Smart and inclusive cities

A smart phone and wifi icons sit over a background picture of a cityscape.Smart cities is a term for the 21st Century. Technology and innovation are at the forefront of thinking in design. But will smart cities also be accessible and universally designed? This should be an underpinning concept if we are to call our cities smart in the future. The European Union is taking these issues seriously and has funded research to look into these challenges.

Inclusive and Accessible SMART City for All looks at the challenges, particularly in including vulnerable populations. There are related publications in this collection in Lopes N. (eds) Smart Governance for Cities: Perspectives and Experiences.  You will need institutional access for a free read.

Abstract: Since 2008, the European Union has been facing the economic crisis and many cities need to rethink their current model of socio-economic development in order to meet new challenges—social inclusion and city liveability. Modern cities are adopting smart city concepts all over the world in order to adapt to new emerging technological innovations. To become a smart city is the challenge of the twenty-first century. Smart cities promise the age of innovative urban planning driven by smart technologies that will make cities safer, cleaner, more economical and above all more efficient. However, making our cities not only smart but also more inclusive and accessible will be increasingly important in the following decades. Urban demographic changes require new approaches in urban planning and accessible smart cities represent a promising future. That naturally requires to address different social groups living there in both global and local smart city policies. However, the most vulnerable of them—people with special needs—are not always considered in mainstream policies and therefore cities are urged to rethink their urban agendas with greater focus on social inclusion and accessibility across all development actions. This chapter examines requirements of people with special needs on the quality of urban space for sustainable urban development. The chapter highlights why it is necessary to shift the urban development towards concepts that are aware of the specific needs of the whole population—smart cities for all.  

Raising the bar on housing standards

Front cover of the report.Advocates in several countries have been lobbying for mandatory accessible housing standards for many years. At last Habinteg in the UK has succeeded in getting the topic on the government’s agenda

A forecast for accessible homes, is an important report covering all the key issues, ending with three key actions. The Habinteg report reveals a “huge postcode lottery in the planned supply of new accessible homes…”.  Therefore it is crucial to “set a national policy that will create a level playing field and more certainty for developers”. The report found that existing basic minimum standards as set out in Part M1 of the building code are insufficient. The planned development of accessible housing is set to fall short of previous official predictions. The report also has personal case studies to highlight the impact the lack of availability has on their lives. Mandatory standards within building regulations are needed because Part M1 is too basic. The shortage of housing with liveable access features, which are suitable for everyone, is now at a critical level.

Australia should watch this space while the Australian Building Codes Board considers the same issues regarding mandating accessibility in all new homes. The Regulatgory Impact Statement for accessible housing is due out for comment early next year. 

Double Diamond: Tool for Design

Two diamonds sit side by side joined by one corner. The left hand one has discover and design, the right hand one has develop and deliver.Design isn’t just about tangible objects, it’s also about services and processes. This is where the Double Diamond of Design comes to the fore. The Design Council devised the Double Diamond as a way of graphically explaining the design process. The two diamonds represent a process of exploring an issue and then taking focused action. The key elements of this model are:

Discover. The first diamond helps people understand, rather than simply assume, what the problem is. It involves speaking to and spending time with people who are affected by the issues.
Define. The insight gathered from the discovery phase can help you to define the challenge in a different way.
Develop. The second diamond encourages people to give different answers to the clearly defined problem, seeking inspiration from elsewhere and co-designing with a range of different people.
Deliver. Delivery involves testing out different solutions at small-scale, rejecting those that will not work and improving the ones that will.

The latest iteration of the Double Diamond is available in a PDF document. This model now has a fifteen year history. The Design Council has much more on their website about their Double Diamond and how to use it.  

Principles for Accessibility Studies

Brightly coloured graphic figures of all sizes and colours merged together.‘Poietic Design’ is about re-imagining everyday designed objects in ways that reconnect us with our everyday experiences. Objects should not just be useful; they should be intrinsically meaningful both philosophically and emotionally. In his paper, Gian Maria Greco discusses the move from particularist approaches based on disability to universalist approaches. This takes it from one person’s problem to a solution for everyone.

Greco follows on from the philosophical work of Rob Imrie and his discussions on the quest for universality. The title of the paper is, Accessibility Studies: Abuses, Misuses and the Method of Poietic DesignGreco concludes the article with a list of principles for design:

    1. The Principal of Universality: accessibility concerns all, not exclusively specific groups or individuals.
    2. The Principle of Personalisation: one size does not fit all. The design should be able to respond to the specificities of individual users.
    3. The Principle of User-centrality: design should focus on users and their specificities.
    4. The Principle of Epistemic Inclusivity: users and other stakeholders, including experts, are bearers of valuable knowledge for the design of artefacts.
    5. The Principle of Participation: design should be carried out through the active participation of the stakeholders involved.
    6. The Principle of Pro-activism: accessibility should be addressed ex-ante, not ex-post.

You will need institutional access for a free read, or try Google Books. 

Abstract: Over the past several decades, accessibility has been increasingly pervading a vast range of fields, producing a large number of new ideas, theories, and innovations that have already proven to be quite fruitful. A closer look at how accessibility has entered and developed in various research fields shows that said fields have experienced fundamental changes: a shift from particularist accounts to a universalist account of access, a shift from maker-centred to user-centred approaches, and a shift from reactive to proactive approaches. Through these processes, accessibility has birthed new areas within those fields, that have been gradually converging to constitute the wider field of accessibility studies. The nature and position of accessibility studies has now become a central topic. This ongoing progression of conceptual clarification may bear some misunderstanding and misinterpretations along the way. In the paper, I first briefly review the principal traits of the process of formation of accessibility studies; then address some possible misconceptions; and finally, introduce a first, very general sketch of poietic design, a method proper to accessibility studies.

Tourism marketing toolkit

Front cover of the workbook.Bill Forrester has a new marketing workbook for the tourist industry. It’s to help resorts, hotels and other accommodation collect key information and create an accessibility guide. It includes a detailed self audit tool to help with this. There’s lots of good tips at the beginning of the workbook that cost nothing and are easy to implement. 

Saying your accommodation is “accessible” is not enough information. It means different things to different people – specific information is needed. Pictures are important too. While most disabilities are invisible, it is useful to include a person with a visible disability within a group. Pictures of rooms and facilities are important too, especially if you include room dimensions and floor plans with furniture layout. 

“The workbook is not a statutory audit checklist, it is designed to be used as a “walk-through” tool to enable you to collect information on your facilities.”

“Having a tag line of “call us for accessibility information” is putting potential customers at a disadvantage over other customers searching on the internet and potentially putting your establishment at a competitive disadvantage over your competitors.”

The workbook comes in two formats: online on the Travability website or download the PDF.  

UD and the interior design curriculum

A glass walled foyer of an office building with planter boxes and black seating.Inclusion will remain a futuristic concept if we continue to train design professionals without including UD in the curriculum. This was highlighted in a recent survey of interior design students.  It showed the majority had no idea about universal design and of those who did, most only vaguely understood it. Students who had exposure to UD were in favour of having the topic in the curriculum, while others said it would interfere with the technical nature of the course and dilute rigour. They also claimed UD would be an unnecessary addition to an already full course. The results were similar to previous studies showing UD awareness is missing in design studies. 

The first part of the paper covers the background to UD in detail and will be known to many. The second half covers the method, the results and important discussion. This paper comes from the U.A.E. where most of the universities in the region are run by either American, Canadian or British institutions. The title of the paper on ResearchGate is, Concept Awareness of Universal Design in Interior Design Program in the U.A.E.

Conferences and calls for papers

bright pink seating in an auditoriumNEW TO THE LIST

Festival of Inclusion 20-21 November 2019, Sydney. Presented by the Centre for Disability Studies and the Inclusive Research Network. This is specifically about people with disability rather than a universal inclusion event. First day at University of Sydney, second day at Sydney Olympic Park. Ticketed event.

State of Australian Cities Conference (SOAC2019) 3-5 December 2019, Perth, Western Australia. The focus is on the challenges ahead in this disruptive environment. There are seven broad themes. The PhD/ECR Symposium will be held 30 Nov – 2 Dec.

Logo for universal design conference UD2020.4th Australian Universal Design Conference will be held 12-13 May 2020 in Melbourne. The theme is Thriving with Universal Design: Everyone, Everywhere, Everyday. The theme allows for a broad range of topics and interests. Call for Papers closes 21 October 2019. Successful submissions will be advised by 11 November. This is your chance to share your work or research in universal design. Submissions will be blind peer reviewed.


Planning Institute Australia NSW State Conference 19-20 September 2019, Parramatta. Theme: Fostering Resilience – the promise of a brighter and better future.

Constructing our World: People, Performance, Politics 18-20 September 2019, Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney. Joint hosts are the Institutes of Building of Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. 

International Conference on Disabling Normatives 1 – 3 October 2019, Johannesburg, South Africa. Has an academic focus and is hosted by the Wits Centre for Diversity Studies. 

3rd International Congress on Technology and Tourism for All, 23-25 October, Malaga, Spain. It will cover technology, smart tourist destinations, accessible products and services can do for society.

​​International Conference on ​Transport & Health – theme: Smart Cities. Disruptive Mobility. Healthy People. 4-8 November 2019, Pullman Melbourne on the Park. The topics are wide ranging because transport links to everything else. Melbourne Cup Day activities included in the program.

52nd AAG Conference Sydney. Coming of Age Together: New Ways of Knowing and Acting. 5-8 November 2019. Topics include social engagement, environment, design, innovation and technology.  

International Conference on Urban Health: People Oriented Urbanisation – Transforming cities for health and well-being. 4-8 November 2019, Xiamen, China. 

Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia 2019 State Conference, 6-8 November, Hunter Valley NSW. Theme: Unlocking the Value of Infrastructure. This conference is targeted to local government staff and planners, and other government departments. 

4th World Disability and Rehabilitation Conference, 7-8 November 2019, Bangkok, Thailand. The topics are broad ranging. The Theme is “Building Bridges towards a Common Goal: Advancing and Promoting Equity and Accessibility among People with Disabilities Worldwide”.

International Urban Design Conference, 13-16 November 2019, Hobart Tasmania. Call for presenters closed 26 July 2019 with blind peer review for accepted papers. Several topics to choose from.

World Engineers Convention – theme is Engineering a Sustainable World: The next 100 Years. 20-22 November 2019, Melbourne. 

Sustainability and Disability Conference, 25-26 November 2019, Buenos Aries. Abstract deadline extended to 15 September!  A good one for policy makers. Conference topics are wide ranging and include universal design

Open Learning Conference 26-27 November 2019, Sydney. It would be good to see papers on Universal Design for Learning in this space.

Space International Conference 2019 on Housing: 29 November – 1 December, London, UK.  Aim: to discuss recent advances and research results in the fields of Housing as well as architecture, policy studies, education, interior architecture, city planning and urban studies, social sciences, and engineering.

2020 Conferences

Florida State University AMPS Conference: Experiential Design – Rethinking relations between people, objects and environments. 16-17 January 2020, in Tallahassee. Call for papers closes 20 November 2019 (round two).

Slips, Trips and Falls Conference 13-14 February 2020 Madrid. Topics include architectural design, ageing, ergonomics, footwear, and safety standards as well as falls prevention and analysing accidents. Website is in Spanish and English.

Smart Accessibility 2020.  International Conference on Universal Accessibility and the Internet of Things and Smart Environments. 22-26 March 2020, Barcelona, Spain. Call for papers open until 8 November 2019. Wide ranging topics: built environment, smart cities, techniques and tools, technology for independent living, digital inclusion, Internet of Things and much more. 

Designing for Inclusion CWUAAT. 10th Cambridge Workshop on Universal Access and Assistive Technology. University of Cambridge 23-25 March 2020. Call for papers closes 16 September 2019. A cross disciplinary event with interesting and intersecting topic themes.

National Sustainability Conference, 27-28 April 2020, Brisbane. Call for papers now open.  The theme is “Sustainable Solutions for a New Decade”. Now is the opportunity to see universal design and social inclusion in the sustainability agenda. Two topics relate: Good Health and Wellbeing, and Sustainable Cities and Communities. Discount for presenters to attend. 

International Dementia Conference 11-12 June 2020, Sydney. Call for Papers closes 8 November 2019. Main theme: Care in the age of outrage. There are many topics including built environment.

Home Truths: Dispelling Myths

Front cover showing an older woman wearing glasses and a headscarf. She is sitting in an armchair.Across the globe, advocates for universal design in housing find themselves faced with the same myths. And these myths prevail in spite of hard evidence. AgeUK and Habinteg have put together a fact sheet, Home Truths – rebutting the 10 myths about building accessible housing. They challenge the ideas that it is too costly, difficult or undesirable. And also why the solution is not in building more age-segregated developments. It will be interesting to see how the proposal to include accessible features in the Australian building code progresses through the Regulatory Impact Statement.

Note: In the UK, Part M4 (1) of the building code mandates some basic access features. There are two other sections; one is to include adaptability, and the other is to be wheelchair accessible. However, these are optional unless it is set down in the local government plan because there is a community need. Developers challenge these plans asserting that the local authority has failed to prove the need. This indicates that industry will continue to fight for what suits them rather than occupants of the home.  


Are you ageist? Probably

Front cover of the Ageist Britain report from SunLife.This is about language. An article in The Guardian reports on a survey that found one third of British people admit they have discriminated against others because of their age. The SunLife report, Ageist Britain, highlights casual ageism and the impact it has on everyone. But it is ingrained in everyday language. It seems younger people think that life after 50 must be ‘downhill all the way’. But such attitudes infiltrate all parts of everyday life. That’s how older people are excluded from employment, harassed on public transport, and even when shopping. 

Language can demean and depress. “Old fart”, “little old lady”, “bitter old man” and “old hag” were, researchers found, the most used ageist phrases on social media.  Four thousand people in the UK were surveyed. Thousands of tweets and blogposts were also analysed for discriminatory and ageist language. And that’s without journalists using the term “the elderly” for anyone aged over 65.

Editor’s note: Terminology related to people with disability has changed over the years and is generally more inclusive. However, we are a long way behind with our language for older people. They are still viewed as a burden and a problem. Worse still is the terminology of ‘tsunami’ as if longevity is a national disaster. 


Why your website should suit screen readers

two hands on a laptop keyboard.Previous posts have explained how screen readers work, but not the amazing things that happen to people who use them. With free screen reading software by NV Access, screen readers are now available to all who need them. This software is so successful that it’s been translated into 50 languages. This means people in developing countries can also join in everyday activities, study and get a job. The video is 12 minutes, but worth the watch because you see the value of why all websites, web pages, and document uploads should be suitable for screen readers. It’s not just about doing “good works” – it’s about expanding your employee base and customer base. Besides, our obligations under the UN Convention require it. NV Access is a charity with a great story to tell.