tools that will increase social participation of groups like people with disabilities and the older generation, who have been marginalized by traditional design practices. Our research activities include systematic reviews, human factors research, usability studies in the field and laboratory, survey research, focus groups and ethnographic studies. Our development activities include product development, information technology resources and organizational development activities. The Center produces many dissemination products in both traditional and digital forms and engages in public, university and continuing education initiatives.

Our History

image of the university at buffalo, south campus and hayes hall building

Since 1984, the IDeA Center has been a leading site for research, design, service, education and dissemination activities related to universal design. The Center was founded by Edward Steinfeld, an architect and Professor of Architecture at the University at Buffalo, to serve as a vehicle for sustained research and development activities in this field. In the first 10 years of its existence, the IDeA Center completed projects on pedestrian safety, wayfinding by people with severe visual impairments, design for limited reach and grip, automated doors, universal design education, and group homes for people with developmental disabilities. During this time, Professor Steinfeld was joined by two of his colleagues at the School of Architecture and Planning, Abir Mullick, an industrial designer, and Scott Danford, an environmental psychologist. The Center obtained new projects on post occupancy evaluations, bathroom design and accessible housing design. The Center also began collaboration with the Center for Assistive Technology at the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences which continues to this day. In 1996, Danise Levine, an architect, joined the Center.

In 1999, the Center received a major center grant from the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education. This grant, the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Universal Design at Buffalo, allowed the Center to expand its activities greatly and establish a national “center of excellence.” Beth Tauke, an information designer and expert in curriculum development, joined the group of faculty associated with the Center and RERC. The RERC grant included collaboration with another unit at UB, the Department of Industrial Engineering, through the participation of Victor Paquet, an ergonomics expert. Collaboration with Concrete Change, the leading advocacy organization for accessible single family housing, was also initiated through this grant. Research and development initiatives were expanded during this time and professional staff joined the Center to augment faculty participation, including Jordana Maisel, an urban planner. During this period, the Center also established a technical assistance program that now includes consulting services on housing design, accessibility surveys and information design.

In addition to the RERC on Universal Design grant, during this period, the Center established a contractual relationship with the U.S. Access Board and a collaboration on universal design education with the Center on Universal Design at North Carolina State University and Elaine Ostroff. In 2005, the IDeA Center received a grant for the RERC on Universal Design and the Built Environment (RERC-UD). This grant included a partnership with leading rehabilitation scientists at the Ontario Rehabilitation Technology Consortium led by Geoff Fernie, a leading rehabilitation engineer, and including Alex Mihailidis, a cognition researcher, Graham Strong, a vision researcher, and Bill McIlroy, a biomechanics expert, and the participation of James Lenker, a professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at the University at Buffalo, who is a rehabilitation engineer, occupational therapist and ergonomics researcher. This grant solidified the Center’s international reputation and established an exciting cross border partnership.

The RERC on Universal Design and the Built Environment has projects studying the effectiveness of universal design and several human factors issues that will provide both new knowledge about universal design and also new tools for practice. The RERC is a major partner in the development of the Global Universal Design Commission and is leading the Commission’s efforts to develop standards for universal design. The Center currently has contracts to produce a book on accessible housing, a book on housing for an aging society and a textbook on universal design. Another book of readings is under development. The RERC also produced the UD E-world website that will serve as a platform for collaborative activities and timely dissemination of information. Heamchand Subryan, an intern architect and interactive media designer, joined the Center as a full time professional with responsibilities for product and media design.

In the Fall of 2008, the Center collaborated with the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University to obtain the RERC on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC-APT). This project will bring experts in information technology, ergonomics research and universal design together to advance the practice of accessible transportation. Partners in this project include the United Spinal Association and Gillig Bus, Inc. The RERC-APT will conduct research to address some timely and critical human factors issues in boarding vehicles and develop key accessible information technology resources for improving usability of transit systems for all riders while also facilitating management and maintenance.