The real lives of online learners

Maslow's pyramid diagram of needs: at the bottom are physical needs, then safety and security, then love and belonging, rising to self esteem and at the pinnacle is self-actulisation.Online learning will continue to be an important way of teaching and studying. But little is understood about unintended consequences for some learners. Some will be left behind. Ready access to a computer or device and the internet is just the start. Anxiety about home backgrounds can prevent learners from turning on the camera. Lack of good housing and adequate food can also be an issue. If education systems are to be truly inclusive, the real lives of learners need to be factored into learning processes. 

Understanding the value of diversity, equity and inclusion is important for upcoming generations who will be tomorrow’s decision-makers. This is a key point made in an article from Arizona State University. The article discusses the issues within the context of changes brought about by the pandemic. There are interesting ideas that incorporate the real lives of learners and the diverse issues they have. Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, they remind us that food and shelter are not a given for all learners.  Providing a place to sleep and eat is one example of assisting learners to complete their courses.  Other examples are included in the article. 

The title of the article is, Inclusive Campus Environments: An Untapped Resource for Fostering Learner Success  It is part of a series, Shaping the Futures of Learning in the Digital Age. 

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to consider new possibilities for higher education, where the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provide a framework for creating digital and physical environments that honor every learner’s unique lived experiences and support the expectations of learners for their individual life goals. Each learner brings their own unique lived experience; multi-level intersectionality; and cognitive and social learning variabilities to their educational journey. Many of these present obstacles to their realizing successful learning outcomes. Understanding the lived experiences in the learner’s journey and creating environments that remove barriers to learning requires a deep understanding of inclusion, which is central to the framework of UDL. How can we create a campus that promotes a sense of belonging, community, and well-being — a campus that has the potential to increase the number of learners who persist to completion? It begins with honoring the uniqueness of every learner.

 

Apartment Design Guides: Victoria, NSW & SA

front cover of the guidelines showing a view through an apartment room through the window to the outdoorsHere are three apartment design guides: Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. 

Reference to accessibility is the last item in the list of design considerations in this 2017 apartment guide from Victoria. However, it is a good reference with technical advice. Victoria requires 50% of apartments to have as a minimum:

    • A clear door opening of at least 850mm at the entrance and main bedroom
    • A clear path of 1200mm between entrance and main bedroom, bathroom and living area
    • A main bedroom with access to an accessible bathroom
    • At least one accessible or adaptable bathroom

The document can be accessed through the landing page of the government website or you can download the document directly.  

front cover of the apartment design guide.The NSW Department of Planning Apartment Design Guide includes a small section on universal design (P 118). In the design guidance section, it refers to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines (Silver Level, equivalent to visitability).  However, it suggests a proportional number (20%), which means universal design is not universally applied. Consequently, this becomes specialised housing rather than mainstream housing. The old Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299) is also referenced. The new apartment guide replaces the NSW Residential Flat Design Code. The guide was published in 2015.

Photo used for front cover of guide. It shows an outdoor area similar to a veranda.The Housing for Life: Designed for Living guide was developed for the South Australian Government. Population ageing and ageing well polices underpin the report and guide. The features and factors that older people identified as important are documented as well as industry perspectives. It also outlines the economic arguments for considering the housing needs of older people. Examples of floor plans are included in the 2019 report which is 16 pages in PDF.

Urban design and active living

An infographic from the guide focused on buildings.Healthy active living is a good thing but it isn’t just about joining an exercise class or a gym. It’s about a whole of life approach to a process none of us can avoid – ageing. So it begins with the design of our built environment – the everyday places and spaces, including our homes. But does being ‘active by design’ include thoughts of older people and people with disability? 

Healthy Active by Design is a Heart Foundation online resource. This website is a practical guide that offers evidence, advice and examples to assist with the development of healthy and active neighbourhoods. It covers:

Public Open Space
Buildings
Community Facilities
Housing Diversity
Destinations
Sense of Place
Movement Networks
Healthy Food

Each section leads to more information and checklists. There is little mention of older people and people with disability in any of the section checklists. “Accessible” and “accessibility” are mentioned a few times but these terms mean different things to different practitioners. 

In terms of housing, this is expressed as housing choice and aged care facilities and specialised accommodation. Unfortunately, old assumptions about the accommodation needs of older people are solved by age-segregation. While the guide is focused on younger cohorts it offers good information for taking a whole of built environment approach to active design. The video below gives an outline. 

Editor’s Comment: I think this is another case of an organisation forgetting the National Disability Strategy which should be considered from the outset. It’s likely that hired consultants have no idea about the overarching Australian policies when devising resources. Inclusion, by definition, is not something separate to add at the end.

 

 

Older people and internet use

A pair of hands belonging to an older man hold a mobile phone.2020 has been a year of digital connectedness. Many of us relied on the internet to keep working and stay connected to family and friends. Access to virtual health services turned out to be important too. But access to the internet and digital connection wasn’t available to everyone. It’s assumed that older people are unable or unwilling to use digital communications. The assumptions by others about the capabilities of older people doesn’t help. It reinforces a negative mindset in both older people and their younger family members. 

Understanding older people’s relationship with the internet was the subject of a survey in rural Queensland. 1500 households were surveyed and asked about the general adoption of internet use. Within this survey, respondents were asked to indicate their understanding of older people’s relationship with the internet. Researchers found three general assumptions: older people aren’t interested in the internet, and they generally can’t use it. However, family members did believe the internet would be useful for older people.

If family members act on these assumptions they are unlikely to assist older members of the family to use the internet to communicate with others. If society continues to assume older people incapable or disinterested in internet communications it will lead to reinforcing the digital divide.

The researchers conclude that distinctions should be drawn between older people in rural areas and the tendency to apply urban norms to this population. 

The title of the article is, Perceptions of older age and digital participation in rural Queensland. It is academically dense in parts but the issue is clear. Older people will be unable to join with younger cohorts in independently using internet technology if we continue to apply these assumptions.

Abstract

Participation is thought to build and sustain individual and community resilience. What constitutes participation today significantly involves networked digital communications. With Australia’s ageing population set to increase exponentially, and with a growing concentration of older people living outside of larger cities and towns, a need exists to address how participation in later life is understood and facilitated. Coupled with the need for regional communities to find relevant change processes that build resilience, this multidisciplinary paper highlights variations in perception about older people’s digital abilities in regional Queensland. Following the general increase in appeal of digital devices to older people, defined here as those aged over 65, the paper suggests that how older people’s digital connectedness progresses is foundationally influenced by the speculative, antithetical and potentially ambivalent perceptions of others. In doing so, we seek to understand rural connectedness in later life through a suite of literacies informing digital participation.

There’s a related article from 2015, Internet use: Perceptions and experiences of visually impaired older adults. Published in the Journal of Social Inclusion, it provides some excellent qualitative research – the comments from older people with vision loss are especially revealing.

Human-centred design playbook

Human-centred design is an approach to problem-solving that puts people at the heart of the process. It’s about empathy with users. This style of approach has the potential to generate more varied ideas for design solutions. It’s more than community engagement – it’s an collaborative and iterative design process. Collaboration and iteration are at the core of a universal design approach.

The Victorian Government’s human-centred design playbook was developed specifically for its staff – public servants. And not just those with job descriptions that are about policy, planning and design. 

The aim is to help staff collaborate better with the service design team, service designers, and external design agencies. The guide does some of the thinking in helping to assess options and practical steps for implementing the project.

Taking an iterative approach to design is at the heart of the process. “We iterate because we know that we won’t get it right the first time. Or even the second… it allows us to keep learning.”

At 100 pages covering methods, design plans, outputs and case studies this playbook has everything. The Digital, Design and Innovation branch of the Department of Premier and Cabinet produced the playbook. It is designed to be a starting point for planning and scoping design-based activities. 

You can download a copy of the playbook directly from the website. 

 

Architecture and tactile ground markers

A band of yellow tactile hazard markers surrounds the outside of a poorly constructed footpath. But there are no markers on the nearby kerb ramp.When it comes to accessibility in the built environment, it’s a common for people to think wheelchairs. Consequently, designers think of adding ramps, wider corridors and elevators. The Australian Standard for access and mobility is focused on wheelchair users and people with vision impairment. So it is little wonder that designers think this is the sum total of disability access – something to be added at the end. When tactile ground markers and ramps are not integral to the design we end up with long ramps and an excess of tactile ground markers. 

An article in Archdaily discusses the integration of tactile surfaces into design. The article gives a brief history, discusses the different types of tactile ground markers and how they are used. The main point of the article is that added thoughtfully, tactile makers can “improve the lives of all their occupants”. The article has many pictures to illustrate points made. 

A blind person will use their white cane to follow the directional markers, not their feet. People with low vision or partial sight can also use these markers effectively if there is sufficient colour contrast. 

The title of the article is, Why we should integrate tactile surfaces into architecture. It has pictures and drawings to illustrate points. 

The picture above shows a row of hazard markers (round dots) surrounding a poorly constructed forecourt to a building. Thoughtful construction would have eliminated the need for this. Ironically, the kerb ramp at the left of the picture has no markers contrary to standards. 

Three steps into doorway are tiled with grey hazard tactile markers edged with yellow markers. Editor’s comment: I have a large file of pictures of poorly and wrongly placed tactile ground surface indicators (tgsi). Some are placed as if to prevent slips. For example, on the treads of stairs. 

 

Healthy Home Guide

View of the website landing page.Joining the dots between all aspects of physical and social sustainability is important for a healthy life and a healthy planet. Central to this is the design of our homes. The Healthy Housing Design Guide from New Zealand says they need to be durable, efficient in size and cost, and friendly to the occupants and the environment.

The three bar menu icon on the landing page of this online resource takes you to the content of the Guide. Universal Design leads in the table of contents. This is pleasing as most other guides leave it to a last thought at the end. The design detail features wheelchair users for circulation spaces, which, of course are good for everyone. Among the interesting images is a lower storage draw doubling as a step for child to reach the kitchen bench. The case studies focus on energy efficiency and sustainability.

This is a comprehensive document starting with universal design, site and location, through to air quality and acoustics and ending with certifications. The Guide characterises a healthy home by the acronym HEROES:

      • Healthy: Promoting optimal health and wellbeing through its design, resilience, and efficiency.
      • Efficient: Size and space, affordable and energy positive for the life of the building.
      • Resilient: Resilient enough to withstand earthquakes and climatic conditions. Durable to stand the test of time.
      • On purpose:  Designed specifically with Heroes in mind and fit for purpose.
      • Environmental: Socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable to build and run. Considerate of Climate Change.
      • Sustainable: Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The style of the website is pleasing but the landing page gives little idea to navigation. It says “Welcome” and then asks visitors to stay super involved. There is a bar with an arrow to go to the Foreword. The navigation is via the three bar menu icon at the top left of the page. 

Editor’s note: I first thought that I had to sign up to get access because the first thing my cursor met was “Stay Super Involved”. It was not obvious to me that the three bar menu icon was the entry point. I later found, when writing this post, that there is a tab on the right hand side of the webpage that takes you page by page. It would be interesting to know if this document is accessible for screen readers.

The video from the launch of the guide takes you through the content. Universal Design gets a mention at the 25 minute mark. It is introduced by Henry McTavish.

Tourism promotion: representing people with disability

two people stand in front of racks of tourism brochures.Promotional material continues to under-represent the diversity of the population. We’ve been so used to seeing white faces in advertisements that to see anything other is a surprise. But is that the response marketing experts want? Then there are the stereotypical images, especially related to older people and people with disability. People with disability also like to travel, often within a family group. So how well are these, and other groups, represented in promotional material?  

A recent research project in the US critically assessed promotional materials: brochures, rack cards, websites and online booking platforms. They found that fifty per cent mentioned disability in some form. This included “disabled” and “handicapped”, “wheelchair” and “special needs”. They found that outdated language remained the norm. Indeed, some language was considered harmful for people with disability. 

The title of the article is, Beyond accessibility: exploring the representation of people with disabilities in tourism promotional materials

The article covers some important ground in the area of inclusive tourism. Promotional material gives an impression of a destination or venue. Visual and textural representations were either absent or stereotypical. Industry as a whole has been slow to respond to what is estimated to be 25% of the prospective market. Their promotional material reinforces their lack of interest in this market.

Abstract

Globally, over one billion people experience some form of disability.
The number of people with disabilities (PWDs) continues to rise due to
an ageing population, the spread of chronic diseases, and improvements in measuring disabilities. However, tourism promotional materials continue to perpetuate a homogenous gaze catering to non-disabled audiences. Thus, informed by critical disability theory, and an inclusive tourism approach, this study explores how PWDs are represented in tourism promotional materials, specifically tourism brochures, from the American Southeast. Through a content analysis of over 200 county level brochures from nine south eastern states and interviews with state level tourism marketing directors, three emergent themes were identified: ADA compliant is ‘good enough’; ‘Diversity’ means including more people of color or ‘ethnic’ groups; and Pets are welcomed but how about PWDs? The findings offer insights for inclusive tourism and breaking down the physical and psychological barriers that hinder PWD participation in travel and tourism.

Accessible Acropolis: Heritage meets Access

A wide and level pathway leads to the Parthenon on the Acropolis.If Greece can make one of their most ancient heritage sites accessible then there are no excuses for others. Besides, everyone should have the opportunity to share in a nation’s culture and heritage. Smooth surfaces and lots of free space makes a visit to the famous Acropolis enjoyable for everyone. 

The project was not approached from a maintenance perspective; that is, upgrading paths built at least fifty years ago. The pathways follow archaeological findings over the years, restoring the ancient route of the Panathinaion Way. 

The brief article in the Greek Reporter provides a little more information with two videos.

An explanatory video is in Greek and without English subtitles. However, the four minute video gives a good idea of the access improvements regardless of language. 

A new lift replaces the one installed for the Paralympic and Olympic Games in 2004. Good news for those who visited Athens for the Games. 

Robot – where’s my phone?

Two pictures showing a small wooden table on wheels. One has a notepad on it, the other has a craft basket on it.One good thing about the old landline phones that were fixed at the wall is that you always knew where it was. We’ve all had moments where we’ve forgotten where we put our mobile phone. What if your phone could find you by itself? Well, not quite, but what if you had a robot to bring it to you?

This was just one aspect of a research project in Norway. The research paper reports on a small robotic table in a domestic situation – an alternative to other types of domestic robots. The research took a universal design approach to the design of the table using the 7 Principles of Universal Design.

The researchers were keen to find out what kind of robot would support an older person and, importantly, be accepted by them. Familiarity with the concept of robots was a key factor in acceptance as well as understanding what a robot could do. As most participants lived in small apartments, something small was also important. 

“They explained that they needed a robot that could help them with moving things around in the home, a robot that could bring them objects, or
a robot that could help them with household activities.” It was a participant who came up with the idea of a table to bring the telephone and a cup of tea. And what if the table kept the phone charged and always within reach?

An interesting project taking a universal design approach from conception to prototype. The title of the article is, Situated Abilities within Universal Design – A Theoretical Exploration: The Case of the T-ABLE – A Robotic Wooden Table

A drawing of the table prototype.

Abstract—This paper investigates Universal Design (UD) through the idea of designing for situated abilities, rather than focusing on designing for disabled users. This shift in perspective from disabilities to abilities is explored through the design of a domestic robot that integrates into our homes, in a familiar way. We explore the concept of designing for situated abilities through a proof-of-concept robotic wooden table, the T-ABLE, as an alternative design for domestic robots. Finally, the paper identifies four dimensions of situated abilities.