What evidence? I’ll stick to what I know

Basilica tower at Pisa, Italy. It shows the lean to the right compared to the Basilica building. A culturally-ingrained habit of confirmation bias might be one of the reasons we still don’t have universal design in mass market housing. “This is the way it’s been done in the past, and no one’s been sued, therefore we will stick to this”. This quote from a stakeholder in an article by The Fifth Estate might be why the house building industry is missing the big picture.  The article is based on research by Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute where they looked at the question of social housing being treated as infrastructure in the same way as transport. But should it be treated as infrastructure or continue to be treated as welfare? According to the article, the most popular form of evidence used was feedback from previous projects: which implies that the practitioners tended not to look outside of their comfort zone. That’s how confirmation bias begins especially when the building industry claims that research is too hard to understand.

The Fifth Estate Article is titled, Why the building industry and social housing are missing the big picture. The AHURI article is a Policy Evidence Summary, Understanding business case frameworks for social housing. It is based on the Final Report No. 312.  

Medieval cities need not be “disabled”

A medieval town square with a cobbled pavement.When the user of a place or thing is most likely to be a person with disability, it is often labelled “disabled”. But what about places being disabled? “Disabled” in it’s original meaning is something that doesn’t work. So, if the chain of accessibility for everyone is missing, the place is indeed disabled. This was pointed out in an article in The Guardian: “People aren’t disabled, their city is“. 

The story is about the Dutch medieval city of Breda – now one of the most accessible in Europe. This is because there is “joined up” access throughout – not a bit here and a bit there. They have pulled up cobblestones and re-laid them upside down to create a flatter surface. Hotels are on board too. The key point is that the local authorities have a commitment to inclusion and accessibility and that’s what makes the difference. The next major step will be improving digital communication. See the article for more information.

How will we know when we have achieved inclusion? It will be the day when separate labelling for places and things is no longer required. 

Diveristy in Advertising

A busy night street scene in America showing neon brand signs.Who is in the room when decisions about diversity are made can be crucial to the design of an advertising campaign. This point is made in a FastCo article that showcases a new online tool to help brands make advertising more inclusive. Who makes the advertising and who appears in it is as important as what is being advertised. Big name brands need to consider who they are reflecting back to us.

Advertising agencies claim they have difficulty sourcing diverse individuals for their ads. Grow your Circle is an open source database that aims to bring together diverse advertisers and actors. The idea started when a company wanted an all-female production crew and found it difficult to fill every position. The idea of the database is a good one, but it remains to be seen if it really takes off. At least someone is trying. The article has a video explaining the issues. Would be good to see a similar database in Australia.

Editor’s note: Ageing (aging) and disability did not come up on my search. However, they did appear in a cluster where Black, Hispanic and Women are search terms. The database has a way to go before it is well populated. 

Dementia Friendly Kiama

Three people sit around a table in a cafe with the waitperson ready to take an order.Kiama Council in NSW has taken steps to make their community “Dementia Friendly”.  The aim is to keep people connected to family and community and avoid early entry into the residential care system. The SBS News channel showcases this example on their online news page. There is also a video of the story (without closed captions).

This is very topical as the Royal Commission into Aged Care continues. “Dementia researcher Professor Richard Fleming of Wollongong University says authorities should also realise that “the built environment can be used as a form of restraint”. 

The news story also discusses the role of “dementia villages” and whether they are the right way to go in the future. Perhaps the first step is to talk about people rather than patients.

This initiative would also help people with other cognitive conditions.

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 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.

Design Principles to Live and Die by

A text box with a grey background and white text with the heading: 8 Design Principles to Live and Die By, According to Facebook, IBM, Pentagram and MoreThe 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.

An abstract pattern of muted blue and orange squares of different sizes.


UD in Housing: Good for Everyone

Part of the front cover of the Livable Housing Design GuidelinesWhy 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.  

See also the Australian Building Codes Board’s Options Paper on accessible housing and the subsequent report in preparation for a Regulation Impact Statement. CUDA’s submission gets a few mentions in the report.

Editor’s note: The article was written by yours truly, Jane Brigolf

Housing for All is a policy imperative

A new home showing the entry with six steps to the front door.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.  

ACAA newsletter: Open & shut case

Front cover of Access Insight Newsletter.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.  

The association’s  next conference will be in Sydney 14-16 August 2019.

Richard Duncan also takes a look at doors in a residential setting.

Sensory furniture for kids

Agirl sits on a bean bag style chair. Next to her is a desk and chair. The chair is designed to rock.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.