Accessible home on narrow lot

View of the two storey home from the street.Designing an accessible home on a narrow lot can be done. An architectural group in Melbourne were faced with this situation and were able to provide accessibility on the ground floor. The site was tight – approximately 11 metres by 19 metres. The article in Architecture and Design has few details of the access features other than “spatial amenity”. However, it details the materials used and explains the design aesthetics.  It was interesting to note that the local council was not supportive of the development in the early stages because of the look of the home. Good to see it featured in an architectural magazine. Perhaps next time the magazine will point out the accessible features – even if they are invisible to the casual observer. Nice pictures. 

Note – home elevators are becoming more popular as a viable alternative to moving house. Designers should consider this as a potential later adaptation and make provision in the initial design.

Picture courtesy Atlas Architects and Architecture and Design.

If you have a home that is accessible and universally designed, let Australian Network for Universal Design know about it.


What will they think of next?

Logo of the International Ergonomics Association.The EinDfa IEA TC newsletter has three examples of digital technology for inclusive and enabling design. While these topics aren’t exactly UD, they interface with UD thinking and inclusive practice. The first is about audio sign language, the second is about aircraft seating, and the third is about our sense of touch. Below is a copy and paste from the newsletter:

Sign Language Ring is a device that detects sign language motion and “translates” that to voice by emitting audio through a speaker. Inspired by Buddhist prayer beads, according to its designers from Asia University, this wearable device includes a bracelet and set of detachable rings worn on select fingers. It can also translate voice to text, transcribing spoken language picked up by a microphone into text that’s displayed on the bracelet’s screen. 

Currently in the prototype stage, Layer company has developed a smart textile for use in Airbus’ economy class seating, called Move, which would allow passengers to monitor and control their seat conditions using their phone. Digitally knitted from a polyester wool blend with an integrated conductive yarn, the smart seat cover is connected to a series of sensors that detect both the passenger’s body and the conditions of their chair, including temperature, seat tension, pressure and movement. The Move app analyses the data collected by the sensors and sends targeted messages to the passenger telling them how they can improve their comfort. Moreover, during the flight, the seat automatically adjusts itself based on the passenger’s weight, size and movement by passing a current through the conductive yarn to change the seat tension.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has recently developed an inexpensive sensor glove designed to enable artificial intelligence to figure out how humans identify objects by touch. Called Scalable TActile Glove (STAG), it uses 550 tiny pressure sensors to generate patterns that are used to create improved robotic manipulators and prosthetic hands. The MIT project is very suggestive, since researchers are intentioned to replicate human’s ability to figuring out what an object is just by touch. Using the STAG glove pressure sensors, the MIT is gathering as much touch information as possible for creating a large enough databases, to sustain a machine learning process that could bring to create a system able to perform analysis and deduce not only how a human hand can identify something, but also how it can estimate its weight, something robots and prosthetic limbs have trouble doing today.

The newsletter is from the Technical Committee on Ergonomics in Design for All (EinDfa). Thanks to Isabella Tiziana Steffan for this content.


Is text so ugly it needs to be hidden?

Part of a cafe menu with small light font.Why do some designers make text so faint or small? Surely all fonts aren’t that ugly. Low vision is just one function that deteriorates as we age. In a nicely written article Don Norman laments the lack of thought about including older people in their designs. Using his own experience as an 83 year old, he discusses how many devices are needlessly ugly – shouting out “I’m old and can’t function!” Norman used to work for Apple, and his article also critiques their designs.

His article on the FastCo website is titled, I wrote the book on user friendly design – what I see today horrifies me. Here is an excerpt.

“Despite our increasing numbers the world seems to be designed against the elderly. Everyday household goods require knives and pliers to open. Containers with screw tops require more strength than my wife or I can muster. (We solve this by using a plumber’s wrench to turn the caps.) Companies insist on printing critical instructions in tiny fonts with very low contrast. Labels cannot be read without flashlights and magnifying lenses. And when companies do design things specifically for the elderly, they tend to be ugly devices that shout out to the world “I’m old and can’t function!” We can do better.”

Multigenerational housing on the rise

A child-like drawing of different house types.Home design needs to keep up with current lifestyles – homes should not design our lives. The basic design of a family home is still last century when our lives were very different. But the population is becoming more diverse. While the campaign for universal design in housing continues there is a related concept on the rise. As many as 41% of Americans are considering buying a home to accommodate an older relative or an adult child according to research quoted on the FastCo website. But are regular homes designed to cater for this? The article goes on to say that a bedroom is not enough for the relative, old or young, to feel independent. Where can they entertain friends, or seek private time outside the family? The answer is to have a living room as well as a bedroom. The title of the article is, The future of housing looks nothing like today’s. 

There is also reference to a book, Hive: the Simple Guide to Multigenerational Living, which is based on personal experience of four generations living together. This is a comprehensive article and includes references to co-housing and other housing models. 

New app for train travellers

A train is in the station and people are on the platform waiting to get on.People who are deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL) can now get help when travelling on ScotRail.  When a deaf customer needs help, rail staff can open an app that uses video call. The customer signs to an interpreter who immediately signs back.  The InterpreterNow app will give more confidence to travellers who use BSL. The more pleasing aspect of this story is that ScotRail is showing commitment to inclusion. For people who are hard of hearing, which is a significant portion of the population, just improving the quality of announcements would be a great help – or even having announcements. 

A related app by Google, Live Transcribe, is in its early release phase.  You can download it and give feedback before the design is finalised. This could be useful in noisy situations for people who have difficulty hearing, such as train stations, busy streets and noisy cafes. These types of app often need adjustment for different accents.

Editor’s note: This is a good app for people with good hearing. I’ve downloaded the Live Transcribe app for my phone. It should help for the odd occasion when I’ve seen a deaf person in the street needing help with something. It will be better than gestures and facial expression. 

What evidence? I’ll stick to what I know

Basilica tower at Pisa, Italy. It shows the lean to the right compared to the Basilica building. A culturally-ingrained habit of confirmation bias might be one of the reasons we still don’t have universal design in mass market housing. “This is the way it’s been done in the past, and no one’s been sued, therefore we will stick to this”. This quote from a stakeholder in an article by The Fifth Estate might be why the house building industry is missing the big picture.  The article is based on research by Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute where they looked at the question of social housing being treated as infrastructure in the same way as transport. But should it be treated as infrastructure or continue to be treated as welfare? According to the article, the most popular form of evidence used was feedback from previous projects: which implies that the practitioners tended not to look outside of their comfort zone. That’s how confirmation bias begins especially when the building industry claims that research is too hard to understand.

The Fifth Estate Article is titled, Why the building industry and social housing are missing the big picture. The AHURI article is a Policy Evidence Summary, Understanding business case frameworks for social housing. It is based on the Final Report No. 312.  

Medieval cities need not be “disabled”

A medieval town square with a cobbled pavement.When the user of a place or thing is most likely to be a person with disability, it is often labelled “disabled”. But what about places being disabled? “Disabled” in it’s original meaning is something that doesn’t work. So, if the chain of accessibility for everyone is missing, the place is indeed disabled. This was pointed out in an article in The Guardian: “People aren’t disabled, their city is“. 

The story is about the Dutch medieval city of Breda – now one of the most accessible in Europe. This is because there is “joined up” access throughout – not a bit here and a bit there. They have pulled up cobblestones and re-laid them upside down to create a flatter surface. Hotels are on board too. The key point is that the local authorities have a commitment to inclusion and accessibility and that’s what makes the difference. The next major step will be improving digital communication. See the article for more information.

How will we know when we have achieved inclusion? It will be the day when separate labelling for places and things is no longer required. 

Diveristy in Advertising

A busy night street scene in America showing neon brand signs.Who is in the room when decisions about diversity are made can be crucial to the design of an advertising campaign. This point is made in a FastCo article that showcases a new online tool to help brands make advertising more inclusive. Who makes the advertising and who appears in it is as important as what is being advertised. Big name brands need to consider who they are reflecting back to us.

Advertising agencies claim they have difficulty sourcing diverse individuals for their ads. Grow your Circle is an open source database that aims to bring together diverse advertisers and actors. The idea started when a company wanted an all-female production crew and found it difficult to fill every position. The idea of the database is a good one, but it remains to be seen if it really takes off. At least someone is trying. The article has a video explaining the issues. Would be good to see a similar database in Australia.

Editor’s note: Ageing (aging) and disability did not come up on my search. However, they did appear in a cluster where Black, Hispanic and Women are search terms. The database has a way to go before it is well populated. 

Dementia Friendly Kiama

Three people sit around a table in a cafe with the waitperson ready to take an order.Kiama Council in NSW has taken steps to make their community “Dementia Friendly”.  The aim is to keep people connected to family and community and avoid early entry into the residential care system. The SBS News channel showcases this example on their online news page. There is also a video of the story (without closed captions).

This is very topical as the Royal Commission into Aged Care continues. “Dementia researcher Professor Richard Fleming of Wollongong University says authorities should also realise that “the built environment can be used as a form of restraint”. 

The news story also discusses the role of “dementia villages” and whether they are the right way to go in the future. Perhaps the first step is to talk about people rather than patients.

This initiative would also help people with other cognitive conditions.

Autism and Building Design

A young girl is wide-eyed with a drooping mouth as is she is about to be unhappy.If designers are not thinking about autistic people now, they soon will be, or should be. Autistic people have the same rights to functional and accessible spaces as everyone else. In his article on Branch Pattern website, Stuart Shell gives an overview of ASD (autism spectrum disorder). He explains why building owners and designers need to include this group, and how it will create great architecture at the same time.

One in one hundred and fifty children were diagnosed with ASD in 2000. ASD can take the form of extra sensory awareness, and higher levels of anxiety or involuntary responses. However, most autistic people say they have their own way of experiencing the world – not a “disorder”. He concludes with a list of design options and different guidelines. It is a lengthy but very useful article that includes acoustics, lighting, thermal comfort and material finishes and furniture. There is a list of references at the end for further reading. What Autism Teaches Us About Design is an easy and comprehensive read on an important topic. 

As an aside, he mentions studies that show exposure to particulate matter (eg from motor vehicles) during pregnancy increased the odds of having a child with ASD.