Houzz online magazine has an article about a 1952 Frank Lloyd Wright home that they claim is a model of universal design. The Chicago home was actually designed specifically for a “disabled homeowner” – a wheelchair user. This kind of presentation of universal design confuses people and adds to the notion that universal design is for people with disability and not a mainstream idea. The article by Gwendolyn Purdom describes the single-storey construction, lowered doorknobs and light switches, wider doorways, drop down cabinets and sufficient turning space for a wheelchair. Pictures of work benches with nothing below are the wheelchair obvious features. Apparently the features blend seamlessly into the home. The article goes on to provide sound advice to others such as thinking about universal design from the beginning of the design. The original owners kept the home exactly the same until their death in 2012. This home has been open to the public since 2014. Several pictures illustrate the article. I doubt Frank Lloyd Wright took any of these design features into his future designs to make them mainstream. This was most likely a one-off. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the furniture too.
The University of Toronto Magazine is about cities. It has four feature articles and accessibility is one of them. The article is a personal story of a father who asks what would a city without barriers look like? The question comes because his daughter is a wheelchair user. He lists six disabling things apart from steps and stairs. First is the issue of garbage bins littering the walkway after collection; the second is finding someone who is responsible for operating portable ramps; help buttons in the wrong place or need excessive force; broken and uneven footpaths; a loose piece of carpeting; and narrow footpaths that don’t allow people to pass. The article is written by Professor Ron Buliung, who is a transportation researcher, and that is his research question: What would a city without barriers look like? The article begins on page 24. Other articles on city living are about sustainability, having fun, and affordability.
What kind of home do you want to live in? The comfortable and familiar home you have now? Or an institutional care home? Queenie Tran in a TEDx Talk,Designing the Castle – challenges the architecture and design professions to think about what designing for “the majority” really means. Who makes up this majority? The ABS statistics tell us that over one third of households have at least one occupant with a permanent disability. Not the majority, but not so much a minority either, and with an ageing population this will only increase. Time for architects and building designers to re-think what their majority really is and start designing for more than just two thirds of the population. They can make a big difference in our lives. The difference between being forced into an institution either in our later years, or by accident – just because our homes don’t fit us any more.
Note: If you don’t have time to watch the full 10 minutes, skip to the 5 minute mark for the take home messages.
For most people the word “design” conjures up thoughts of creativity, products, architecture, graphics, or the way something looks or functions. When it comes to innovation it is more than this. What do we mean by design? on the Design for Europe website discusses the concept of innovation. Design has moved from traditional artifacts to designing processes, and orchestrating experiences, and even transforming systems. Design is also about generating fit across different elements so that it solves a problem, fits the user and fits the provider of the solution. Interesting article that lists four principles to help make things fit in the best way possible. Anyone who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations is a designer. Seems we are or have been a designer!
Did you know that the typewriter was first invented by a woman who was losing her sight? This is a good example of how an invention for a disability can be good for everyone. The flexible straw and the touchpad are other such inventions. These are just three things in Kat Holmes’ book, Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design. You can read a review of the book published by MIT Press “Designing for inclusion is not a feel-good sideline. Holmes shows how inclusion can be a source of innovation and growth, especially for digital technologies”. It expands the customer base and boosts the bottom line. And this goes for any product or service, building or dwelling.
If you ignore the medical perspective of this article and the language, that starts with the title, “The future holds smart habitats for people with special needs”, there are some interesting ideas about smart cities and technology for everyone. The article provides some examplesof how technology can enable the creation of smart living environments for people living a health condition or disability. The article is published in the Medical Futurist website, so the next step will be to have the journalist take a social view of people with disability. Special Needs? No, the same needs as everyone only designers aren’t inclusive with their designs. “Suffering from…?” No, living with … “THE elderly”? No. Not an homogeneous faceless group. Need more talk of mainstream and inclusion instead of othering. However, for particular disabilities assistive technologies are necessary, but are often good for everyone.
Richard Voss writes in Linked In about the necessity to take a universal design approach to urban design and infrastructure, especially as more people will be living longer and potentially living longer with some type of disability or health issue. He poses five ways to improve accessibility in the built environment which are explained in the article:
Incentivise future proofing in accessibility
Realise that we all need inclusive design
Combine common sense with building codes
Create a new innovation industry around accessibility
Set achievable target for each development sector
Voss concludes, “In my view the industry is well placed to tackle the Universal Design challenges ahead if we base our designs on the projected demographic. Often Universal Design principles can be included at no extra cost, if implemented early in the design process. If we act collectively as practitioners, researchers and legislators, then we will have diverse and integrated patterns of living in our cities.”
Editor’s Comment: Nice sentiments, which have been discussed time and again by UD converts, but we still see little change when in comes to thinking and designing for our future selves. Also note the interchangeable use of universal design, inclusive design and accessibility.
Lucina Hartley writes a thoughtful piece about city lovability versus liveability. She asks what really makes us happy? It is far more than bricks, mortar and services. In her article, Hartley says it’s the softer values, like behaviour and experience that matter most. Livability describes access to physical attributes such as schools, shops and jobs. Lovability is about how we feel, which is important for our health and wellbeing. She cites different research studies of different types of neighbourhoods and their design features. In the context of big data is it important to know what we are measuring and counting what counts. The article has links to key references and is published by University of Melbourne. This magazine article is an easy read.
Editor’s comment: While these sentiments are commendable, they leave out a significant portion of our population who still don’t have basic liveability. That is, access to schools, shops, jobs and transport. And it is a very city centric view of the world.
The term “Smart Cities” usually conjures up ideas of good urban planning and linking with Internet and communications technology. But how can it be smart if it is not also accessible to everyone by incorporating the principles of universal design? There is a plethora of apps to help with navigation and destination selection, but these don’t turn steps into ramps, or garbage bins into seating. Aimi Hamraie writes about a new breed of accessibility appsthat can make life easier, but they can also make it more difficult. “Nothing About Us Without Us” is great for political purposes, but maybe not so good when it comes to mainstreaming goods and services. Much is covered in this comprehensive article.
According to an article by the Design Council, mental health conditions can have an impact on spending, something which banks and financial institutions often neglect. Zander Brade, Lead Product Designer at Monzo, talked to Design Council about the importance of designand innovation in implementing a broad range of features to help people with mental health conditions. Research has resulted in Monzo designing product features to help people with mental health conditions, including real-time balance updates and an option to block transactions relating to gambling. Zander believes that accessibility applies as much to mental health as physical health, and that embedding accessibility within their services will ultimately benefit all their customers.