All for one can be one for all

picture shows knife, fork, spoon, desert fork and teaspoon laid out in a row.The New York Times has a great article, How Design for One Turns Into Design for All.  It traces the number of designs that were originally meant to solve the problem for one person and later it was found many others could use the item too. The article also addresses the issue of ugliness; most designs for people with disability have been constructed by engineers without any user input. Those days are starting to disappear. Prosthetic limbs in different designs is one case in point. You can’t hide the prosthesis but there is no need to make it ugly – or too sci-fi either. This statement says much:

“This is plain logic, really. All our shoes, coats and sweaters, the beds we sleep on, the forks and knives we eat with, our lamps and loudspeakers, stairs and elevators, central heat and air-conditioning exist to compensate for what every human being, to some degree, lacks and needs.”

Yes, all technology is “assistive” but “assistive technology” is a term assigned for people with disability and when it comes to design, too often no thought is given to aesthetics. That includes some hideous ramps added to buildings. Lots of pictures illustrate the article.

 

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Virtual Reality with everyone in mind

a young woman sits on a couch holding a controller in her hand. she is wearing the virtual reality headgrear.Runaway Play has embraced the concept of inclusion for their virtual reality games. And they go beyond physical accessibility. Some people get motion sickness, so they came up with a solution. Some people get anxious, particularly from sensory overload – another solution found. The company’s approach to design stemmed from working with a return to work rehabilitation organisation. The title of the article is Learning to design virtual reality for accessibility, by Emma Johansson, and is featured on the Venture Beat website. Good to see IT, AI, and VR going in the right direction. 

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Coles now has quiet shopping hour

overhead picture of the fresh food section of a supermarketIn line with UK Supermarkets, Coles is the next to introduce a quiet shopping hour for people who are sensitive to noise and hub-bub. The pilot project has been designed in partnership with Autism Spectrum Australia. Some of the features would also suit people with cognitive issues such as dementia – but perhaps not the low level lighting. But an hour of no PA announcements, aisles free from stock cages, and low level piped music could be enjoyed by many.  Parents with children with autism can be more assured of successfully walking out with their groceries – something a Melbourne mother said was a milestone for her.

Editor’s note: It makes me wonder how many people would actually prefer no piped music, a minimum of PA announcements (use a mobile device) and aisles without clutter.

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Better world with Google Maps

A cartoon drawing with figures with wheels - wheelchair, wheelie walker and a woman pushing a baby strollerSmart phones have changed many things about the way we live.There are apps for almost anything. Some are of particular benefit to people with disability and create greater convenience and independence. Smart phone owners will be familiar with Google Maps for navigating both short and long distances. The maps also contain additional information about parking, places to eat, toilets, and more. For people with wheels, knowing the level of accessibility is critical to their journey and destination planning, whether its a holiday or a local restaurant. Google is encouraging people to sign up to their mapping project that will expand their database of accessible places, spaces and points of interest. You can find out more about this project and see two really interesting videos. One is a wheelchair user in Chicago, and the other is in Indonesia – she uses a modified motor bike to get around. There is also a short introductory video with the key points.

Of course, parents with strollers or anyone with wheels, or with difficulty walking will find this map information useful, so this is taking us closer to a universally designed world. 

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The techno kitchen

picture shows a still shot of the kitchen in the video demonstrating the height adjustable benchLooking to update your kitchen? Here are some nice little additions to make life easier for everyone in the “connected kitchen”. Height adjustable work-surfaces and sinks, cupboards and drawers open with the minimum of effort. It won’t be long before these features are standard. And not forgetting the in-bench screen – you can watch your cooking show right there while working in the kitchen.

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Hearing loss makes it harder to remember

Adults seated at tables in a classroom setting looking forward to the instructor at the front of the roomIn Shari Eberts’ blog article, Does Hearing Loss Make it Harder to Remember Things? she explains how people with hearing loss are using most of their brain capacity to interpret sounds. Consequently there is not much left over for remembering.This is particularly the case where there is a lot of background noise. In information situations, such as fire training, this is an important factor in ensuring everyone will remember what to do. In learning situations it also a significant consideration. This finding supports the case for instant captioning of live events and closed captioning in pre-filmed situations. A study on student learning also found that captioning helped learning. Where captioning is not possible, reducing cognitive load is another strategy. That means selecting places where background noise is minimal, speaking clearly and not too fast, using a microphone, and allowing sufficent time for questions. Other studies have found that visual information is more easily remembered by everyone, so pictures and videos would work well in information sessions and instructional situations.  

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Inclusive video gaming

A young woman avatar with yellow hair and a white dress with yellow flowers holds out her arm that is a black prosthesisA recent article in The Guardian explains how video game developers are designing avatar elements to be more representative of population diversity. There is a growing realisation that choice of skin tone, gender, ethnicity or physical ability for a character is important to players for the “looks like me” appeal. Games are a key element of childhood and teenage life, so it is important to have avatars that represent them. Xbox now have avatars that allow players to depict themselves as wheelchair users or having prosthetic limbs, as well as other atributes such as body shape and skin colour. The article includes a section on gender non-conforming players using gaming as a means for helping them with their coming out process. Games are also a way for children to share time with others when they might not be able to communicate verbally. The article nicely counters arguments about diversity being a fad or holding back creativity:

“When people dismiss representation as a political fad, as an imposition on the creative process, as a means of ticking off lists, they are almost always doing this from a position of privilege. The argument that it’s not the gender, ethnicity or physical abilities of a character that are important, but whether they’re written well and fun to play, is easier to make if you’re already being comfortably represented. It is easy to assume your experience is universal. But it isn’t.” 

A young male and young female are depicted as wheelchair usersA very readable article covering the diversity spectrum in gaming. Short explanatory videos are included.

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Village heights

Picture of the Interlace showing how eight storey apartment blocks can be stacked at angles besides and and top of each other.“Vertical Villages” are sometimes mentioned as a solution for housing for older people. The version in the video below is in Singapore, but there is no mention of older people or accessibility. However, accessibility and universal design is written into the Singapore Building Code, which should mean it is automatically included. Hoping for a time when Australia no longer needs to mention accessibility as a feature because it is just present! Ms Goh Siam Imm from Singapore was a keynote speaker at the 2016 Australian Universal Design Conference in Sydney, and featured this development in her presentation. The video below gives more detail.

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Designing with autism in mind

picsture of a corridor in a large building with calm colours and natural lightingAs with most thoughtful design that aims to be inclusive, convenient and welcoming, designing interiors for children with autism makes for good interiors for children generally. Close attention was paid to texture, acoustics, and lighting conditions—features just as applicable to the rest of the world when it comes to designing autism-friendly spaces. The architect behind the design of the Center of Autism and the Developing Brain says the key is to be sensitive to light, sight, textures, and sounds. The article can be downloaded from the codesign.com website.

 

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A new way with wayfinding

Picture of a street sign showing Circular Quay and Millers PointLee Wilson provides us with yet another informative article in Sourceable where he lists the key features of good wayfinding. He also discusses the new technologies and laments that little information, if any, is included in the new Draft Wayfinding Standard . Wayfinding is not just a matter of good signage – it is much more than that.

For those of us who will never know which way is North, architectural cues, symbols and signs are essential for reading and understanding the environment and being able to get around safely and easily.

 

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