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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Creating Gender Inclusive Bathrooms: A guide

Front cover of Creating Bathroom Accessibility & Gender Inclusive Society.The Creating Bathroom Access & Gender Inclusive Society bathroom guide illustrates how gender inclusive restrooms are also good for other groups of people who are often neglected in the assignment of sanitary facilities. Prevailing social attitudes are probably the biggest barrier to gender inclusive public bathrooms for people who identify as transgender. It therefore calls into question whether the historic binary idea of toilets (men and women) is necessary these days. Issues and solutions are provided in this guide.

“Bathroom access has played a key role in discrimination faced by many other minority groups, with sex segregation posing a particular challenge to enabling restroom inclusion for diverse gender identities. Research by scholars from the Haas Institute LGBTQ Citizenship research cluster highlights the ways gender inclusive bathrooms also benefit other populations including disabled and elderly people who may have attendants of another gender and parents caring for children.”

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Language Guide for Journalists and Others

Front cover of the style guide.Acceptable language regarding people with disability has changed, and standards continue to adapt as understanding and perceptions evolve. Many terms once widely used are now considered to imply inferiority and serve to marginalise people. The National Center on Disability and Journalism has updated their Style Guide which provides alternatives to terms too often still seen in the written and electronic media. The guide also gives an explanation for why some terms are considered offensive, derogatory, and/or marginalising. Unless the context of the story relates to the disability, it might not be necessary to point to any kind of impairment. Here are a few common terms to avoid:

Afflicted with: Implies that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life.

Able-bodied: Refers to a person who does not have a disability. The term implies that all people with disabilities lack “able bodies” or the ability to use their bodies well. Use non-disabled.

Confined to a wheelchair: Describes a person only in relationship to a piece of equipment designed to liberate rather than confine. Use wheelchair user.

Stricken with, suffers from, victim of: These terms carry the assumption that a person with a disability is suffering or has a reduced quality of life. Use living with…

Demented: Refer to someone as having dementia only if the information is relevant to the story and a formal diagnosis has been made. Use “a person with dementia” or “a person living with dementia.” Do not use senile.

Special needs: This can be problematic where there are government funded programs for “special schools”. The term is considered stigmatising – use “functional needs” or describe the specific issue or disability. 

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The evolution of UD and accessibility

Book cover showing anthropometric diagrams of a wheelchair userBess Williamson takes a look at two books and reviews them in tandem, which makes for an interesting read in its own right. Both are about the history of disability, accessibility and universal design, but approach the topic from different perspectives. Aimi Hamraie takes a legal and rights view of history, while Elizabeth Guffey tracks the work of individual designers and the development of symbols and images, particularly the access symbol we know today. They show how accessible design was developed in more than one place at the same time, which shows at least two family trees of access and universal design. One from the book cover for Designing Disability shows painted floor markings with the international symbol for access.bottom up (“crip technoscience”) and one from the top down (standards and codes). An excellent and thoughtful review by someone who understands this field of research. The books are: 

Aimi Hamraie Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability (University of Minnesota Press, 2017) 

Elizabeth Guffey Designing Disability: Symbols, Space, and Society (Bloomsbury Press, 2017). Or fromTrove (National Library of Australia).  

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Physical Access and Sport

Access-for-all-publication-211x300An accessible and inclusive sports club sometimes requires a few physical adjustments to buildings, but more than anything it needs some forward planning and continuing commitment. Access for All: Opening Doors is a guide aimed at anyone involved in running or working in a sports club. The resource covers the main areas of physical access and leads on to other information. It is published by the Centre for Accessible Environments in the UK. Other resources are available from the Centre for Accessible Environments website – free publications section.

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Accessibility by another name – does it work?

picture of a modern building Norway Opera HouseNorway uses the term accessible to signify solutions specifically for people with disability when not required generally in the population. An interesting distinction by Olav Rand Bringa using his 20 years of experience working in the field of universal design. In his paper says succinctly, “The term accessibility for people with disabilities does not broadcast an understanding of qualities beyond the targeted user group”.  Consequently other terms try to compensate for this. However, it is difficult to move away from this term because it is perpetuated in legal and other statutory documents. Bringa writes thoughtfully and incisively about the issues of getting language right in order to get inclusion right. An important contribution to the quest for inclusive societies. The title of the article is, Universal Design as a Technical Norm and Juridical Term – A Factor of Development or Recession? it’s open access. The picture is of the Oslo Opera House.

Abstract: Universal design was introduced as an ideological and technical concept in Norway in 1996 and was introduced in the first law in 2003. Since then universal design has replaced accessibility for people with disabilities in national policies, laws, regulations, standards, projects and everyday language. Accessibility is now used to characterize solutions made more exclusively for people with disabilities or when a high, general quality is not required. Few countries have made this extensive use of the concept of universal design and the concept has faced several challenges from lawmakers, architects, economists, user organizations, entrepreneurs and debaters. This paper reflects on some aspects of more than 20 years of extensive use of the concept of universal design and try to answer the question: Is universal design an academic invention with little extra positive impact compared to accessibility for people with disability, or does the concept defend its supposed role as a step towards a society with equal opportunities for all?

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.  

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UD and public health

Nordic School Pub HealthEvastina Bjork from the Nordic School of Public Health discusses the concept of UD from the perspective of health and wellness in this article. She traces the work done in Norway that precedes the landmark document, Norway Universally Designed 2025” and how it relates to health benefits. Training courses in applying the concepts of UD for professionals were devised and continue to be revised and adapted to keep pace with new learning and updated evidence. Although an academic paper, the discussion about education and training, and application of UD in the health and wellness field is a refreshing perspective.

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UD principles for Australia’s aid program

DFAT UD guidelinesThe Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stipulates that all overseas aid programs must follow the Principles of Universal Design. They have produced a comprehensive guide to all types of development projects including water, health, education and the built environment. It is useful to see how thinking universally about design can produce such a clear guide to inclusive practice and accessibility. This document was updated with a 2016 brochure with ten tips for promoting universal design in aid projects. There is also the companion document Development for All: 2015-2020 Strategy.  

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Sea Change or Urban Uplift?

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundA thoughtful article from an architectural group about ageing in the urban context. While some retirees will seek a sea change to resort-style living, others want to stay connected to their families and established neighbourhoods. The article critiques the age-restricted model and proposes alternatives, one of which is flexibility of design across the housing market so that people can receive care at home when it is needed. This fits with the principles of universal design as outlined in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines at Gold level. Other key points are inter-generational interaction, connectivity, inclusion, and proximity to conveniences. A good article on Aged Care Insite from an architect’s perspective. 

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CUDA’s Reponse to Accessible Housing Options Paper

A modern single storey home.Friday 30 November was the cut off date for submissions on the Accessible Housing Options Paper. You can download CUDA’s submission, for reference. For quick reference here is the Executive Summary of CUDA’s response:

“Australia needs housing that is fit for purpose. The preparation for a Regulatory Impact Assessment for a change to the National Construction Code provides a timely opportunity to meet our policy commitments also create housing that suits people across their lifespan. Housing is an important factor in determining our health outcomes and accessibility is recognised by the World Health Organisation as a major element.

Apart from increased size, Australian housing design has changed little in the last 50 or so years, save for fashionable cosmetic changes. Population demographics, community expectations, and the way we live our lives, have changed. Now is the time to be more inclusive in our mass market designs and consider all households – without the need for specialised design. Indeed, the inclusive, universal design approach, underpins the Livable Housing Design Guidelines – the guidelines that were developed by the housing industry.

Taking a disability-only approach as suggested in the Options Paper will discount the other beneficiaries when counting costs and benefits. In the early 2000s researchers called for a change in housing design to reflect an ageing population and our commitment to people with disability. They make the point that designing for these two groups includes convenience for many others, and that costs, if any, are minimal if considered at the outset.

The attempt to effect change through voluntary guidelines has failed. This is not surprising for an industry that relies on mandatory regulation to keep the fragmented house building system running smoothly and to maintain an industry-wide level playing field.

Finding the right terminology will be critical to finding the right outcomes. Misunderstandings about “accessibility” prevail. This term is quickly translated to “disabled design”. When improved access features are included in the NCC, it will become standard Australian Housing and no particular term will be needed. If a particular term is needed for the process of discussing change, we recommend the term “liveable” as in liveable cities. Alternatively we can jump straight to what it is, Australian housing.

The Building Ministers’ Forum (BMF) has asked that the Livable Housing Australia Guidelines at Silver and Gold levels be assessed. These Guidelines are well researched and tested over eight years and are referenced in many government publications and policies. For this reason, we recommend that the Gold level form the minimum requirements for inclusion in the NCC. Many of the elements over and above Silver level are cost neutral, are easy to apply and technically substantiated.

Gold level is framed around mobility issues (mobilising, reaching, bending, grasping).  Other disabilities can be incorporated within these spatial elements.  As these elements are based on the earlier Landcom Guidelines (2008), which were costed, we suggest that these costings be sourced and if necessary, updated.

Housing lies in a complex and contested landscape. While it is important for the industry to make a profit for shareholders, it is also important that they add value to the community from which they draw that profit.” 

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