Better world with Google Maps

A cartoon drawing with figures with wheels - wheelchair, wheelie walker and a woman pushing a baby strollerSmart phones have changed many things about the way we live.There are apps for almost anything. Some are of particular benefit to people with disability and create greater convenience and independence. Smart phone owners will be familiar with Google Maps for navigating both short and long distances. The maps also contain additional information about parking, places to eat, toilets, and more. For people with wheels, knowing the level of accessibility is critical to their journey and destination planning, whether its a holiday or a local restaurant. Google is encouraging people to sign up to their mapping project that will expand their database of accessible places, spaces and points of interest. You can find out more about this project and see two really interesting videos. One is a wheelchair user in Chicago, and the other is in Indonesia – she uses a modified motor bike to get around. There is also a short introductory video with the key points.

Of course, parents with strollers or anyone with wheels, or with difficulty walking will find this map information useful, so this is taking us closer to a universally designed world. 


The techno kitchen

picture shows a still shot of the kitchen in the video demonstrating the height adjustable benchLooking to update your kitchen? Here are some nice little additions to make life easier for everyone in the “connected kitchen”. Height adjustable work-surfaces and sinks, cupboards and drawers open with the minimum of effort. It won’t be long before these features are standard. And not forgetting the in-bench screen – you can watch your cooking show right there while working in the kitchen.


UD and the Internet of Things

Close up of Todd Stabelfeldt with yellow text over The QuadfatherThe development of digital technology has made made possible many things that were impossible. A cliché to some, but for many people with disability it has real meaning. What is a convenience for some becomes independence for others. The IBM blog features what looks like an extended advertisement for Apple iPhones, but a closer look at Innovating for people with disabilities: Why companies should invest in universal design, discusses how the Internet of Things has changed the world and is now designing for diversity. Tracey Lindeman says that embracing the principles of universal design makes financial sense in the log run as retrofitting can be costly. It may also uncover unintended client bases – a device for people with low vision can help a fire fighter in a smoke filled building. The article contains some nice videos explaining how technology has opened up life and created new opportunities to participate and to retain dignity and independence. Nicely written piece.



Stop talking about accessibility…

drawing of two computer screensThe envato blog features an article that begins, “Accessibility… Wait! Don’t stop reading! This isn’t a preachy article about how you should design your digital platforms to be more friendly to the disabled. No. This is a hard-nosed business article about maximizing your potential audience and your profits at the same time. Keep reading, I promise it is worth it.”  The article, Stop talking about accessibility. Start talking about inclusive design, by Paul Boag, goes on to say people have the wrong view of accessibility: “If we are honest we tend to think of blind people.” He says it is time to rebrand accessibility in this easy to read article. He ends with “So next time a client or colleague says they don’t have disabled customers, ask them what they mean. Because they could be turning away more than 1 in 5 of their customers.”

Editor’s Note: Terminology for inclusive practice is critical to success. Accessibility is linked to disability rights and is often legislated. This is why it is still considered to be something for “the others”, and not for everyone. As a human rights issue, inclusion has been hard fought over many years. The terms universal design and inclusive design are still often interpreted as “disabled design”. I wrote a paper on the issues of terminology, Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same?  It’s a universal mix-up. Jane Bringolf.


Hearing loss makes it harder to remember

Adults seated at tables in a classroom setting looking forward to the instructor at the front of the roomIn Shari Eberts’ blog article, Does Hearing Loss Make it Harder to Remember Things? she explains how people with hearing loss are using most of their brain capacity to interpret sounds. Consequently there is not much left over for remembering.This is particularly the case where there is a lot of background noise. In information situations, such as fire training, this is an important factor in ensuring everyone will remember what to do. In learning situations it also a significant consideration. This finding supports the case for instant captioning of live events and closed captioning in pre-filmed situations. A study on student learning also found that captioning helped learning. Where captioning is not possible, reducing cognitive load is another strategy. That means selecting places where background noise is minimal, speaking clearly and not too fast, using a microphone, and allowing sufficent time for questions. Other studies have found that visual information is more easily remembered by everyone, so pictures and videos would work well in information sessions and instructional situations.  


Inclusive video gaming

A young woman avatar with yellow hair and a white dress with yellow flowers holds out her arm that is a black prosthesisA recent article in The Guardian explains how video game developers are designing avatar elements to be more representative of population diversity. There is a growing realisation that choice of skin tone, gender, ethnicity or physical ability for a character is important to players for the “looks like me” appeal. Games are a key element of childhood and teenage life, so it is important to have avatars that represent them. Xbox now have avatars that allow players to depict themselves as wheelchair users or having prosthetic limbs, as well as other atributes such as body shape and skin colour. The article includes a section on gender non-conforming players using gaming as a means for helping them with their coming out process. Games are also a way for children to share time with others when they might not be able to communicate verbally. The article nicely counters arguments about diversity being a fad or holding back creativity:

“When people dismiss representation as a political fad, as an imposition on the creative process, as a means of ticking off lists, they are almost always doing this from a position of privilege. The argument that it’s not the gender, ethnicity or physical abilities of a character that are important, but whether they’re written well and fun to play, is easier to make if you’re already being comfortably represented. It is easy to assume your experience is universal. But it isn’t.” 

A young male and young female are depicted as wheelchair usersA very readable article covering the diversity spectrum in gaming. Short explanatory videos are included.


Fire protection and accessibility

burning house at night timeScott Williams writes in Sourceable about the safety of older Australians in fire and other emergency situations. It is good to see this being discussed. Sprinkler systems are a key ingredient, but easy and safe access and egress into and within buildings and homes is also important. Williams writes that the Australian Building Codes Board is keen to make the National Construction Code (formerly the Australian Building Code) more accessible. He means, more readable. This is somewhat ironic as what we really need is a NCC that includes accessibility for all in the built environment, not just readability of the NCC for builders and designers with differing reading abilities. Nonetheless, this is taking up the basic philosophy of universal design – inclusion and usability – it’s a start. Issues of climate change and bushfires are mentioned in the article as well as the issues of dealing with solar panels in a fire situation. 


Check out relaxed shopping

A large sign at a supermarket checkout lane saying in red lettering, Relaxed Lane, feel free to take as long a you needTesco Supermarkets in the UK have launched a “relaxed” checkout where shoppers can take their time to unload the trolley and get out their money without anyone tut-tutting behind them. This is a good example of inclusion by parallel design. It is still a universal design because anyone can use it, but it will mostly benefit people who need time to think and organise themselves, or are just a bit slower than others with their movements. This means a lot less stress and will encourage people to keep doing their shopping by themselves. A parent with three small children might also decide to use it – another example where considering people with disability benefits many more people than you first thought of.

This is not a specially designed checkout, so any supermarket can adopt this customer service idea. The Mirror online newspaper has a short video, and there is more from the Kiddermister Shuttle website.


Forget-me-not: Dementia friendly communities

A woman holding a baguette is reaching across a market stallA suburb of London has just been named as dementia friendly. Now campaigners want the whole of London to be dementia friendly – but what would that mean? Probably the most important factor is the way businesses have come on board with this campaign. The idea is for people with dementia to feel confident in getting out and about and participating for as long as possible. There is no single template for designing for dementia, rather it is based on the local people and their experiences of interacting with the environment and coming up with solutions. It is a bottom up approach to designing which is really the basis of universal design thinking. We could do with more of this thinking in Australia. The article comes from the Guardian online newspaper.

You can also find out what Moonee Valley City Council in Melbourne is doing. They have developed a toolkit on this topic.


Village heights

Picture of the Interlace showing how eight storey apartment blocks can be stacked at angles besides and and top of each other.“Vertical Villages” are sometimes mentioned as a solution for housing for older people. The version in the video below is in Singapore, but there is no mention of older people or accessibility. However, accessibility and universal design is written into the Singapore Building Code, which should mean it is automatically included. Hoping for a time when Australia no longer needs to mention accessibility as a feature because it is just present! Ms Goh Siam Imm from Singapore was a keynote speaker at the 2016 Australian Universal Design Conference in Sydney, and featured this development in her presentation. The video below gives more detail.