A Tribute to Universal Design Pioneer Ron Mace

black and white photo of Ron Mace. He is wearing glasses and has a beard. He is wearing a light coloured shirt and a dark neck tieRon Mace is often reported as being the “father of universal design”. While this is not strictly true, he was a passionate leader in universal design thinking. The 20th anniversary of his death gives us pause for thought about his vision that started well before the 1970s. Richard Duncan has posted a short biography of Ron Mace to pay tribute to his vision and work that lives on across the globe. Mace contracted polio as a child and used this experience in his architecture practice where he understood how much the fine detail mattered. He was instrumental in setting up the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. This anniversary also gives pause for another thought: Why hasn’t universal design been universally accepted after more than 50 years of talking about it?

Editor’s note: I was very fortunate to visit Ron Mace’s widow, Joy Weeber, during my Churchill Fellowship study trip in 2004. Joy invited me to her home and was very generous with her time. She showed me a video of his last interview two days before he unexpectedly died in June 1998.  Jane Bringolf  

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Footpath no place to park

A white SUV is parked across the footpath nosing into a drivewayParking on and across footpaths in Australia is illegal. But how many times do you see this? Especially where the family has too many cars to fit on their driveway (they use the garage for storage). So what? For people who are pushing strollers or wheeling anything it means going out on the roadway. And not good for people who are blind or have low vision for the same reason. An article on the BBC News website explains some of the difficulties about this issue, especially now that the UK are providing designated places where it is OK now to Two cars parked with one wheel mounting the kerb of the footpathpark on the footpath. A backward step (excuse the pun). The article includes videos showing the problems. Hope it doesn’t happen here – legally, that is. 

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Latest ACAA Newsletter

Front cover of the newsletterAccess Insight is the newsletter of the Association of Access Consultants Australia (ACAA). In the latest issue they have articles on designing for ageing communities by Lara Calder; designing for dementia by Paul Huxtable; and designing buildings for individuals with Autism by Shelly Dival. There is also some research on the shape and use of handrails (not grab bars) in aged care facilities by Nicole Maree Swan. You can read it online or download the PDF.

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Build it, but will they come?

A blue sky and green grass fill this frame overlaid with a chalked outline of a single storey house with a chimney Will the upsurge in residential aged care places take account of the needs and preferences of potential residents? Also, will aged care developers factor in the trend towards staying put? Safdar Ali writes in Aged Care Insite that residential aged care developments “are often opportunistic, targeting high median house prices and land availability, not necessarily targeting need within a catchment. I observe that some catchment areas within a planning region are in a statistical oversupply whereas the planning region as a whole is in statistical undersupply.” With more federal funding coming into this area, more of the same may not be the answer.  Yes, baby boomers will want more choice, especially those with money to pay for thoughtfully designed places that consider their lifestyle preferences, but what about the rest? 

Editor’s note: If homes were universally designed and suited to ageing in place, residential care would not be needed until the very last year or so of life. I wonder if this has been factored into the scheme of things.  

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Read my lips…

Two young men sit on a bench outside and are in conversationHow much of what a person says can a lip reader understand? What if they have a heavy accent because your language is not their first language – does that make a difference? Tina Lannin is an expert lip reader and in her article she explains the ins and outs of lip reading. She claims it is possible to understand all that is said but much depends on context. As for foreigners, it is not the accent that matters but the clarity of the speech. And of course, you can’t lip read words that you don’t know, so having a good vocabulary is essential for lip reading. Tina also works as an expert witness forensic lip reader. We can all help lip readers by facing them, not mumbling to our shoes, and speaking as we would to anyone else. And also making sure the faces of conference speakers are well lit. The article is titled, Can a deaf person read lips from a foreigner that speaks that person’s language? 

See also the four excellent posters that link to lip reading and people who are hard of hearing.

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Accessibility with nail polish

kitchen stove with three pans and a panel at the rear with knobs. Above you can see the bottom of a microwave with reflected glare on the door.Some home appliances are difficult to use if you can’t see the small details like the print, or the label. With no physical buttons to push, and a reflective surface, flat panel appliances are particularly difficult if you have low vision. In the absence of inclusively designed appliances, home remedies are called for. Ideas such as bright nail polish to highlight buttons on the tv remote, are just some of the ideas in the Beyond Accessibility website post: 10 Ways to Make Homes Easier to Use. There are more similar resources on their website. It would be good if industrial designers consulted users before committing their designs to manufacture. No-one really wants to put nail polish or sticky labels on their new kitchen appliances.

 

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Poster says it all

Poster use visuals to convey messages about how to speak to people who are deafAction Deafness has produced some really neat posters that speak volumes for deaf people. They can be purchased as A3 sheets from Action Deafness online shop. Having these posters around can remind people about their speaking behaviours in the same way as places have safety posters.

A related article in Metro gives advice in the form of 12 tips on talking to people with hearing loss. They include speaking as you would to anyone else, but there are some don’ts in the list such as: don’t assume they know you are talking to them, and don’t waffle.  

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Is inclusive design achievable?

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilDo architects have the skills and attitude we need to create truly inclusive environments? Is it even possible to design architecture for everyone? These two questions were put to Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. She says architects are in pole position, but we are still polarising people into people with disability and people without disability. It is time we realised “that we just need to design for people.” The article in Smart Cities Library is short but to the point. As a person who is just five feet one inch, Jane Duncan finds many things physically out of her reach. So she is in a good position to call for architects to design for diversity. The website has other good items. 

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Emoji to get diverse

Six emoji are shown. A girl in a power chair, an ear with an aid, an assistance dog, a guide dog, a prosthetic arm, a boy in a manual wheelchairThe emoji include guide dogs, people using canes and wheelchairs, and hearing aids. Apple claims it wants to better represent people with disabilities. In a statement, Apple said, “Currently, emoji provide a wide range of options, but may not represent the experiences of those with disabilities. One in seven people around the world has some form of disability.  The proposed additions are not meant to be a comprehensive list of all possible depictions of disabilities – it is intended to be a starting point”. If approved, the emoji are likely to be released early in 2019. This article and graphics was taken from the news.sky.com website.

Apple worked with various charities on the new designs

 

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Voices and insights

A very large audience area in the dark with a white-lit stage in the background. It looks like a rock concert of some sort. The overall colouring is purpleIt turns out that Lady Gaga has fibromyalgia. You wouldn’t know by looking at her. It is one of many invisible disabilities. A walking cane, a wheelchair, or a guide dog almost announces disability – not a word is needed (unless you are blind). Invisible conditions are not always viewed with the same care or understanding. From an inclusive design perspective this can mean invisible conditions remain invisible to designers. We all know about ramps, but that’s not the end of the story. A new publication has emerged in UK called Voices, which includes the Lady Gaga item. It is written by people with disability and gives voice to their experiences. The stories give insights into their everyday lives, the way they are treated by others, and the way they would like to be treated. Easy to read – just scrolling through the articles gives some good insights for designers and public policy makers. The website includes an audio version of the magazine, or you can access the online word version. Contributions are welcomed from around the world and you can submit online.  

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