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.
The FastCodesign website has another interesting article about design. Every designer has the principles they work by. So they asked eight prominent designers, “What is the one principle you never compromise on?” The answers are consistent with universal design principles: Good design is both invisible and obvious; Ignore trends; Ban mediocrity, Design to elicit emotion; Articulate your purpose, honestly and explicitly; Users are people not statistics; Design thinking isn’t for designers and; Design for the big idea. See the article for the designers’ explanations.
Why are we still building homes as if we never going to grow old? This question and others are the subject of a Building Connection magazine article about the purpose of Livable Housing Australia and their design guidelines. These guidelines, devised by industry and other stakeholders, clearly state that universal design features are easily included in regular housing and don’t need to be considered “special” just because they suit people who are older or have a disability. That’s because the features are convenient and easy to use for everyone. But why hasn’t the idea caught on in mainstream housing? More than half Australian households would benefit from these features. That’s because If you add together the number of older people, people with disability and those with a chronic health conditions, it comes to more than 60%. The title of the magazine article on page 42 is, We ain’t getting any younger.
Campaigning for the Australian federal election drew attention to the lack of accessible housing in Australia. But the headlines were not for the right reasons. The Fifth Estate magazine picked up on this in an article titled, What Peter Dutton and the building industry need to know about housing for all. The article by Willow Aliento focuses on the state of play in Australia rather than the headline. It is timely for The Fifth Estate to cover this now. The Australian Building Codes Board is about to embark on a Regulation Impact Statement on proposed changes to the way we currently design homes. This is the next step in the process. They circulated an Options Paper on Accessible Housing last year, and released a report on the feedback in March this year. Good to see an industry magazine taking up the issue, doing the research and covering it broadly.
The house in the picture is representative of many new inaccessible homes currently being built today.
The theme for the latest issue of Access Insight is the Ins and Outs of Doors. It covers door controls, heritage doors, power operated doors, and dementia and doors. Some of this is quite technical. However, the feature on doors and dementia highlights much of what should be design thoughtfulness for everyone. The newsletter is published by Association of Consultants in Access Australia and is presented on the Issuu platform. It can also be downloaded in PDF.
Children with heightened sensory perception are at the centre of a new range of furniture and clothing by Target. They are designed to feel as if they are giving a little “hug”. Target has put a lot of research and investment into these products. It’s in keeping with their attempts at inclusive design, or designing for “fringe users”. Of course, these products can be appreciated by all children, but the research is saying that some children appreciate the sensory appeal more than others. The title of the article on FastCo website is, “Target’s newest furniture is for kids with sensory sensitivity“. The article shows a desk chair designed to rock, a foam crash pad, weighted blankets, and more. Not sure if these products are, or will be, available in Australia. But an interesting read from a design point of view.
Ikea is well know for its sleek designs, low profile furniture and hand-less drawers. So universal design has yet to hit their design studios. However, Ikea is compensating by trying its hand at accessibility with add-ons for their most popular furniture pieces. They’ve called them ThisAbles. However, you will need access to a 3D printer if you want one or more of these. A total of 13 designs are available. They include items like the EasyHandle, a big, Rubbermaid-looking grip that can be added to the seamless door of a Pax shelf, and the Glass Bumper, a plastic pad that protects the bottom of a glass-doored Billy bookcase from the bump of a wheelchair. The FastCo website has more on this plus the instructive video also shown below.
Editor’s Note: I wonder when they will wake up that many of these add-ons should be designed more aesthetically and included within the product for the convenience of everyone. My personal favourite is the handle for the shower curtain. The title of “ThisAbles” indicates that it is specialised design and not universal design. Any name or title with “Able” emphasised with a captial letter indicates “designed for people with disability” rather than for everyone.
Almost all designs go through a prototype process before the final product is produced. The one thing that isn’t tested prior to final design is buildings. Bryan Boyer explores the issues in an easy to read article. He says that digital designers wouldn’t dream of taking a wild guess that their design will hit the mark for all users and ignore user testing. Building designs have an impact on people whether they are users or not. How would a user prototype work for a building? And How do we make it cheap and easy to quantitatively analyse the effect that buildings have on humans? These, and other questions are posed and discussed in this thought provoking article. While universal design isn’t specifically mentioned, it’s implied because Human Centred Design is focused on users, and not on the designer.
An article on an American home builder’s website has some good information and dispels many myths. The one about “ugly and costly” is dealt with well. While they are American designs, the principles apply elsewhere. The title of the article is, How Great Aging in Place Design Prepares you for a Llifetime. There are lots of examples on the website of kitchens and bathrooms. There is also a section titled Universal Design.
Editor’s comment: Few older people will use a wheelchair at home, but they might like to sit to do some tasks. So the idea of lower benches could be a mistake unless you know all home occupants are either of short stature or wheelchair users. All family members have to be catered for in a workplace such as the kitchen. Lower bench sections or adjustable height benches help here. A pull-out workboard in the drawer section of the cabinetry is also another way to provide a low workspace for children and others who might need it. Also, in Australia and elsewhere, few homes have the kind of space shown in the pictures to allocate to a kitchen, so designs need to be considerate of all likely kitchen users. Creativity is required. Lowering benches and not having under bench cupboards is the easy solution.
Nowadays, most of us use gender-neutral language, but has the design world kept up with this philosophical change? An article in The Guardian discusses how women are mostly left out of designs whether it’s films, science, city planning, economics or literature. In the case of crash test dummies, it seems that only man-sized dummies are used. That is, European man-sized. The article ranges across workplace accidents, stab vests, and personal protective equipment among others. The article claims that research on workplace accidents is focused on men as if that will cover everyone. There are many thought-provoking ideas that challenge the status quo. Even crash test dummies need to reflect the diversity of the population.