Applying UD to organisations

A graphic showing words related to organisations.Organisational design hasn’t received much attention from a UD perspective. Using a child care centre as a case study, Katherine Mowrer takes three views: sustainable development, universal design, and disability justice. As an academic paper, it includes philosophical discussions and theory. At the end there is a good checklist (quoted below) that any organisation could use to see if they are being inclusive. The title of the paper is Organization-Based Disability Access: A YMCA Childcare Center Case Study.

UNIVERSAL DESIGN CHECKLIST
This section is adapted from Equal Access: Universal Design of Professional Organizations— A checklist for making professional organizations inclusive of everyone by Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D. Many of the questions require yes/no/maybe/unsure answers, though feel free to expand on your answer if need be.
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“Universal design (UD) means that rather than designing for the average user, you design for people with differing native languages, genders, racial and ethnic backgrounds, abilities, and disabilities.”
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Planning, Policies, and Evaluation
• Are people with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, men and women, young and old students, and other groups represented in the organization’s planning process?
• Do you have policies and procedures that ensure access to facilities, events, and
information resources for people with disabilities?
• Are disability-related access issues and other diversity issues addressed in program evaluation plans and instruments?
Information Resources
• Do pictures in your publications and website include people with diverse characteristics with respect to race, gender, age, and disability?
• In key publications, do you include a statement about your commitment to access and procedures for requesting disability related accommodations? (For example, you could include the following statement: “Our organization’s goal is to make materials and activities accessible to all participants. Please inform organization leaders of accessibility barriers you encounter and request accommodations that will make activities and information resources accessible to you.”)
• Are all printed publications available (immediately or in a timely manner) in alternate formats such as Braille, large print, and electronic text?
• Are key documents provided in language(s) other than English?
• Are printed materials in your facility or at an event within easy reach from a variety of heights and without furniture blocking access?
• Do electronic resources, including web pages, adhere to accessibility guidelines or standards adopted by your organization, funding source, or the federal government? Section 508 Standards for Accessible Electronic and Information Technology and Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) are most commonly used. For example, are text alternatives provided for graphic images on web pages? Can the content be accessed with a text only browser and by using the keyboard alone?
• Do you include a statement on your website affirming your commitment to accessible design? For example, you could include the following statement: “We strive to make our website accessible to everyone. We provide text descriptions of graphic images and photos. Video clips are captioned and audio-described. Suggestions for increasing the accessibility of these pages are welcome.”
• Do videos developed or used in your organization have captions? Audio descriptions? 
Physical Environments and Products
• Are there parking areas, pathways, and entrances to the building that are accessible from a seated position?
• Are all levels of the facility connected via an accessible route of travel?
• Are aisles kept wide and clear of obstructions for the safety of users who have mobility or visual impairments?
• Are wheelchair-accessible restrooms with well-marked signs available in or near the office?
• Is at least part of a service or counter desk at a height accessible from a seated position?
• Are there ample high-contrast, large-print directional signs to and throughout the facility, indicating accessible routes?
• Are telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) available?
• Is adequate light available?
Staff and Volunteers
• Are all staff members and volunteers familiar with the availability and use of the Telecommunications Relay Service and alternate document formats?
• Do all staff members and volunteers know how to respond to requests for disability related accommodations, such as sign language interpreters?
• Are all staff members and volunteers aware of issues related to communicating with participants who have disabilities? Do staff deliver conference presentations and exhibits that are accessible to all participants?
• Are project staff, contractors, and volunteers in specific assignment areas (e.g., web page development, video creation) knowledgeable about accessibility requirements and considerations?
Technology
• Is an adjustable-height table available for each type of workstation to assist participants who use wheelchairs or are small or large in stature?
• Do you provide adequate work space for both left- and right-handed users?
• Is software to enlarge screen images and a large monitor available to assist people with low vision and learning disabilities?
• Do you provide a trackball to be used by someone who has difficulty controlling a mouse?
• Are procedures in place for a timely response to requests for assistive technology?

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Click-away customers

Five red balloons in a row with the title 5 common myths about accessibilityClick-away customers are not those clicking on the pages on your website. They are clicking off because they can’t navigate the pages. A neat video by Barclays Bank debunks common myths about customer complaints, costs of being accessible, access being someone else’s job, it’s too small a market for all that time and effort, and accessible design is boring design. Towards the end there is a great statement, “accessible design should work well for those who need it, and be invisible to those who don’t”. A really useful video for anyone promoting accessible customer service in our digital world, and for others wondering if it really is worth the effort. The video is captioned. 

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100-Year Life: People, Planning and Housing

Four women using wheelie walkers crossing the roadThe longevity revolution is here, but we haven’t prepared for it. The way cities are planned and homes are designed hasn’t really changed since mid 1900s. This lack of foresight is having a significant effect on people over 65 years who are not getting any younger. This is a common problem for most developed nations. The Design Council in UK tackled this topic in “The 100-year life: the role of housing, planning and design“. Their article contains some small scale but effective case studies, showing various ways to address the issues with inclusive thinking. It includes home modifications, ways to finance home and community upgrades, transportation, and the application of the WHO Guidelines for Age Friendly Communities. Educating designers and planners is of course paramount as well as involving citizens in the design and development processes. The article ends with a summary of recommendations. Their conclusions resonate with the principles of universal design:

“If we are going to be successful in creating homes and places which meets both fast rising demand, and the diverse and individual needs of older people, our thinking needs to be much broader. We need to consider how we help people afford better housing and plan their finances; how we develop long-term special plans and a workforce with the right skills; and how we use existing policy levers, such as expansion of personal budgets, to best effect. We need a whole-population, whole-place approach to planning for our future health, care, housing and support system at both the national and local levels.”   

The Design Council has a free online CPD course on inclusive environments designed to suit built environment professionals. It takes about an hour.

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Ethical AI: But will it be inclusive?

Front cover of the discussion paper showing a perspex object held between finger and thumb.Artificial Intelligence is here and it’s global. Australia won’t have the last word on all developments. Indeed, we have AI elements in our technology now that was developed overseas. AI holds promises of improved quality of life for most people, assuming all the privacy issues can be solved adequately. And we have to make sure it is fair and inclusive. But AI runs on data – data collected from individuals, their behaviours, and life events. How can we be sure this data is applied through algorithms in a fair and inclusive way? There’s a survey you can do.

Now is the time to ensure the Australian Government and others get the feedback they need on future developments of AI. I encourage you to contribute to the consultation on the Australian Government’s  AI ethics framework. You don’t have to be an expert on the topic, just an expert on inclusion or your experiences of being excluded by design.

The online survey is short and allows lots of space for your opinions and experience. Or you can write a submission and send it in. The discussion papers are easy to read and available in a PDF document and a Word document. Submissions close 31 May. 

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UD in Housing: Does it really cost more?

Facade of a large two storey home commonly called a McMansionDo homes really have to be larger to incorporate universal design features? Unlikely says Kay Saville-Smith, a housing researcher from New Zealand. In her keynote address at the UD Conference in 2014 she explained why. Her presentation discussed the “size fraud” and the mistaken idea that homes need to be larger and therefore more expensive. She also referred to the “blame game” where nothing changes because no-one takes the first step. Below is an excerpt from the full transcript of her presentation, Making Universal Design a Reality – Confronting Affordability.  

“Builders like to talk about cost per square metre so the larger the living space, the cheaper the perceived cost. Although the floor space need not expand to bring in UD features, it is believed that you do. So people say they won’t pay for that – or more to the point the builders say that”.

She goes on to say, “…there are still the two old barriers to renovating and building homes with universal design and indeed the streetscape, and those two things are twofold. One is what I’ve talked about in the past as the vicious cycle of blame that goes on in the building industry, which is no-one wants to change to do anything because the other person hasn’t asked them to do it. Investors don’t want universal design, so I the builder can’t build that, but if investors want it, sure I will build it. Investors will say I can’t build it because the builder won’t come in at the right cost, and both of them blame the architect, of course, because the architect is off site at that point. So that is one issue. The other issue is that we have the “innovation chasm” where we have solutions but getting them taken up and getting to a tipping point where it’s an expectation of what you get out of the housing market, is a big jump and typically you need about 30% or so of the market to be taking that kind of innovation challenge rather than taking the opportunity to be an early adopter. 30% is a big jump…”  

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Accessible Housing Report from ABCB

Timeline for the next steps to the Regulatory Impact Statement.Last year the Australian Building Codes Board released an Options Paper on Accessible Housing for comment. They have collated the information from the 179 submissions and produced a report. The 121 page report does not have recommendations about accessible housing. Rather, it leaves this to governments. The document identifies factors to shape the next stage of the project, the Regulation Impact Statement. The Executive Summary lists some of the key issues raised in the submissions:

 There is a need to consider aligning the project objectives to the concepts of equity and independence, and consideration of the principles of universal design.
 Previous government commitments, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and the COAG National Disability Strategy, were generally interpreted as commitments to regulate accessible housing.
 The prevalence of households with an occupant with a disability and the future impact of the population ageing need to be properly taken into account in establishing the need for regulation of accessible housing.
 Consideration should be given to the application of accessible housing provisions on difficult sites, where local planning policies may also impact upon the feasibility of an access standard applied to housing.
 Consideration should be given to residential tenancies legislation that may be restricting some groups from obtaining suitable housing or modifying rental housing to improve its accessibility.
 The importance of a step-free path to the dwelling entry door, and conversely, the practical difficulties associated with mandating such a feature in 100 per cent of circumstances. 
 Whether or not features that are more difficult to retrofit — generally referred to as ‘structural features’ — should be prioritised in the design of possible NCC changes.
 Qualitative, or intangible, benefits should be identified and given due consideration in the RIS, as well as ensuring that it goes beyond consideration of people with a disability. Generally, stakeholders suggested that such benefits include reduced social isolation, and increased community participation and inclusion.
 It is important that costs are accurately quantified and the distribution of costs and regulatory burdens between industry and consumers is clearly identified.
 Although outside the scope of the NCC, non-regulatory options — including financial incentives and the further development and promotion of voluntary guidelines — should still be assessed against regulatory options and considered by governments.

While submissions are not public, references to various submissions are included within the document, including ours (CUDA), and the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design. The next steps for the project are provided in an infographic shown above.

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Invisible and Ubiquitous: UD at its best

The entry to Stortinget metro in Olso showing the uncluttered design with easy access for everyone.Universal design can be embedded in refurbishments and upgrades without anyone noticing. Using a case study of a train station in Norway, Richard Duncan explains how it was done. Norway is a global leader in implementing UD strategies. Their landmark document, Norway Universally Designed by 2025, focuses on inclusive policies where everyone is made responsible. Two surveys from 2018 reveal a gradual change in attitude about universal design. More people understand the concept and agree with the principle of, “Universal design is necessary for some and useful for many”. 

Duncan’s article, Right Under Your Nose: Universal Design in Norway is an easy to read article and is based on Olav Rand Bringa’s work. There is more on this website about the work of Bringa that traces the history of universal design in Norway.

Universal Design and Visitability: From accessibility to zoning.  

Progress on Universal Design in Norway: A review 

Universal Design as a Technical Norm and Juridical Term – A Factor of Development or Recession? Bringa discusses the importance of language in the quest for inclusion.  

Photo by Olav Rand Bringa showing the improved and uncluttered entrance to the station.

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AAG goes for Gold

Front cover of the position paper.The Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG) calls for regulation of universal design features in all new housing. Their position paper advises that the Livable Housing Design Guidelines Gold Level specifications should be the minimum requirement. The paper explains how it will assist ageing in place strategies and allow people to age at home for longer. Population ageing statistics and the types of health conditions experienced by older Australians are also included. Vision loss and arthritis are the most common conditions together with back problems and osteoporosis. As people age, they are likely to experience multiple health conditions. The appendix lists the performance statements of 16 recommended design elements. In summary, AAG supports the Livable Housing Australia statement that a universally designed home should: 

Be easy to enter; be easy to move in and around; be capapble of easy and cost-effective adaptation, and be design to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of home occupants.  

The AAG position paper was submitted in response to the Australian Building Codes Board’s Accessible Housing Options Paper. You can also see CUDA’s response. to the Options Paper.

The 52nd AAG Conference will be held in Sydney 5-8 November 2019. Call for papers closes 29 April 2019. Papers on environment and design will be considered.

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What drivers’ can’t see on the road

A red and white circular sign with a 20 speed limit showing.Here’s a call to traffic planners. A group in the UK is calling for slower speed limits on roads to help reduce pedestrian accidents.They list all the conditions where slower speeds could make a difference and allow people to cross the road safely. Drivers can’t tell if someone has anxiety, dementia, post traumatic stress or sleep disorder. Traffic can make them feel vulnerable and fearful. People who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people with low vision are also at risk of accidents. Pregnant women, older people, and people with prosthetic legs or chronic illness might not be spotted either. Even if they are, it is unlikely to change driver behaviour or alertness. The 20’s Plenty for Us press release links their call to the disability rights agenda which requires equitable treatment for everyone. Traffic planners should therefore assume everyone is vulnerable.

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Survey: Housing design needs overhaul in UK

A distance view of different houses in a UK town.A survey of 4000 UK residents shows that most people (72%) want every new home to be accessible for people of all ages and level of ability. The survey was commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better. But there seem to be some contradictions. While 72% said this is a good idea, almost half the respondents said it wouldn’t make a difference to their decision to purchase a home. Only one third said it would make a difference. It looks like a case of “I’ll worry about it when the time comes”. Of course when the time comes it’s often too late. Few people plan for older age, chronic health conditions or disability when it comes to housing design. 

Other information from the survey shows that almost two thirds of respondents don’t think their current home would be suitable to age in place, with nearly half actually worried about it. Centre for Better Ageing produced a press release with the survey information. There is another article on this topic on The Parliamentary Review website.  

Editor’s comment: The market mechanisms of demand and supply don’t apply in this situation where purchasing decisions are not always rational. In this situation the public purse has to pick up the fallout in terms of increased falls, longer hospital stays and aged care places. 

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