Invisible Universal Design

two people are walking towards a door that automatically opens.Richard Duncan reminds us of design features that we never think of as having a specific design label such 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. 

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Communication strategies for inclusion

Two green statues, one a man the other a woman sit facing each other in a gesture of communicating with each other.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:

  1. Remove communication barriers
  2. Prepare for communication success
  3. Build a conversation together
  4. Use communication aids and alternative strategies when you talk.  
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The story of Moments Cafe

A cafe counter scene with a person ordering at the counter.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. 

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What’s in a name? Is it the same?

Pictograms of people and access symbolsWhich 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 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities uses the term “Universal Design” and interprets it as an iterative approach to achieving equity and inclusion. 

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Home and Away accessibility

Front cover of magazine showing a graded entry into a homeThe 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 online on Flipsnack. Not sure how accessible this format is. 

 

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Would cities designed by women be better?

A man walks backward down steps holding the front of the pram while they mother holds the handles. They are going down a flight of steps in a public place.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?  

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Tree change, sea change: think carefully first

A weeping willow tree shades the free range chickens. The house is hidden behind bushes and there are hills in the background.Fresh country air and room to breathe – it sounds perfect for retirement. Leaving the busy city behind for a care-free country life seems wonderful, but is it? City dwellers often find out the hard way that country living is often missing a few things they have taken for granted all their lives. Access to medical treatment, shops, entertainment and public transport can prove difficult as one couple found in this story. And the culture in regional and country towns is a little different to the big city too. Fitting in with country ways can take some adjusting. The story is nicely written and gives food for thought. However, this is not necessarily the experience of all retirees.

Editor’s note. I worked on the mid-north coast in community services for a few years and saw first hand how the romance of country living soon lost it shine. The article explains what I saw many times. 

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Cultural background – your hidden bias

A globe atlas of the world sits on a desk and lined up in front are small dolls representing different countriesWe need to be aware of our biases if we are to become more inclusive in our thinking, designing and planning. Dr Belina Liddell argues that culture may affect the way your brain processes everything. And that is important. The term “culture” is a very complex web of dynamic systems – beliefs, language and values, and also religion, socio-economic status and gender may play a part too. Dr Liddell says, “Broadly speaking, Western-based cultures focus on an independent and unique self that values autonomy, personal achievement and an analytical style of thinking. This is known as individualism”. But non-Western cultures value collectivism. The article goes on to explain how culture makes a difference to the way we not only perceive things intellectually, but visually as well. All this is from the emerging field of cultural neuroscience.  Now we have new acronym to deal with, WEIRD – Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic. The article also discusses refugee populations. See the ABC science website for more on this interesting article. 

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Service design done with UD principles

Distored digitised picture of young people sitting in a group.Most people think of universal design as being something for the built environment, but it is much more than that. Service design is an important factor in access and inclusion. There have been major disruptions in how we shop, get take-away food, share our accommodation and our cars. Universal design thinking processes have a major role to play in service design. This is the thinking of Airbnb and other similar platforms. The article in FastCompany lists a few things to think about. Here are the headings:

  1. Let a user do what they set out to do
  2. Be easy to find
  3. Clearly explain its purpose
  4. Set the expectations a user has of it
  5. Be agnostic of organizational structures
  6. Require as few steps as possible to complete a task
  7. Be consistent
  8. Have no dead ends
  9. Be usable by everyone, equally
  10. Work in a way that is familiar
  11. Make it easy to get human assistance
  12. Require no prior knowledge to use

Some of these aspects could be applied in other situations too.

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Case study of a UD home

Sliding doors opening to a decked area but also having level entry.There’s a nice case study in Lifemark’s latest newsletter on a home built with universal design in mind. This is a key phrase, keeping it in mind. That means you can be creative with the design without focusing on a particular type of design or standard. The family home was also designed and built with wheelchair access in mind. When asked to name a favourite space, the wheelchair user said he didn’t have a favourite place, but he did like the “flow-through – in the morning it is bedroom, bathroom, dining table, without any sharp turns or back-tracking up hall. That would not be possible in any other house.” However, the flush level entry was greatly appreciated as well as level entry to the alfresco. Lots of pictures in the article and a note that it cost no more than a standard build. The title of the article is Everything Works Better for Everybody. There are more case studies on the Lifemark website. Photo courtesy Michael Field.

Auckland Council will be holding their universal design conference 6-7 September. Find out more on their conference website. 

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