Universal Design at Cork Institute of Technology

Design for all regardless of age, size or ability

Read the full CIT 9 page feature online – https://issuu.com/educationmagazine/docs/education_magazine_31-3i

By Professor Sean F. O’Leary – Department of Mechanical, Biomedical and Manufacturing Engineering, School of Mechanical, Electrical and Process Engineering, Cork Institute of Technology

The application of the principles of universal design – the design and composition of a product, service or environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age, size or ability – to the ground-breaking innovative product development multi-disciplinary projects by the students and staff at Cork Institute of Technology had led to a great flowering of student achievement on the national and international stages. 

The developed action-learning programmes brings multidisciplinary teams together to collaborate in conception, research, design, development, experimentation, validation, prototype production, proof of concept testing and commercialization of self-conceived and inspired novel products. 

Many of the emerging products and start-up companies while critically cognisant of commercial realities and practicalities, are also driven by student idealism towards the use of engineering, business and innovation to better mankind with many projects addressing global application transformative biomedical and societal needs and issues. 

The application of the 7 principles of universal design – equitable use – flexibility in use – simple and intuitive use – perceptible information – tolerance for error – low physical effort – size and space for approach and use – as espoused by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) of the National Disability Authority has been central and crucial to the conception, development, optimization and advancement of the novel products. 

The promotion of universal design to students and staff in Cork Institute of Technology has indeed been driven, inspired and directed by the remarkable efforts and energy of the staff at CEUD and in particular Dr. Gerald Craddock Chief Executive Officer CEUD and Mr. Donal Rice Senior Advisor ICT CEUD, culminating in the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design being the Centre-piece Exhibitor at the 2018 Cork Mechanical, Manufacturing & Biomedical Engineering Exhibition – Ireland and Europe’s Largest Educational Engineering Event incorporating over 200 stands showcasing a wide range of student development projects – and the highly popular theme for the 2018 Exhibition being “Universal Design – Design for All regardless of Age, Size and Ability”.

The forging together of student multidisciplinary teams based on universal design philosophy and practice from career streams and disciplines with traditionally and currently high proportions of male participation such as Mechanical Engineering and Accountancy with career streams and disciplines with traditionally and currently higher proportions of female participation such as Biomedical Engineering and Marketing /Management has harnessed a powerful and ground-breaking synergy between the genders.

This has had a hugely beneficial effect in inculcating an innovation / entrepreneurship ethos, mindset and skillset amongst these young people. 

The developed multidisciplinary programme actively promotes the role of women in engineering in general and specifically in relation to participation through leading roles throughout the innovative product development process. Indeed a very positive indication of the success of this proactive approach is that in the academic year 2017/18, over 60% of the team leaders and project managers elected by the multidisciplinary teams were women. 

The prevalence of women engineers in team leadership and project management roles had been a major driver and central component of the international/national success of these multidisciplinary teams.

A continuous design core centred on universal design principles, a strong innovation ethos, product development from student concept to prototype manufacture and optimisation, multi-discipline teamwork, business plan development, communication and exhibition skill enhancement and a unique engineering education model have all combined to create a critical mass leading to the remarkable international and national successes over a sustained period of the students of CIT’s engineering and business degree courses.