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Escola de Arquitetura

Universidade Federal

Minas Gerais

Rua Paraiba 697
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Belo Horizonte


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'Desenho Universal ' versus Universal Design

Aparently, the definitions for "desenho universal" and "design universal" in Brazilian Portuguese (adjectives are placed after nouns) do not seem to be holding different meanings.

However, the words "desenho universal" have been enacted in Brazilian legislation; therefore, they became official reference nationwide. They represent the the human factors approach to accessibility (Steinfeld, 1994), which aims at exploring relations of  operational fit between people and task environments. On the other hand, the terms "universal design"  indicate a broader definition (Mace, 1985)  instead of narrow specialized ideas that are dedicated to isolated groups with uncommon needs only. This concept corresponds to the development of accessibility applications that focus on global views of outcomes that might suit to everyone. In its original formulation, the concept of universal design also involves the process for creating accessibility and usability of design solutions that could be assimilated in a day-to-day life of larger public in the general market. 

We must also point out that the English word 'design' relates closely to both meanings that are treated separately in Portuguese words 'desenho' and 'designio.' The former correspond to drafting, tracing, developing a constructive idea through graphics. The latter means the decisions made for selection in a sequence of several possible choices that are compatible to of using the design product in its context.

The fact that legal mechanisms and technical standards in Brazil registered 'desenho universal' instead of 'design universal' may be justified by the operational nature of legal and normative compliance. That requires concrete and consistent critera for deliberations that can be measured by human factors research studies. Therefore, the establishment of legal oriented goals for design of person-environment fit by human factors approach is clearer than making it possible by design that focus simultaneously on user's needs, the immediate environment and the cultural context that joins together, operational use of space, values, attitudes and emotions.

In sum, the 'desenho universal' is based on the design universal (universal design) concept that is preferable as to represent philosophical view of users experiencing accessibility in built environments. The universal design approach relies on general principles as both process and product of environmental accessibility; it also serves as the inspirational goal for maximum quality of discreet and omnipresent resources for social inclusion of everyone.

More than just the genious tracing of professional ideas aimed at formal synthesis, a 'desenho,' universal design implies that a cultural interface exists between professionals and users, which is at the fore starting point along with the respect for diversity of user experiences and characteristics that are reflected on surrounding environments. 

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