Nursing home design: It could be deadly

An older woman in a red jacket uses a cane to walk with a younger woman along a pathway.Nursing homes, not to be confused with retirement villages, are under the spotlight, and rightly so. Their design is showing how infection is almost impossible to control. With two or four people in a room and dated systems it’s time to re-think design. A FastCo article has some advice from experts.

An obvious start is for residents to have their own room within a cluster that has its own living and dining room. This is so any infection outbreak can be contained in the cluster. Private rooms also allow more flexibility for family visits. 

In Oslo, a cluster of cottages allows care and socialisation in the form of an outdoor retreat. Also suited to enabling family visits. The article also discusses removing unhealthy building materials such as glues and paints that generate gases. 

Progressive thinking about nursing homes and aged care is leaning towards housing that mixes all ages including children. While this doesn’t address infection control, it does build in socialisation opportunities. Perhaps this pandemic is a chance to stop and think outside the box.

The title of the article is, Nursing home design is deadly. Here’s how to change it. 


Returning to work with universal design

A modern office with lots of space and workstations by windows.Returning to work post-pandemic might be a bit scary. A useful article addressing the psycho-social issues discusses universal design as a wellbeing solution. That is, to place equal weight on the wellbeing of all employees.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, Bonnie Sanborn argues that universal design principles increase employees’ perception of being valued at work. For example, adjustable workstations and social spaces with easy access for all employees. Being able to freely express concerns and ideas without fear of reprisals gives a sense of psychological safety.

Suggestions include creating layouts where all employees have equal access to the best views. This might mean allocating this space as a common area. A blanket standard for ergonomic features on furnishing might sound equal but doesn’t cater for differing needs. Giving people the right tools and equipment for the job shows the boss understands the nature of their job. 

The article, The Psychology of Returning to the Office: How Design Helps, discusses these factors and more. There is a reference list at the end.


Retirement villages: Boomers are over them

The Longevity by Design banner in pink and purple.Age-friendly communities where people of all ages live, work and play could be the way of the future. That means the desirability of age-segregated living could be on the way out. Many people will live 30 years after the age of 65 years. So time to re-think the notion of retirement and what that means for urban design and retirement villages.

An ABC article reports on the Longevity by Design Challenge. The idea of the challenge was to identify ways to prepare and adapt Australian cities to capitalise on our longevity bonus. It seems walled and gated age-segregated enclaves might have had their day. Instead, the future might hold more age-inclusive neighbourhoods where older people continue to contribute into late age. So, no more need for doom and gloom about population ageing.

A scene from the charrette where people are sitting round a table discussing their project.Key points emerging from the challenge were inclusive infrastructure, people of all ages together, and a mobility “ecosystem” made up of different types of transport options. The underpinning principles turned out to be age-friendly communities, something the World Health Organization has promoted for more than ten years.

As an urban design challenge the design of homes suited for all ages was not included.

The ABC article is titled, Retirement villages have had their day: Baby boomers are rethinking retirement

Design mobilised by a pandemic?

a row of public toilet handbasins sit in front of a large mirror. There are sensor taps and soap dispensers. Seems a pandemic is causing designers to consider designs from another perspective. An article on the ABC website discusses a re-think of both public toilet design and workplace design. FastCo website has a similar article on public bathroom design. They are both about infection control. But what might any new designs mean for people with disability, older people and people from diverse backgrounds?

Some suggestions have links to a universal design approach. Automatic doors to the bathroom or no door at all, sensor taps and sensor soap dispensers for a start. Women queuing inside and outside toilets has to be re-thought as well. But some immediate makeshift ideas might not work for everyone. The ABC article includes a picture of a large hook so people to use their forearm to open the door. However, the problem needs to be considered as whole, not just a door and a tap.

The article from FastCo looks deeper into the issues and the potential designs of the future. It goes beyond the details of sensor taps and looks at the design of the bathroom space itself. There are more issues than just touching surfaces and washing hands. A door hook is clearly not sufficient to prevent the spread of infection, and doesn’t solve the problem of social distancing.  

The title of the article on the ABC website is, Experts suggest public toilets and offices should be re-engineered to reduce the spread of infection

The title of the article on the FastCo website is, We may have to rethink the toilet seat altogether: How the coronavirus could change bathrooms for the better. 

The pandemic shows that designers can take a front seat for solving public health issues. But it shouldn’t take an emergency to make design changes for inclusion. However, it does show the importance of design and designers in our everyday life. 

Editor’s note: the noise of electric hand dryers make public toilets unusable for some people with autism. They also stir up any bugs lurking in the bathroom. People shaking off excess water before using the dryer isn’t a good idea either. 


Bath Tubs: Fashion vs Function

A bath tub sits in int he middle of the room. It is taller than the standard bathtub and sculpted into a shape with high ends with thin sides.The current bathroom trend is freestanding bathtubs. But the glamour of this kind of tub is washed away when you can’t use it or have an accident doing so. The transcript of a podcast by the Universal Design Project discusses the pros and cons of these bathtubs. Here are a couple of pertinent snippets from the discussion:

“A lot of times when someone is curious about universal design or accessibility, they’ll do a quick Google search to see what they can learn about it. Usually, they’ll search for pictures too so that they can get a better idea of how someone might have implemented universal design features in the past. But we’ve found that many times these pictures aren’t really depicting universal design and it’s very possible that architects and builders will see these pictures assume the design works for everyone, and run with it, and that might not be the best thing to do, especially in bathrooms.

“Most of our design advisors agreed … that they are dangerous and not functional. … [One of]the biggest flaws of this tub is that the sides are way too tall, the edges are way too narrow and it’s way too deep. These three flaws have a huge impact on how someone is able to get in and out of the tub. 

The podcast goes on to recommend some design improvements, but that “we really needed to go with a regular tub set up”.

Freestanding tubs are meant to stand away from walls. There are two problems with this. The tub is usually near a wall but not near enough to put a steadying hand on the wall or access a grab rail if needed, but not far enough away to make cleaning easy. In situations where the shower is over the bath as well, a grab bar is probably essential.

The best part about this fashion is that free standing bath tubs are usually set in larger bathrooms. This has to be a plus for accessibility, bathing children and for helping someone in the bathroom. 

Freestanding tubs, are they safe? is part of The Universal Design Project Good Fit Bad Fit series, and you can access the podcast as well as the transcript.  

Easy English and COVID-19

A page from the guide on retirement money.The coronavirus pandemic has produced a lot of information about the many changes to the way we do things. Many sources of information are available, but are they designed with everyone in mind? This is where Easy English and Easy Read have a very important role to play. Easy English and Easy Read are based on the fact that 44% of the population has low literacy skills. It is not specifically for people with intellectual disability. This requires content designed specifically for this group. So we are talking mainstream.
Cathy Basterfield has developed several free Easy English versions of important information. As well as the obvious stay home messages, Cathy has blog content on schools, money, and jobkeeper rules. Here are some links to the money information that can be downloaded from her site:

      1. A page from the guide on $750.Retirement money
      2. Help for retired people
      3. Help for apprentices and trainees
      4. You get a pension now
      5. You lost your job
      6. Who gets $750? 

This is only a fraction of her offerings. There’s rules for nursing homes, time to clean, lockdown, washing hands and much more. She has a blog page that explains Easy English and Easy Read if you want to know more. 

Editor’s note: Even as a person with good literacy skills, I find Easy English a quick and easy way to understand the key points. I think much of the confusion in the community is due to politicians and others using lots of words when fewer would do, and speaking quickly. When journalists ask questions of politicians they add to the confusion because the politician says the same thing again only using different words. 


No need to “fear the ugly”

A living room showing a staircase to the next level and a neatly fitted elevator.The Washington Post extols the virtues of universal design making the point that it can look beautiful. Regardless of how it looks, many people think it feels beautiful. That’s because it is good design – design that has a focus on comfort and convenience for the whole family. However, as is often the case, the article focuses on wheelchair access. Perhaps with so many injured veterans this is more of a focus in the US. The article discusses interior design in different settings and emphasises the “wellness” aspect of design. 

One key point is that of Boomers watching their parents go to age segregated living and they know they don’t want that themselves. Dallas interior designer Chad Dorsey says, ” “It starts outside with an ease of approach — something gracious,” he says: simple, elegant entrances that accommodate a wheelchair; shallow, illuminated steps with a handsome handrail; or a textured stone that provides traction. There are all sorts of ways to make a front door welcoming. “The more we talk about it, discuss it and show it, the more solutions we’ll find. Accessibility is a lifestyle, and it can be beautiful and natural.” ” There is no need to “fear the ugly”.

The article has lots of pictures, which are worth a look, showing how universal design can create access and comfort for everyone. The title of the article is, Accessible design is growing. But can it be beaurtiful?

Image courtesy of Motionspot. Note that while the lift provides access to the upper floor, the staircase has no hand rail or balustrade. If anyone trips or loses their balance, at least there is a lift if they become immobile! 

Online Meetings: Middle Class Standard Time?

A laptop screen shows several faces of people who are meeting online.Are your online meetings inclusive? Or did you get caught up in a middle class meeting culture? An article from The Commons discusses this and the need to consider the wellbeing of the group while trying to get through every agenda item. The article lists some key phrases that indicate you might be driving the meeting to hard and fast. For example, “As you can see, we’re packing a lot in today”, and ” We’ve got a lot of ground to cover in the time”. Phrases like these indicate you might be on Middle Class Standard Time says Andrew Willis Garcés.

Garcés discusses middle class values in the context of the business meeting. Workaholism, formal relationships, focus on task above all else, hierarchy and conflict avoidance. He goes on to look at the consequences of the Middle Class Standard Time and ways to avoid them. Other resources include, Leading Groups Online

A really insightful piece that can help us to recognise our biases and improve our online meetings. Easy read.


Home and away with bathrooms

A toilet sign with three icons: one indicating female, one male, and one both. The words are we don't care - just wash your hands.The latest access consultants’ newsletter has a focus on bathrooms in different settings as well as continence problems.  Specific designs for aged care settings, and technical information for accessible toilets are covered in this issue.

There’s also a discussion on the best terminology for labelling public toilets. Gender neutral was a term coined a while back, but there are new thoughts. Many people who identify as transgender or intersex feel unsafe in public toilets. A survey in the US found more than half avoided public bathrooms and use strategies like not drinking.

We all have to go at some time, and some more often than others. Bladder problems mean planning trips, short or long, around the availability of public toilets as the first priority. They are essential for getting out and about and staying active.

Bottom line – should we have any toilets designated and signed by gender or should they just be toilets?  As the sign says – Who cares? Just wash your hands.

Other items are World Hearing Day and Autism Awareness Day. The newsletter can be accessed online through issuu, or downloaded in a 9MB PDF file


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 already thinking about people with autism, they soon will be, or should be. People with autism 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 – it’s 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. 

There’s also the easy to read FastCo article, How to Design for Autism. As with most thoughtful design that aims to be inclusive, convenient and welcoming, designing interiors for children with autism makes for good interiors for children generally. Close attention was paid to texture, acoustics, and lighting conditions—features just as applicable to the rest of the world when it comes to designing autism-friendly spaces. The architect behind the design of the Center of Autism and the Developing Brain says the key is to be sensitive to light, sight, textures, and sounds. The article can be downloaded from the website.