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  

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. 

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.  

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.  

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. 

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

 

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.  

What good is design if it’s not for everyone?

Johan Carey in jeans and black polo shirt is on the stage at a Ted TalkTed Talker John Carey makes some great statements. “Dignity is to design is what justice is to law and health is to medicine”. “The design reflects back to you your value”. “If good design is only for a privileged few, what good is it?” “Good design shapes our idea of who we are in the world and what we deserve.” John calls fellow architects to account – to design for people other than themselves – who, for the most part, are white males. Unlike law and medicine, architecture has failed to attract and sustain women and people of colour (in the US). A passionate talk that does not mention accessibility in particular, but is a call for good design for everyone – to consider everyone. Worth a listen/view.

 

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.

 

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.