North Sydney Community Centre hosted a panel event for the Sydney Architecture Festival last month. I was honoured to be part of this panel along with access consultant Mark Relf and architect Philip Graus. Each panel member gave a short presentation before engaging in a conversation led by Fenella Kernebone. North Sydney Community Centre has compiled podcasts of each of the presentations and the panel conversation.
The panel conversation ranged over several topics including housing. This was also a topic of particular interest to the audience in their questions from the floor. (30 mins)
The North Sydney Community Centre webpage has all the podcasts listed including the questions from the audience, and the biographies of panelists. The picture shows left to right, Jane Bringolf, Mark Relf, Philip Graus and Fenella Kernebone.
“Design thinking” will not produce inclusive design, according to an article in FastCo by Katherine Schwab. She claims it just maintains the status quo. She also claims design thinking privileges the designer above the users and limits their participation in the design process. In spite of being encouraged to empathise with users, the designer is the one deciding what elements of the users’ experience are relevant. This article has links to an essay from Harvard Business Review by Natasha Iskander who refers to a six step design process that claims to solve any problem. Iskander says that design thinking doesn’t encourage innovation. Rather, it is a strategy to preserve and defend the status quo, which means the designer remains in control. There is more in the article on Iskander’s challengeto Design Thinkers.
The Conversation lists 5 ways to reduce the amount of home renovation waste going to landfill, but fails to mention that incorporating universal design features to suit the lifespan would minimise the need for renovations in the first place. The housing and renovation industry might like us to re-model our homes as our needs change, but not only do we have to consider the renovation cost, we should also think about the environmental cost. Recovering materials and recycling along with other waste reducing strategies are a nice idea but a better solution is not to need major renovations that require partial demolition and major works in the first place. The Conversation article is titled. “Five ways to reduce waste and save money on your home renovation”.
There is a window of opportunity to save on the cost of renovations and landfill going forward. The Australian Building Codes Board has put out an Options Paper on introducing basic access features in the building code for all new homes. The Options Paper is a long document, but there is a questionnaire at the endwhich you can use to submit your comments if you don’t have time to write a formal submission. Case studies are also welcome.
Perhaps grandmothers might bring a different perspective to design as they know about their own generation and that of their children and grandchildren. Jessica Tillyer poses this thought in, “Design needs more feminism, less toxicmasculinity“. She argues we should change our pre-conceptions about who generates ideas in design, and who has the voice and power to contribute to decision-making. Jessica asks how can we “bring the fullness of the human experience to every moment” and move towards design leaders who act as community organisers. “Less machismo, and more feminism”, says Jessica who begins the article on her observations in an airport gate lounge.
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.