Measuring the benefits of UD

A picture montage showing various urban settingsThe benefits of inclusive design and the way it contributes to wellbeing are difficult to measure. David Bonnett writes in a Design Council article that being able to explain the benefits is important. While it is relatively easy to apply inclusive thinking to new buildings, homes, and transport, older buildings are another matter.  Bonnett points out that, “Tesco, Sainsbury’s and other retailers will readily justify expenditure on inclusive design by improved retail figures. Regrettably our public health professionals do not yet have a similar cost benefit analysis to draw on”. While the benefits seem really obvious to many, intuition is not enough – it has to be quantified.

This Design Council is running a CPD program to raise awareness of the importance of inclusive environments. There is other useful information on inclusive environments on this website. 

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Walkable, rollable, seatable, toiletable.

A busy pedestrian street with lots of restaurant tables on both sides.We need a broader term than walkable to explain how everyone can be actively mobile in the community, says Lloyd Alter. In his blog article he adds that unless you are “young and fit and have perfect vision and aren’t pushing a stroller… many streets aren’t walkable at all…” Alter takes his point from a new book where other terms are coined:

  • Rollability. Walkability isn’t enough anymore
  • Strollerability, for people with kids
  • Walkerability, for older people pushing walkers
  • Seeability, for the vision impaired
  • Seatability – places to sit down and rest
  • Toiletability – places to go to the bathroom.

“All of these contribute to making a city useable for everyone. So we need a broader term for this” says Alter. His suggestions are activemobility, or activeability to cover all the ways different people get around in cities. He says he is open to suggestions for a better word. I thought Universal Design would cover all of the above.

There are links to other articles related to this topic such as street furniture designed for discomfort, and how investment in public toilets would reap many benefits. 

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Survey: Housing design needs overhaul in UK

A distance view of different houses in a UK town.A survey of 4000 UK residents shows that most people (72%) want every new home to be accessible for people of all ages and level of ability. The survey was commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better. But there seem to be some contradictions. While 72% said this is a good idea, almost half the respondents said it wouldn’t make a difference to their decision to purchase a home. Only one third said it would make a difference. It looks like a case of “I’ll worry about it when the time comes”. Of course when the time comes it’s often too late. Few people plan for older age, chronic health conditions or disability when it comes to housing design. 

Other information from the survey shows that almost two thirds of respondents don’t think their current home would be suitable to age in place, with nearly half actually worried about it. Centre for Better Ageing produced a press release with the survey information. There is another article on this topic on The Parliamentary Review website.  

Editor’s comment: The market mechanisms of demand and supply don’t apply in this situation where purchasing decisions are not always rational. In this situation the public purse has to pick up the fallout in terms of increased falls, longer hospital stays and aged care places. 

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Inclusive illustrations: What’s in a face?

Four male and female couples with different skin tones and face shapesIf there is no photo or graphic to go with a story, it’s often left to someone else to choose a picture. Often this is a stock photo that might not convey the intended message. Stock photos of older people are often patronising: young and old hands, or a young person looking lovingly at an older person. Similarly, stock photos of wheelchair users often use non-disabled models and not people with disability. So this is a timely article and guideline from an illustrator about how to add diversity to your brand whether an organisation, service or a product. The title of the article is, Your Face Here: Creating illustration guidelines for a more inclusive visual identity.

“Words can set the tone for a company, but it’s the pictures that give it a face. Illustration has yet to find its place in the tech world, because it’s often unconsidered and thrown in on the fly. Whether being used to distill complex messages or add a touch of whimsy, illustration is one piece that makes up a company’s visual brand identity.”  There are other interesting design articles on this blog site.

Also have a look at these stock photos of older people and see what you think.

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Seeking best case examples in home design

Australian Network for Universal Housing Design is seeking good practice examples of universal design in housing, either as a new dwelling or a renovation to an existing dwelling. ANUHD will not be appraising these examples, but they should show how they meet the principles and features of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines or similar guidelines. ANUHD will collate these examples and will launch them on their website in March 2019 for visitors to see. 

If you know of or have designed a good example of universal design in housing, please complete the submission form in Word or in PDF, or send to ANUHD directly by email by 28 Februrary with the following information:

  • Name of Architect, Designer or Builder
  • Contact email/website
    (Website visitors can then contact you directly for more information.)
  • Type of building
  • Description (100 words)
  • Photo (that does not identify the residents or their location)
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Latest bathroom trends include UD

Bathroom study front coverRenovations are an important part of the home building industry and it seems older people in the US might finally be realising that they need to choose designs that will allow them to stay put as they age. But are builders on board with this? It’s no good waiting until a client actually needs the features because by then, they will often not have the wherewithal to organise it. So it could be institutional care or a restricted lifestyle from there on. The 2018 Houzz Bathroom Trends Study is a comprehensive report that has some interesting statistics about the age at which people might start thinking of their future needs and doing something about it. It also shows what they are actually doing in terms of renovation design. An interesting and easy to read study which supports the idea that these features should be designed into the home in the first place. 

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Ground floor bedroom is a UD concept

A double bed in a room with French windows to an outdoor area.The Colorado Builder magazine has an article that discusses the virtues of a ground floor master bedroom and ensuite in a two storey home. And it has advantages beyond those of finding the stairs difficult and staying home in later age. For this reason it’s argued that it’s a core element of universal design. The article goes on to say that in larger homes, two master bedrooms can be included and this then becomes a bonus feature for visiting relatives, or perhaps after a skiing accident. Here is the list of benefits from the article titled, First-floor master bedrooms: A trend with staying power:

  • As bones and joints age, a main-floor master eliminates the need to climb stairs. It also reduces the risk of falls.
  • As anyone who’s ever lugged a mattress up a narrow flight of stairs can attest, it’s much easier to move furniture in and out of a room on the ground floor.
  • First-floor bedrooms are usually close to the most frequently used spaces in a home, such as the kitchen, living room and entryway, making it easier for residents to catch all the action.
  • Even in a house with two stories, a master suite on the first floor can be constructed in addition to a second-floor master bedroom. This not only makes it easy for homeowners to change rooms as they grow older, but it also provides the perfect space for older overnight visitors. They may also elect to designate the upper floor for the kids’ rooms, a playroom or perhaps a study space, which helps to preserve the master bedroom’s peace and quiet.
  • Adding French or sliding glass doors to main-floor masters makes indoor/outdoor living a breeze.
  • Homes designed with a first-floor master bedroom or suite generally sell faster and for more money.
  • Aging in place becomes a real possibility, and that’s of paramount importance to most Americans.

Editor’s Note: Although this is a great idea for all the reasons above, I wonder how happy people will be about not being able to access their whole home. Another option is to include a storage cupboard arrangement on both floors that can be removed later to allow for a through floor home elevator. This would be closer to a universal design principles than being isolated on the ground floor. 

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Self driving cars: trust and inclusion

Self driving vehicle on the road.The race is on for designing a self driving car that everyone trusts. While this is essential, it also needs to be a car that everyone can use. Mark Wilson writes for FastCompany about his test “drive” experiences of these vehicles. Reading his detailed experiences from a universal design perspective, there is still a way to go in the overall design. The developments so far show much thought about convenience, such as your smartphone linking to the car so it knows it’s you. They are using the phone to give instructions. This is a technology that needs to be followed closely as it has the potential to improve inclusion or inadvertently cause more exclusion. A very interesting article; “The fate of self-driving cars hangs on a $7 trillion design problem“.

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Frank Lloyd Wright and UD

A view showing the large windows overlooking the gardenHouzz online magazine has an article about a 1952 Frank Lloyd Wright home that they claim is a model of universal design. The Chicago home was actually designed specifically for a “disabled homeowner” – a wheelchair user. This kind of presentation of universal design confuses people and adds to the notion that universal design is for people with disability and not a mainstream idea. The article by Gwendolyn Purdom describes the single-storey construction, A view of the open plan kitchen. The home has a lot of timber in the construction and the furniture.lowered doorknobs and light switches, wider doorways, drop down cabinets and sufficient turning space for a wheelchair. Pictures of work benches with nothing below are the wheelchair obvious features. Apparently the features blend seamlessly into the home. The article goes on to provide sound advice to others such as thinking about universal design from the beginning of the design. The original owners kept the home exactly the same until their death in 2012. This home has been open to the public since 2014. Several pictures illustrate the article. I doubt Frank Lloyd Wright took any of these design features into his future designs to make them mainstream. This was most likely a one-off. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the furniture too.

Thanks to Richard Duncan for finding this item.

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Toronto magazine: The cities we need

front cover of the magazine showing two girls skipping on a concrete play space with tower buildings in the background.The University of Toronto Magazine is about cities. It has four feature articles and accessibility is one of them. The article is a personal story of a father who asks what would a city without barriers look like? The question comes because his daughter is a wheelchair user. He lists six disabling things apart from steps and stairs. First is the issue of garbage bins littering the walkway after collection; the second is finding someone who is responsible for operating portable ramps; help buttons in the wrong place or need excessive force; broken and uneven footpaths; a loose piece of carpeting; and narrow footpaths that don’t allow people to pass. The article is written by Professor Ron Buliung, who is a transportation researcher, and that is his research question: What would a city without barriers look like?  The article begins on page 24. Other articles on city living are about sustainability, having fun, and affordability. 

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