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. 


Accessible: more than step-free

A woman is pushing a man in a wheelchair up a ramp into the train. The train guard looks on. Another woman in a wheelchair waits for her turn. A man with a stroller is also in the picture.What’s it like for wheelchair users to navigate cities? Sandwich boards on footpaths, ramps too long or steep to use, and the housekeeping trolley left in the lift are just three examples. Free tickets to museum are useless if you can’t access the building or exhibits. Likewise a step-free entry does not make everything accessible. Neither is a bell at the door of an inaccessible building so that a staff member can offer to carry you in. After reporting on the most accessible city, Chester in UK, The Guardian asked readers across the globe share their experiences of accessing cities. Their stories make for interesting reading.

Inconsistency of access is a key issue for one wheelchair user. While one or two shops might make an effort, others don’t and some buses are accessible and others aren’t. Accessible toilets have such heavy door springs they are impossible to open. Another wheelchair user reported that some cafes and shops are accessible, but his choices are limited. It always means thinking ahead before leaving home. 

Having poor mobility and muscle strength means help is needed to carry things, but when the disability is invisible people are rarely willing to help. Similarly, standing on public transport can be painful, but at busy times no-one is willing to give up their seat. People with autism find public transport very stressful. Autism is another invisible disability that gets very little consideration.

Taking an adult child out for the day is impossible without a suitable toilet facility. Consequently it means staying home. Holidays are just a dream. 

Damaged or non-existent kerb cuts, potholes, out of order lifts, shops with narrow entrances are all barriers to getting out and about for a wheelchair user and anyone with limited mobility. 

The title of The Guardian article is, ‘I feel like a second-class citizen’: readers on navigating cities with a disability.  


Why home buyers don’t get UD

A banner advertising home and land packages. It says, "for people who want more".“We will build it if they ask for it” say the builders. But do they want home buyers to ask for it? And would they build it? The new home selling process relies on capturing the client’s personal and emotional commitment to the home before they sign the contract. And how do they do that? By getting them to choose the colours and styles of fixtures and fittings first. Once that happens the client becomes emotionally committed. The sale is made. Too late to consider universal design features – even if customers knew what they were.

This insight comes from an article in Sourceable by Darren Love. The opening paragraph says it all. 

“Builders seek innovative ways to market their products to clients. One method is to commit the client to a process that invests time and most importantly “emotional commitment” in the process. Focus the client on an ideal that the builder can make a reality.  The client’s “dream” of owning a house becomes real with the “help” of the builder.”

The title of the article is, Responsibility before Profit. It critiques the selling methods that builders use in this highly competitive market where cost cutting is part of the process. The article clearly explains why we cannot rely on the mass market housing industry to offer anything more than a choice of colour and upgrades to fixtures and fittings. 

RIDBC is moving to a new home

Artist impression of the main entry to the building showing steps and a corresponding ramp entry to the building.The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children is moving to a new home. The Macquarie University campus is to be the new site for the RIDBC. The design and development application are on public exhibition until 16 December.

WMK Architecture created the design for the school and recreation areas and is featured in ArchitectureAu magazine. The article discusses the building style and materials, but says little about any access or universal design features.

The gallery of pictures of the proposed design shows some good features for everyone. Seating surrounds pillars so that people, blind or sighed, don’t crash into them. Curved outdoor seating enables deaf children to see each other signing. This style is good for everyone and encourages interaction. Patterned floor treatments are questionable though as these can be confusing to people who have marginal sight. Patterns can also be confusing to people with visual perception issues. The main entrance has both steps and a ramp of equal widths indicating choice. 

Have a look at the gallery of pictures and see what you think. The picture above is from the gallery. 

There is nothing in the article to suggest that building users were involved in the design, but it is difficult to imagine that they weren’t.

Disability: Architecture’s final taboo

The architectural profession has faced issues of race, gender and sexual diversity, but disability is still a taboo. Awareness raising about people with disability officially began with the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 – forty years ago. But “coming out” with disability still seems harder than claiming your race, gender or gender diversity.  

According to an article in the Architects Journal magazine, few architects identify as having a disability. And those that do, face significant challenges in study and professional practice. Not only is it difficult to enter the profession, but the profession misses out on a  pool of life experience that could create better design for everyone. The article relates the professional experiences of four architects with different disabilities. 

Their experiences tell the same story as many others. The difficulty in being accepted as part of the group and being taken seriously. It’s little wonder that architects (or any other professional) will “come out” and get the support they need. Amy has multiple chronic illnesses, Ben is deaf, Poppy has a vision impairment, and Roseanne has dwarfism. You can read their experiences in, Is disability architecture’s final taboo?  

Defensive architecture, hostile design

A concrete bench with spike barriers to prevent people from sleeping and even sitting.Design is powerful. It can include or exclude. While many designers are doing their best to be inclusive, others are deliberately creating hostile designs. Why do this? It’s under the heading of “defensive architecture” – ways to prevent crime. But should this be solved with design – it’s the opposite of universal design.

An article from UNSW begins, “Spike, bars and barricades are not typically things you would associate with a park. But it turns out they are part of a growing suite of hostile design interventions in public spaces.” Spikes are embedded in flat surfaces underneath bridges to deter rough sleepers. Seats too uncomfortable to sit on for any length of time. Such designs are at odds with moves to encourage people to get out and about and stay active. Flat surfaces act as seating for those tired legs. Instead of hostile design we should be looking to solve homelessness and other social ills – these aren’t crimes. Meanwhile, it goes against all the principles of universal design.

The article is titled, Defensive architecture: design at its most hostile. It has examples and pictures and discusses the issues of designing to exclude. One picture shows a bench seat with armrests and suggests they are to stop people sleeping on them. However, armrests help people to push up to a standing position.  

There is a similar article in The Guardian, Anti-homeless spikes: ‘Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty

Unpleasant Design is a podcast on the same topic. 

Image courtesy UNSW newsroom.

Accessible train carriage upgrades

Looking along the track to an oncoming train entering a station.The Warrnambool train line in Victoria still has old inaccessible carriages. The 2020 Budget promises money for carriage upgrades. However, it could be a long wait. ABC News has an article about the long distance Warrnambool to Melbourne line and the proposed upgrades. 

Train station design will be the topic of Michael Walker’s presentation on 13 October 2020 for the CUDA webinar, People and Transport. You can also find out more about the Disability Transport Standard review. Register with Interpoint Events.  CUDA members are automatically signed up.

Banner for People and Transport Webinar 13 October showing a street scene.

Minimum building standards and myths

A flight of steps with handrails and an adjoining ramp lead to a public building. Minimum access standards for the built environment do not guarantee accessibility. Unfortunately, we still have designers who aren’t interested in best practice, just ticking the compliance box. It also means that access is a last thought and remedies, such as ramps, are tacked onto the “grand design”. But universal design should be the grand design if we want equitable and dignified use by all. 

The Access to Premises Standard of 2011 has improved accessibility to new buildings, but it is not the total answer. They only go part way in creating inclusive environments. An article in Sourceable addresses some of the issues and the myths that remain within the property industry. The myths are explained in detail in the article and are listed below:

      1. Access is the same as universal design.
      2. Universal design in more expensive than access.
      3. The Australian Standard for Access considers all people with disability.
      4. The dimensions in the Australian Standard provide independent access for everyone.
      5. Minimum compliance guarantees all people with disability cannot use everything in a building.
      6. Access consultants know everything about access, disability and universal design.

The article is by Joe Manton who concludes, “If we allow ourselves to be constrained by the minimum we will never aspire to the maximum. The legacy will be mediocrity.”  The title of the article is Minimum Compliance Means Missed Opportunities and Mediocrity


Design and Diversity: Getting started

Three girls of colour smile at the camera. They are in a room with rows of chairs. As the Black Lives Matter movement continues across various industries, it becomes clear that white people still dominate. According to one survey in the US, just 3% of designers identify as Black. Consequently, things we use every day are designed from white experience. And young people don’t see designers who look like them. But just employing more people of colour or from different backgrounds is no guarantee of culture change. It’s culture change that makes the difference – not just workforce diversity. 

Black boys in action on the basketball court.An article in FastCompany discusses how young people of colour are being offered free courses to develop their design skills. Mo Woods who works for Microsoft explains how design agencies can connect with communities as part of the change process. He runs a not for profit that offers free design courses and workshops. It shows how design can be a viable career. Getting into communities isn’t easy. Mo Woods provides the example of starting a basketball program and then introducing a design element such as sneakers or team logo. This creates an entry point for introducing young people to design. Woods’ project is called the Inneract Project.

The title of the article is, One Microsoft designer’s quest to make the industry more inclusive.  An interesting project where designers also end up on their own learning curve.

There is another article on the same topic, People of color are wildly underrepresented in design. This game hopes to help fix it. It’s about a board game.

Covid-safe and accessibility

A disinfectant wipe is used to wipe over a mobile phone and computer keyboard.While planning Covid-safe processes and procedures it’s easy to forget accessibility. To the rescue comes a handy checklist with things to watch out for. The higher education advice applies to almost all built environments where people are coming and going. Here are some of the key points:

    • Remind maintenance staff to sanitise accessible features: tactile and Braille signage, and automatic door openers.
    • Make floor markers high contrast: one way arrows in hallways, for example.
    • Ensure floor markings are clear and intuitive. Where to stand should be obvious. Boxes individuals can stand in are clearer than lines or cross-markings.
    • Eliminate protruding objects and trip hazards: wall mounted sanitisers, A-frame signs, for example.

The Disability Compliance in Higher Education newsletter also includes a short piece on planning universal design into facilities.

A previous edition of the Disability Compliance in Higher Education newsletter covers the teaching and learning aspects. It’s titled, Moves to online instruction: accessibility cheat sheet.