Building Code: Rights and Research

picture of a modern building Norway Opera House.Building regulation is a highly contested space, especially in relation to disability access. So the Norwegian Building Authority decided that standards and codes should be based on evidence rather than the views, compromises and experience of interest groups. The Norwegian Research Laboratory for Universal Design was set up to focus on access solutions using established research methods. But this brings about a dilemma.

People with disability have fought for many years to have equal access to the built environment. “Some of the criteria have been based on compromises and “old truths”. These criteria are now put under scrutiny. This examination and possible reversal of minimum requirements may feel like a slap in the face of those who have fought for these rights. But what is the possible downside?” 

Their research results are based on the 90th percentile. But what happens to those who are outside the 90%?  Who pays for the compensatory adaptations or assistance? This is where it becomes political. Nevertheless, research by the Laboratory suggests that “those who cannot manage the minimum levels cannot manage any level”.

The paper provides some interesting research results on doorway approaches and ramp gradients. A relatively short paper with some good food for thought.

The title of the paper is, Deregulation of the Building Code and the
Norwegian Approach to Regulation of Accessibility in the Built Environment

Abstract: Deregulation is on the political agenda in the European countries. The Norwegian building code related to universal design and accessibility is challenged. To meet this, the Norwegian Building Authority have chosen to examine established truths and are basing their revised code on scientific research and field tests. But will this knowledge-based deregulation comply within the framework of the anti-discrimination act and, and if not: who suffers and to what extent?  

This project is part of the quest for Norway Universally Designed by 2025 and the updated Action Plan

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.  

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.  

 

ABCB moves to next phase

Timeline for the next steps to the Regulatory Impact Statement.The process for the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for Accessible Housing is underway. With more consultations due soon for the RIS, it is worth refreshing our memories on the issues. Using a lot less words, a Building Connection magazine article picks out the key points of the first report by the Australian Building Codes Board. The article by Jane Bringolf is on page 16 of the online flipbook titled, A Summary of the ABCB’s Report on Mainstream Accessible Housing. The infographic shows the timeline for the project. If minimum access (universal design) features are agreed, it will be included in the 2022 edition of the National Construction Code.

CUDA made a submission to the Australian Building Codes Board Options Paper.

Are UD and ID rivals?

a series of black icons on white background depicting people of all shapes and sizes, including a baby in a stroller, a person with a can and a wheelchair userFrom the Editor: This week I came across an article by John Harding who writes about rivalry between universal design and inclusive design. While I have encountered people who believe there are nuanced differences, I cannot agree that the concepts are rivals, academically or otherwise. A rivalry point of view is contrary to the work of advocacy groups striving for more inclusive societies. Indeed, “universal design” is cited in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability as the means by which to create inclusion. It is also cited by WHO guidelines for age-friendly cities.

Harding, in his dense academic paper, appears to base his argument on universal design being about the “widest range of users”, whereas inclusive design is about “offering everyone access”.  He then goes on to claim that universal design is “first generation” and inclusive design is “next generation”. 

Using a study of transportation in UK, Harding proposes that the “rivalry” between UD and ID hasn’t helped the cause for inclusion. I believe the barriers to inclusion are far more complex than terminology. However, terminology is very important to academics if they want to compare their work. 

Whether you use universal or inclusive, the aim is to cater to diversity, and that includes diverse ways of explaining universal/inclusive design for an inclusive world. Most academics use the terms interchangeably and include “Design for All”.

The paper is open access on ResearchGate. Have a look and see what you think. The title of the paper is “Agent based modelling to probe inclusive transport building design in practice”. 

It should be noted that John Harding is based in the UK where they have stuck by the “inclusive design” term throughout, whereas Europe has favoured Design for All, and most other countries have followed the UN Convention and use universal design. Most academics recognise the convergence of concepts rather than rivalry.

Jane Bringolf

ICT, AI and older people

An older woman sits at a table in a room with a tv behind her.The Digital Age has brought us Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Ambient Technologies, but can people and policies keep up with the pace of development? The 5G network brings additional promises, but will designers consider the diversity of the population, especially in algorithms? A keynote paper presented by Liz Mesthenos gives a thoughtful overview of the state of play regarding this technology and older people.

It is interesting to note that the EU “appears to be keen on free access to the internet to ensure non-exclusion…” Mestheneos cautions the use of sensors used via smart phones, web cameras, etc., for family carers to monitor a relative. Ensuring they are non-intrusive and data remain private will be a continuing issue. AI products will have to ensure they are accessible as well as secure, and are not based on existing human prejudice and assumptions.

The title of her paper is, “Reflections on Older People in Relation to ICT-AI” and covers: the importance of co-creation, system usability, justice, fairness, privacy, safety, and inclusive design. A well thought out paper. But it is not readily available. Let me know if you want a copy.

ABSTRACT: Can ICT e.g. AAL, AI, Ambient Living technologies, really help the growing numbers of older people live better, more fulfilling lives? Or are these technologies primarily being developed for the interest of health and welfare systems and tech development experts? Have we genuinely listened to the needs of older people and reacted to their problems and needs, or are the driving forces behind innovation state budgetary limitations and the management of new and ever expanding problems? Even in the context of management, can these ICT technologies be effective or are they marginal to the management of living with dependency, long term illnesses and alone. Can and in what way do they help make older people’s lives more connected, meaningful and richer? Ensure that older people do not become objects, presenting technical problems to be solved, but people who have capacities which technology can help support. The presentation will concern the limitations of current approaches and suggest ways forward to genuinely support older people. 

Staying put and walking more

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands.A new Australian study found that older people who live in separate houses walk more than those in retirement villages. The Curtin University study accounted for several factors before coming to this conclusion. It adds to the literature that for most people, staying put in your own home is the best way to age. Of course, we need homes and neighbourhoods designed to support this. While the study has some limitations, it is another angle on staying put versus age segregated living arrangements.

The title of the article in Sage Publications is The Potential Importance of Housing Type for Older People’s Physical Activity Levels. You will need institutional access for a free read. 

Abstract: Limited research has investigated the effect of housing type on older people’s physical activity, and the small amount of work to date has relied on self-reported activity levels. The aim of this study was to assess whether housing type is associated with objectively measured physical activity among community-dwelling older people. In total, 430 Australians aged 60 years and older completed a survey and wore an accelerometer for a week. Controlling for a range of confounding variables (age, gender, physical health, neighborhood walkability, and the density of open spaces in the local area), participants living in separate houses were found to engage in higher levels of activity compared with those living in retirement villages. In addition, those living in separate houses and apartments were significantly more likely to meet the physical activity guideline of 150+ min/week compared with those living in retirement villages.

Program: Design for All Week 8-12 April Brisbane

Design for All Week is hosted by Queensland University of Technology Design Lab. Check links for details and campus locations. All events are free.

Monday 8 April
2 – 5 pm Industry Engagement:  Symposium and Panel Discussion Vis-ABIITY through DesignThis symposium reflects upon the added value of Design for All (DfA) as a strategy for inclusion. It is lead by a line-up of international speakers
5 – 7 pm TouchABLE imageries exhibition opening from Belgium
Tuesday 9 April
9 am – 12 pm Education and Training: Co-design workshop with international experts on creating tactile imagery with the QUT Art Museum for the Vis-ability exhibition.
12.30 – 1.30 pm Exchange: In Focus curator and artist talk at the QUT Art Museum
Wednesday 10 April
9 am – 12 pm Education and Training: Co-design workshop with international experts on creating tactile imagery with the QUT Art Museum for the Vis-ability exhibition.
5 – 8 pm International Engagement: EIDD-DfA Europe Keynote Lecture and Design Exhibition at The Cube.
Thursday 11 April
9 am-12 pm Education and Training: Co-design workshop with international experts on creating tactile imagery with the QUT Art Museum for the Vis-ability exhibition.
Friday 12 April
6 – 8 pm Community Outreach: International Inclusive Film Screening and Moderation at The Hall (Kelvin Grove). Discussion lead by international experts
Close of the Design for All Week.

To see all the events and the details in one list, and to register, go to the Design for All Week webpage.

Establishing a UD Centre in Australia

Logo for Centre for Universal Design AustraliaFrom the Ground Up: Establishing a Centre for Universal Design in Australia charts the establishment and development of CUDA. This paper was presented at the UD Conference in Ireland held at the end of 2018. Here is the abstract – the full paper is available online.

Abstract: The universal design movement arrived in Australia well before the turn of the century. A handful of individuals, often working as lone voices, are doing their best to incorporate the concepts into their everyday work and promote the concepts more widely. As is often the case elsewhere, the term “universal design” is misunderstood and confused with special and separate designs for people with disability rather than inclusion for everyone. Compliance to legislated disability access standards has created further confusion and as a consequence many myths about universal design have emerged. Such myths have held back the implementation and understanding of universal design and inclusive practice. Australian governments at all levels have shown little interest in promoting universal design principles, save for a casual mention of the term in policy documents. This is in spite of changes to disability and ageing policies promoting more autonomy and independence for individuals. When political leadership is absent, leadership often defaults to the community, or to be precise, to a handful of people with a passion for the cause. In 2013 a chance meeting of two unrelated individuals set the wheels in motion to establish a centre for universal design in Australia. This paper charts the development and progress of the organisation through volunteer effort, harnessing community support, maintaining international connections, using social media, and establishing a resource-rich website and newsletter.