With the announcement of Specialist Disability Accommodation funding, the state of housing design is once again being discussed. This funding is aimed towards individuals as part of the NDIS program to ensure participants have appropriate accommodation. The funding program will not in itself have any effect on changing mainstream practices. But with a large pool of money up for grabs, the housing industry is surely taking notice. Will this make a difference to their mainstream practices? On past behaviours, the answer is probably no. But governments are reluctant to impose regulations in spite of market failure to realise industry’s promise to deliver accessible mainstream housing in all new developments.
In her presentation to the 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference, Margaret Ward gave an overview of all the lobbying the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design has done over seven years. For anyone who doesn’t know the full story, or has little context for the advent of Livable Housing Design Guidelines, the transcript of Margaret’s presentation tells the full story.
On page 11 of the NIDS Price Guide the four different standards expected for the money are listed in a matrix: Improved Livability; Fully Accessible, Robust, and High Physical Support. Probably more meaningful labelling than Silver Gold and Platinum.
During her presentation at the 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference, Ms GOH Siam Imm said,“Barrier-free accessibility encourages a mindset that you design a building first and then you start removing barriers to comply. … That’s no good. We needed people to think accessibility first, not last.” That is when in 2013 they incorporated universal design concepts to think beyond wheelchair users to all users.
Ms Goh explained how their journey began in the 1980s with basic access provisions, but the onset of an ageing population meant a re-think for this Garden City. Twelve storey residential buildings now have lifts to all floors. But the private sector is another matter and their innovative incentive scheme has gained traction. Siam Imm ended question time by saying that in her view Australia needed a central body to help disseminate the concepts of universal design and to form alliances with other countries to share knowledge and best practice.The edited transcript of her presentation (courtesy of live captioning of the event) explains the history and the incentive schemes for the private sector. The full transcript is also available.
One more presentation is available from the UD Conference held in Sydney.
Evan Wilkinson: Design for Everyone Guide. The Guide is practical, free to use and caters for a range of design skills and backgrounds. The Victorian Government makes universal design principles a key part of their funding requirements. Evan gives several examples with lots of photos of sporting infrastructure. The presentation included a video which is very useful as it shows an architect, Peter Maddison, explaining the reasons for designing universally. It also includes other senior people, including the Government Architect, Jill Garner commenting on the benefits of UD. The six minutevideo, Design For Everyone: A Guide To Sport And Recreation Settings is captioned.
The 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference showcased the concept of inclusion across several design disciplines and was well received for this aspect. Less well received were aspects of the venue. Indeed some feedback indicated that there was disappointment that the conference itself was not universally designed. So to answer the question, “are we there yet?” the answer is no, not yet. But we are on the way.
I wish that all conference venues were perfectly universally designed. Brand new buildings might meet this criteria – at least they have to comply with access standards. Established buildings particularly heritage buildings are another matter even when upgrades are due.
So why did we choose a heritage building, the Sydney Town Hall? Sponsorship is an important factor in organising a conference. It not only provides financial support, it also provides commendation. Having the sponsorship of City of Sydney was important for both reasons, and the way the City provides sponsorship for community events is to provide a venue at a significantly reduced cost.
While some building accessibility features were not optimal, they were at least present and compliant to standards. They also showcased how heritage and access can work together, but compromises were clearly obvious. For example, the toilet signs were almost impossible to see in the dark corridors as they were brown figures on a small sign – a heritage requirement. But this was overcome by supplementing the signage with moveable large signs on stands at waist height. However, the lighting had not been addressed as this is where universal design meets both heritage and “green” agendas! More to be done here.
And then there is the actual “machinery” of the conference. Conference staging companies and audio-visual technicians are yet to understand accessibility let alone universal design. The stage ramps normally provided are too steep, and a hand rail for the steps is unheard of. We were at least able to source a compliant ramp and this did not go unnoticed. Few audio-visual technicians have worked with live captioning and have to learn as they go. But at least a few more people would have gone away from this conference with an example of how it should be done. This seems to be the story of universal design – education by example – frustratingly it seems, one person at a time. So, we are definitely not there yet, hence the need for Centre for Universal Design Australia!
Jane Bringolf, Conference Committee Chair
The top picture is part of the vestibule in the Town Hall showing the intricacies of the design. The lower picture shows keynote speaker Siam Imm Goh with the large captioning screen behind and the presentations screens to both sides.
Last week I posted seven of the available presentations. Here are another five.
Cobie Moore: Aesthetics, Design and Disability. Cobie wants to see more thought going into the designs of some basic assistive technologies, such as pen grippers and walking frames. Designers fail to consider the notion that people with disability also appreciate attractive designs. Their designs might be functional, but ugly designs are stigmatising and therefore do not meet with the concept of inclusion. She takes us through the steps of “designing with aesthetic appreciation” and collaborative design. Cobie is a design student and says her study is informed by her disability.
Lee Wilson: Universal Design meets the Exit Sign. Emergency egress is an important factor in building design. No-one wants to get left behind. Lee presented the process of advocating for and designing exit signs that could be understood by the majority of people. Exiting a building during an emergency can be a fraught and frightening process for wheelchair users and people with mobility difficulties particularly when the only way out seems to be a stairway. People who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people who are blind or have low vision were also included in his presentation.
Nicholas Loder and Lisa Stafford: Moving from the margins in design education. Nick and Lisa focused on “spatial justice” in their presentation. They also gave an overview of some research on design students and their approach to universal design. They conclude that most design degrees do not embed universal design in full degree courses, that is, if they introduce the concept of inclusion at all. Usually it is taught as a disability compliance factor.
Simon Darcy: Beyond the Front Gate: Universal mobilities and the travel chain. Simon presented a keynote address focused on tourism and transportation and how the travel chain needs to be seamless. People with disability travel as much as the rest of the population and for the same reasons. The only area where people with disability travel less is to employment. Simon presented some interesting graphs comparing the rates of travel by people with disability and those without, as well as some of his own travel experiences as a wheelchair user. But just being able to go from home to the local tavern is also just as important as global travel.
Di Winkler & Justin Nix: An innovative housing and support project. The Summer Foundation is progressing the concept of inclusion with specialised accommodation and support for people with significant disabilities. While this project is not an example of universal design per se as the dwelling design is a specialised design, it does meet the concept of inclusion in terms of placing this accommodation type throughout a particular neighbourhood or multi-unit development. The presentation provides many photographs of two major projects. The Summer Foundation was set up in response to young people being inappropriately accommodated in aged care facilities.
The Universal Design Conference ended with a very popular panel session discussing the economics of inclusion. A brief rundown was provided last newsletter, and now the transcript is available. The transcript, with some minor edits, presents four different perspectives: property development, marketing, politics, and event management. There were many questions from delegates and these are also included. The panellists gave great examples and statistics to promote the economic argument and some take-home messages. The session was chaired by Nick Rushworth, and Mandy was the captioner (pictured).
Panel Members were Ms Ro Coroneos, Lendlease; Ms Sally Coddington, Curb Cut Effect; The Hon Kelly Vincent MLC, South Australia; and Mr Paul Nunnari, Department of Premier and Cabinet (NSW).
Download the complete transcript in Wordor in PDF.
This edition of the newsletter focuses on conference activities. We’ve had some good feedback, and some presentations uploaded ready for sharing. There will be more to share when items come to hand. Next newsletter will return to the usual format.
Abigail Elliott: STEP Up – Shape your space.The Victorian Government has been proactive in implementing universal design in sport and recreation. This presentation has good information and explanatory graphics that can be applied in other situations.
The conference ended with a panel session discussing the economics of inclusion. Ro Coroneos from Lendlease explained the process they used for Barangaroo South, a major development on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour. Working with Australian Network on Disability they consulted with a wide range of community representatives to create comfortable, convenient and attractive spaces and places in the development. Ms Coroneos said that making the place fully accessible was often in the details, such as seats with armrests and lighting in strategic places to read signs. Lendlease has produced a handbook which is being used to help other sections of Lendlease improve their design processes. Ms Coroneos said it makes good business sense to attract and keep as many people as possible in the precinct – it’s not just about people with disability themselves, it is also about the friends and family who accompany them on outings.
Sally Coddington advises businesses on ways to attract and retain customers by being disability friendly. She regularly counters the argument that the number of people with disability is small, “People say that 20% of Australians identifying as having a disability is a small market. I don’t call that small”, she said. By the time you add in the rest of the family, or friends in a group, you are looking at more like 50% to 60% of the population. Strategies based on universal design stimulate business growth, enhance customer loyalty, generate goodwill and improve profit.
The Hon Kelly Vincent expressed her frustration about how others keep saying that inclusion and universal design costs too much. No-one talks about the costs of NOT designing for inclusion. There are knock-on effects to health and well-being, let alone the convenience for everyone of getting out and about. And it is not just about the built environment, inclusive customer service still has a long way to go. Kelly’s aim is to do herself out of a job – she looks forward to the day when having a disability “is not a full time job”.
Paul Nunnari began his presentation with the great UK advertisement promoting the Paralympic Games in Rio; Yes I Can: We are the Superheros. The full length video clip shows people playing musical instruments, participating in track and field events, swimming, dancing, singing, and generally doing many things most people would be unable to think about, let alone attempt. As the inclusive events manager for the NSW Dept of Premier and Cabinet, Mr Nunnari explained how NSW has improved access and inclusion for everyone in major events such as New Year’s Eve and Vivid Sydney. These events bring money to NSW, and it is essential to capture as many customers, visitors, and revellers as possible. If a wheelchair user or blind person cannot get around easily, the rest of the family will stay home too and watch it on TV.
In summary, panelistsprovided good arguments and evidence that ignoring 20% of the population is poor business practice and poor policy development. However, the biggest drawback is that no-one seems to be listening.
Feedback from many delegates said this session was one of the highlights of the conference.
This contribution is by Nicholas Loder who participated in this event prior to the Universal Design Conference 2016.
On a beautiful Monday morning we were met by Jenny Spinak and Greg McTaggart, who explained the ‘before and after’ of access for events at the Opera House, the difficulties in installing new lifts and the progress made to date in improving access. All within a building with World Heritage listing and built well before accessibility was a major consideration
First we experienced the old access route – walking and wheeling the ‘Green Line’. We wandered our way through every conceivable plant and equipment route possible. Eventually we came out where regular tours begin, still well below any of the theatres. Finally we entered the curved accessway installed in the last 18 months which led to one of the new lifts. The new Opera House access journey had begun!
The whole tour took on a very Harry Potter secret tunnel feel, as horizontal access had to be found before any lifts could be positioned – lifts without a roof needed as headroom was always going to be a challenge for traditional lifts. The highlight for me was the recently completed access into the Bennelong Restaurant, complete with secret panels and a disappearing stair which transformed into a platform lift!
In the Boardroom, which as fantastic views, Greg and Jenny spoke to a wonderful series of slides on the research undertaken into access shortcomings of the House, culminating in staged upgrade plans and new spaces for recently identified audience needs.
For designers, especially within the Drama Theatre where space is very limited, there are multiple competing issues: the provision of wheelchair seating approaching current Code requirements, with good sightlines, respecting long-held season ticket holders needs, the budgets of each performance season (each new wheelchair spot removes three additional paying seats), and all without impacting adversely on the heritage values of the Sydney Opera House!
Overall the team at the Sydney Opera House has developed very workable plans and strategies for access upgrades and have engaged the very best experienced architects to undertake the work. All looks set for smooth sailing for the House and its patrons for many decades to come.
Note: Jenny Spinak made a presentation at the conference about the work they are doing to make all their activities and performances as inclusive as possible as well as specialised activities specifically for children with a range of disabilities. So inclusion is not just about the building.
Many thanks to Jenny Spinak, Accessibility Manager, and Greg McTaggart, Director of Building Development, for their support in making this site visit a success.