Design is supposed be democratising, but according to the Design Council in UK, it seems designers have to look, or act, in a certain way. We should ask why in 2018 this is still the case. Design disciplines still lack diversity in teaching and learning – the majority are male and come from higher socio-economic groups. These points are made in the Design Council article about a father who has designed a virtual reality headset that is suitable for children and adults who get distressed with too much stimulation. Because he doesn’t fit the ideal designer stereotype he has been unable to get financial backing for his invention that makes a better life for his daughter and others. The video in the linkexplains it clearly.
Community workers sometimes say they are making change one conversation at a time. Making change one haircut at a time is what one hairdresser is doing. She has found a way to cut the hair of children with autism so it is not a major ordeal. The article comes from ABC Newsand has a video showing how it is done. The salon also caters for other people who often find it difficult to find a hairdresser that will accommodate their individual requirements. People with disability like to look good too – something that is not often realised by others. The article explains how this hairdresser has adapted her salon and her skills to make a haircut an pleasant experience for all. Other services could learn from this example.
At last some creative design thinking in assistive technologies. No, assistive devices do not need to look ugly and purely functional, but too often they are. The FastCompany website has an interesting article about technology designed to be discrete and not stigmatising. Probably the most interesting design is a robot disguised as a coffee table that is also a walking aid. Then there is the GPS navigator for people who are blind that is designed as bracelets. Not keeping up with the App world and the move from CDs to Spotify? There’s a device to help which is especially useful for people not born in the digital age. The link to the coffee table is well work a look.
It’s unlikely that autism is a “male condition” according to research reported in The Guardian. It seems that girls exhibit slightly different behaviours to boys and this is why it goes undiagnosed. This is partially because girls are better as masking their traits. What’s this got to do with universal design? It’s another case of bias in design – this time in the design of science studies. More inclusive thinking is required in the design of medical studies and that means more co-design with people with disability and people from diverse backgrounds. The article includes a video of a girl and her parents explaining what it is like to grow up with autism. The article, “Thousands of autistic girls and women ‘going undiagnosed’ due to gender bias” is from UK.
Richard Duncan reminds us about design features that we never think of as “accessible”. For example, how would supermarket shoppers manage without automatic doors? These doors are everywhere and we don’t think twice about it. But more to the point, we probably do notice any door that doesn’t open automatically when our hands are full or we are pushing a trolley or stroller. That’s when universal design becomes visible – when it’s not there.
When it comes to doors, the worst offenders are revolving doors and that is why many building codes require a separate door for people who cannot navigate the revolving contraption. Other devices we don’t think about are beeping noises at traffic lights. As more people have their heads down looking at their phones, this device designed for people who are blind has become good for many more. Lever handles and taps are now the norm because they are useable by everyone and probably more hygienic. Video captioning has also become a favourite for everyone watching social media on smart phones. Richard Duncan’s article, Hidden Universal Design: Commercial doors, is on his Linked In page.
There are lots of reasons why some people have difficulty communicating. It can arise from a brain injury, a stroke, or a condition such as motor neurone disease. Inability to communicate easily often means that people avoid social situations due to feeling inferior. The Conversation article, We can all help to improve communication for people with disabilities, lists some of the simple things that remove the barriers to communication. They range from the kind of devices used by Stephen Hawking, to just giving the person time to finish what they are trying to say. Speech is just one aspect of the issue, hearing is the other. There is useful information under each of the headings in the article:
Remove communication barriers
Prepare for communication success
Build a conversation together
Use communication aids and alternative strategies when you talk.
Good to see some creative thinking in opening a cafe that welcomes people with dementia. The Design Council article explains how this cafe started with two women who were working in a dementia care facility. They wanted to do more for people living in the community. With financial support from the local council and a crowdfunding campaign they raised sufficient funds to get the Moments Cafe up and running. The Cafe has an office facility above and this is used as an administrative centre for the additional activities they run. The article is a case study in the Design Council Transform Ageing series.
Which name or label to use when talking accessibility, universality and inclusion in design? This is a question in an article on the Adobe Blog site. Is it just semantics? Maybe. But they are intertwined and in the context of ICT and websites it might make a difference to some. Matt May writes that “Accessibility is the goal to ensure that products support each individual user’s needs and preferences. “Universal design is for everyone, literally, and inclusive design expands with your audience as new design ideas emerge. He cites the definition of inclusive design from the Inclusive Design Research Centre in Toronto: “design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference”. Is this not how universal design is explained? Better to accept that universal design is about diversity and therefore we can expect a diversity of explanations. As long as the aim is for social and economic inclusion for all then the meaning is in the doing and the outcomes. It’s worth noting that the UN Conventionon the Rights of Persons with Disabilities uses the term “Universal Design” and interprets it as an iterative approach to achieving equity and inclusion.
The current issue of Designs 4 Living has two articles relevant to universal design. The first on page 9 is about creating level access to a home using landscaped design solutions. The second is about sea cruising with a mobility device – page 12. Other articles are aimed at the American market and relate more to assistive technology and specialised designs. Worth a look. The magazine is published onlineon Flipsnack. Not sure how accessible this format is.
What if mothers and age pensioners were designers? asks Christine Murray in the UK edition of The Guardian. She laments the low number of females in architecture, “they are all male and pale” also alluding to the lack of ethnic diversity as well. She analyses the built environment and transport systems from the perspective of a mother with small children and a pram, and includes lack of toilets for good measure. While this article is based on Murray’s experiences in London, I hope that there are some things we do better in Australian cities. However, we are still a long way from meeting policy commitments on accessible public transport and train stations. In Sydney I regularly see people dragging suitcases up steps at train stations as well as strollers. At least it can be done albeit with effort. But what if you can’t do steps?