Universal Design and Low-Vision Rehabilitation: The Case for a Holistic Lighting Assessment

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Among various approaches to handling friction between (dis)abilities and the built environment, universal design (UD) has emerged as an interdisciplinary field for research and practice. However, while the literature denotes UD as a design concept, practice, and strategy for rehabilitation, its true impact is still largely unknown.

To explore the rehabilitative potential of UD and determine how to evaluate its impact, this paper seeks to turn the tables. It investigates a case regarding low-vision rehabilitation, in which a group of consultants developed a holistic lighting assessment (HLA) that embraced the social and the physical contexts of the visually impaired. The lighting assessment was performed using participant observations from 15 consultations, document analysis, and interviews with the low-vision consultants. Based on an actor-network theory (ANT) approach, the analysis reveals the contextual knowledge of participants, environments, and the interaction between them.

The combination of quantitative and qualitative methods in HLA enabled a range of different understandings of light: as a quantitative measure, as an individually perceived aspect of the home environment, as something that enables or disables daily activities, and as a social factor of great importance for social practices. While traditional lighting assessments generally resemble the accessibility approach, with its measures of visual acuity translated into recommendations for an overall lux value, the holistic approach more closely resembles the UD methodology. One finding of this paper is that the concepts of rehabilitation and UD are committed to slightly different levels of abstraction. Rehabilitation focuses on specific individuals and specific environments, with patient rehabilitation as the main goal. UD focuses on user groups and design principles, with design and architectural solutions as the main objectives. While the concepts of UD and HLA represent different fields and different levels of abstraction, the two approaches can enhance both respective practices and theoretical frames.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationUniversal Design 2021 : From Special to Mainstream Solutions
EditorsIra Verma
Number of pages13
PublisherIOS Press
Publication date11 Jun 2021
Pages288 -300
ISBN (Print)978-1-64368-190-0
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-64368-191-7
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2021
EventUniversal Design 2021: From Special to Mainstream Solutions: 5th International Conference on Universal Design - Aalto University, Espoo, Finland
Duration: 9 Jun 202111 Jun 2021
Conference number: 5


ConferenceUniversal Design 2021: From Special to Mainstream Solutions
LocationAalto University
Internet address
SeriesStudies in Health Technology and Informatics


  • Universal Design
  • Low-vision rehabilitation
  • Lighting assessment
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Lighting intervention


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