Toronto (Oct. 24, 2010) - An unprecedented U.S.-Canada research partnership in universal design has earned a five-year renewal from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).

“This is great news because it advances our efforts to turn universal design into a reality,” says Dr. Geoff Fernie, Toronto Rehab’s Vice President, Research. Universal design is all about creating products, homes and communities that are safe and user-friendly for everyone, including older people and those with disabilities.

With the renewal, Toronto Rehab continues as a partner in a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Centre (RERC) on Universal Design in the Built Environment with the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center) at the University at Buffalo: The State University of New York. The alliance will explore how to improve accessibility in housing, public buildings and outdoor spaces.

For its part, Toronto Rehab will focus on ways to make indoor and outdoor spaces more liveable, particularly in winter. “We want to understand how people navigate things like slopes, uneven terrain and cross slopes, all of which can be difficult for people with orthopaedic problems and those who use walking aids or wheelchairs,” says Dr. Fernie. The findings will help urban planners and designers.

Stairs will also be a big focus. Deaths and serious injuries from falls on stairs are becoming a growing problem. Many people give up their homes because they cannot manage the stairs. The Canadian team is looking at how to design, modify or equip stairs in ways that can reduce the risk of accidents.

Many of the studies will be conducted in real-life settings while others will involve Toronto Rehab’s new iDAPT research facilities, opening in 2011. iDAPT will feature a motion simulator that can mimic everyday challenges – such as snow and ice, slopes and stairs – faced by older people and those with disabilities.

“The practical solutions we are developing will improve quality of life for older people and those with disabilities, but they will also make everyday life easier and safer for everybody, whether pushing a child in a stroller or moving around outdoors in cold weather,” says Dr. Fernie. The five-year NIDRR grant is worth $4.75-million (U.S.), with $1-million (U.S.) allocated to Toronto Rehab’s projects.

For more on this universal design alliance:
http://www.udeworld.com/news/e-newsletter.html#article1

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