It isn’t just about consulting with humans in the design process. It is about understanding the impact that design has on us as humans. Sarah Williams Goldhagen argues that people undervalue good design. There is no such thing a neutral when it comes to design of the built environment. It has either a positive or negative effect on people. A place should inspire uses and bypassers. If it doesn’t support what people need to do then it is eroding wellbeing and impoverishing people’s lives. This is especially the case when you can’t even get into a place or space because it is inaccessible. Goldhagen goes on to say that good design is less about personal taste and more about human bodies and minds. Goldhagen’s article is in the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health. It is titled, What is Human-Centered Design? Should Anyone Care?
A related article about designing cities so we can sleep well is also worth a read, Sanity and Urbanity.
A home builder in Queensland, is building Livable Housing Silver level homes and he wants everyone else to follow his lead. He has persuaded Townsville City Council and industry stakeholders to come together to make this possible. In a 9 minute video (below) various people explain the importance of Silver level to them. The best parts of the video are in the second half where Martin Locke shows how Silver level homes are modern and “normal”. One key point is that it shows there are no design or technical impediments for having Silver (or Gold) level in all new housing.
The video begins with several wheelchair users explaining their situation. But wheelchair users are only one part of the story of universal design in housing. The emphasis on wheelchair users is likely to perpetuate the idea that this is “disability housing” and this puts it in the “specialised housing” bracket. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines are about everyone, not just wheelchair users.
Locke believes Silver level can be rolled out without additional regulation. In theory this might be true. However, the evidence is not with him. The industry, particularly the mass market section, relies on regulation to hold the system together so that all the designers, engineers, and trades know what they are doing and can work in tandem.
The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) supports Gold level of the Guidelines because these thoughtful features are good for everyone, and especially for older people and young children. Locke’s estimations of extra cost need further examination. For example, he doesn’t say why a level shower recess and level access into the home should cost more than current designs. If included as regular practice the cost, if any, would be negligible.
It’s great to see at least one community trying to make a difference in this space. Martin Locke and the Townsville City Mayor are to be congratulated for their efforts in bringing people together to show the way for the house-building industry.
Social justice campaigners use the term “intersectionality” which means that a person can identify as belonging to more than one marginalised group. For example, gay, Aboriginal and with a disability. But sometimes it’s easy to forget about diversity. To help think broadly about the diversity in our population, The Commons Social Change Library has a concise list of things to think about when running an event. The title of the article is, How to make your social justice event accessible. An interesting organisation with many resources.
Designing an accessible home on a narrow lot can be done. An architectural group in Melbourne were faced with this situation and were able to provide accessibility on the ground floor. The site was tight – approximately 11 metres by 19 metres. The article in Architecture and Designhas few details of the access features other than “spatial amenity”. However, it details the materials used and explains the design aesthetics. It was interesting to note that the local council was not supportive of the development in the early stages because of the look of the home. Good to see it featured in an architectural magazine. Perhaps next time the magazine will point out the accessible features – even if they are invisible to the casual observer. Nice pictures.
Note – home elevators are becoming more popular as a viable alternative to moving house. Designers should consider this as a potential later adaptation and make provision in the initial design.
The EinDfa IEA TC newsletter has three examples of digital technology for inclusive and enabling design. While these topics aren’t exactly UD, they interface with UD thinking and inclusive practice. The first is about audio sign language, the second is about aircraft seating, and the third is about our sense of touch. Below is a copy and paste from the newsletter:
Sign Language Ring is a device that detects sign language motion and “translates” that to voice by emitting audio through a speaker. Inspired by Buddhist prayer beads, according to its designers from Asia University, this wearable device includes a bracelet and set of detachable rings worn on select fingers. It can also translate voice to text, transcribing spoken language picked up by a microphone into text that’s displayed on the bracelet’s screen.
Currently in the prototype stage, Layer company has developed a smart textile for use in Airbus’ economy class seating, called Move, which would allow passengers to monitor and control their seat conditions using their phone. Digitally knitted from a polyester wool blend with an integrated conductive yarn, the smart seat cover is connected to a series of sensors that detect both the passenger’s body and the conditions of their chair, including temperature, seat tension, pressure and movement. The Move app analyses the data collected by the sensors and sends targeted messages to the passenger telling them how they can improve their comfort. Moreover, during the flight, the seat automatically adjusts itself based on the passenger’s weight, size and movement by passing a current through the conductive yarn to change the seat tension.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has recently developed an inexpensive sensor glove designed to enable artificial intelligence to figure out how humans identify objects by touch. Called Scalable TActile Glove (STAG), it uses 550 tiny pressure sensors to generate patterns that are used to create improved robotic manipulators and prosthetic hands. The MIT project is very suggestive, since researchers are intentioned to replicate human’s ability to figuring out what an object is just by touch. Using the STAG glove pressure sensors, the MIT is gathering as much touch information as possible for creating a large enough databases, to sustain a machine learning process that could bring to create a system able to perform analysis and deduce not only how a human hand can identify something, but also how it can estimate its weight, something robots and prosthetic limbs have trouble doing today.
Why do some designers make text so faint or small? Surely all fonts aren’t that ugly. Low vision is just one function that deteriorates as we age. In a nicely written article Don Norman laments the lack of thought about including older people in their designs. Using his own experience as an 83 year old, he discusses how many devices are needlessly ugly – shouting out “I’m old and can’t function!” Norman used to work for Apple, and his article also critiques their designs.
“Despite our increasing numbers the world seems to be designed against the elderly. Everyday household goods require knives and pliers to open. Containers with screw tops require more strength than my wife or I can muster. (We solve this by using a plumber’s wrench to turn the caps.) Companies insist on printing critical instructions in tiny fonts with very low contrast. Labels cannot be read without flashlights and magnifying lenses. And when companies do design things specifically for the elderly, they tend to be ugly devices that shout out to the world “I’m old and can’t function!” We can do better.”
Home design needs to keep up with current lifestyles – homes should not design our lives. The basic design of a family home is still last century when our lives were very different. But the population is becoming more diverse. While the campaign for universal design in housing continues there is a related concept on the rise. As many as 41% of Americans are considering buying a home to accommodate an older relative or an adult child according to research quoted on the FastCo website. But are regular homes designed to cater for this? The article goes on to say that a bedroom is not enough for the relative, old or young, to feel independent. Where can they entertain friends, or seek private time outside the family? The answer is to have a living room as well as a bedroom. The title of the article is, The future of housing looks nothing like today’s.
There is also reference to a book,Hive: the Simple Guide to Multigenerational Living, which is based on personal experience of four generations living together. This is a comprehensive article and includes references to co-housing and other housing models.
People who are deaf and use British Sign Language (BSL) can now get help when travelling on ScotRail. When a deaf customer needs help, rail staff can open an app that uses video call. The customer signs to an interpreter who immediately signs back. The InterpreterNow app will give more confidence to travellers who use BSL. The more pleasing aspect of this story is that ScotRail is showing commitment to inclusion. For people who are hard of hearing, which is a significant portion of the population, just improving the quality of announcements would be a great help – or even having announcements.
A related app by Google, Live Transcribe, is in its early release phase. You can download it and give feedback before the design is finalised. This could be useful in noisy situations for people who have difficulty hearing, such as train stations, busy streets and noisy cafes. These types of app often need adjustment for different accents.
Editor’s note: This is a good app for people with good hearing. I’ve downloaded the Live Transcribe app for my phone. It should help for the odd occasion when I’ve seen a deaf person in the street needing help with something. It will be better than gestures and facial expression.
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.
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.