The curb cut effect is the phenomenon of disability-friendly features being used and appreciated by a larger group than the people they were designed for. For example, many hearing people use closed captioning. The phenomenon is named for curb cuts – miniature ramps comprising parts of sidewalk – which were first made for wheelchair access in particular places, but are now universal and no longer widely recognized as a disability-accessibility feature.
The curb cut effect is a subset of universal design, which is the purposeful design of an environment so that it is accessible to all people regardless of ability or disability. The curb cut effect differs slightly from universal design as the curb cut phenomenon is often unintentional rather than purposeful, but results in a similar outcome.
Below are some examples of the curb cut effect.
- Closed captioning used by hearing people.
- Curb cuts on sidewalks used for strollers, suitcases, etc.
- Large print used when reading by those without visual impairment.
- Game accessibility features in video games used by players with no disabilities.
- Text-to-speech applications used by seeing people.
The curb cut effect has become a prominent phenomenon as society focuses more on designing accessible and inclusive environments. Implications of the curb cut effect include an increased awareness around universal design within the general population. The fact that many features explicitly designed to be disability-friendly have been utilized and enjoyed by people outside of the initial target population has encouraged inclusive design. The curb cut effect has helped prove that there could be economic benefits derived from including or developing accessibility accommodations in a business setting. Amongst positive implications, the curb cut effect has also resulted in negative changes, such as the lack of individualized design for disabled populations.
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- Blackwell, Angela Glover (2017). "The Curb-Cut Effect". Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved August 20, 2022.
- Peterson, Julie (July 15, 2015). "Smashing barriers to access: Disability activism and curb cuts". National Museum of American History. Retrieved April 30, 2022.
- "What is Universal Design | Centre for Excellence in Universal Design". universaldesign.ie. Retrieved 2023-11-28.
- Heydarian, C. H. (2020). The Curb-Cut Effect and its Interplay with Video Games. Arizona State University.
- Lawson, David Dyer (2015). "Building a Methodological Framework for Establishing a Socio-Economic Business Case for Inclusion: The Curb Cut Effect of Accessibility Accommodations as a Confounding Variable and a Criterion Variable". openresearch.ocadu.ca. Retrieved 2023-11-28.
- Reid, Blake Ellis, "The Curb-Cut Effect and the Perils of Accessibility without Disability" (October 31, 2022). Feminist Cyberlaw, U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 22-24, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4262991 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4262991. Retrieved 2023-11-28.