The United Nations is planning to actively include people with disability at all levels of their operations. It’s one thing to have a Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, but not a good look if the UN itself isn’t leading by example. UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said, “Realizing the rights of persons with disabilities is a matter of justice as well as a common-sense investment in our common future”, but “we have a long way to go in changing mindsets, laws and policies to ensure these rights”. Global Accessibility News has more detail on this story. Better late than never.
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.”
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.
Almost everyone likes a hug, and sometimes something a little more intimate. Being a resident in an aged care home should not be a barrier to having this kind of intimacy whether it’s from a sex worker or a partner. An article in Aged Care Insite, Sex work in aged care more than just physical, discusses the issues of intimacy and sex work and “skin hunger”. For some clients of sex workers it is about being close and touching another human being rather than sexual intimacy. It’s about feeling the warmth of another body, feeling their heartbeat and breathing. When it comes down it, older people have the right to access sex and intimacy services just like anyone else – age shouldn’t be a barrier. However, those who live in their own homes might be in a better position than those in an aged care facility. Time for policies on this aspect of aged care to be universally designed?
Michael Small’s Churchill Fellowship report tracks and compares discrimination laws and industry practice in relation to public buildings. He questions whether the control of the Access to Premises Standard is falling more into the hands of industry as Human Rights Commission resources are becoming increasingly constrained. Three of his recommendations are: that more training is needed for industry to help them understand the standards; more flexibility is needed for building upgrades; and better systems are needed for compliance enforcement and auditing. The title of his report is, Ensuring the best possible access for people with disability to existing buildings that are being upgraded or extended. The countries visited and compared are Canada, United States of America, Ireland and United Kingdom.
Does universal design pursue social justice or is it a marketing strategy? Aimi Hamraie takes a look at universal design from a feminist perspective and claims that this is not a value-free notion and not without symbolic meaning. If disability is a product of the built and social environments rather than something intrinsic to the body, then universally designing should be the ideal outcome of disability politics. However, the physical environment alone is not enough to account for exclusion. Also, design professions grapple with the idea that universal design is “one-size-fits-all”, which it is not. This philosophical essay has a distinctly North American approach underpinned by the civil rights movement. It charts the history of UD, argues why design matters, and asks, “How can design be universal?” Hamraie concludes that collective access is the way forward – essentially arguing for participatory design, “shifting from value-explicit design for disability to design with and by misfitting bodies more generally.” The title of the article is, “Designing Collective Access: A Feminist Disability Theory of Universal Design”.
Hamraie is also co-author of a new book, Building Access that brings together UD history and architectural history in designing and making built environments usable by all. The authors ask who counts as the everyone of universal design. Rob Imrie says the book is, “a seminal text that will be received with acclaim and become well-known for its reconstruction of how we think about access, disability, and design.
Rob Imrie and Rachael Luck discuss universal design from the perspective of how it relates to the lives and bodies of people with disability. Their philosophic offering is the introduction to a set of eight papers in a special issue of Disability and Rehabilitation. Some important questions are raised about the role of universalism and the embodiment of disability. For example, proponents of universal design say that users are crucial to the design process, but what does that mean for the skills of designers – will they be lost or discounted? Yet these are the people who have the power to use their skills “in ways where some social groups will benefit and others do not”. The focus of universal design is often on techniques and operational outcomes, but is this enough – are there other aspects to think about? Imrie and Luck provide a paragraph on each paper and conclude:
“The papers, as a collective, are supportive of universal design, and see it as a progressive movement that is yet to realise its potential. The contributors provide insight into the tasks ahead, including need for much more theoretical development of what universal design is or ought to be in relation to the pursuit of design for all and not the few. This includes development and deployment of concepts that enable non-reductive conceptions of design and disability to emerge, aligned to political and policy strategies that enable universal design to become a socio-political movement in its broadest sense.”
The title of the editorial of the special edition of Disability and Rehabilitation is, “Designing inclusive environments: rehabilitating the body and the relevance of universal design”. Thought provoking reading for anyone interested in UD as a social movement as well as design thinking. There is more on their universalising design blog site.
People with disability are now recognised in the global health landscape, but recognition has to be turned into action. Nora Ellen Groce points out in Global disability: an emerging issue in The Lancet, that disability is not diminishing overall because of better medical interventions. With ageing populations, natural disasters, and conflicts bringing wars and civil unrest, the number of people with disability is likely to increase. Groce argues that in spite of international conventions for furthering the rights of people with disability, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Millennium Development Goals, more action is needed – much remains to be done. She says, “… the question is no longer if but how people with disabilities are included in global health efforts.” We have to go beyond well-intentioned policies and turn them into action. While this short paper is set in a global context, the same call is needed at a local level – less talk, more action please.
Bank SA has trained their staff to recognise customers with dementia and to help them carry out their banking tasks more comfortably. Often there are simple solutions. For example, as reported in the Age Care Insight article, one customer started to come into the bank weekly instead of fortnightly for her pension. She would become anxious if it wasn’t pension week and no money was deposited. So they set up a system of transferring her money weekly instead of fortnightly so that she regained her confidence in being able to pay her bills. Understanding dementia is key to providing good customer service and supporting people to continue to live in the community. Find out more about the types of dementia and the warning signs, which include: confusion about time and place; poor judgement; difficulty performing familiar tasks, and problems with words. Memory loss, or forgetfulness is the most likely first symptom of Alzheimer’s disease.
The ageing of the population is often talked about in catastrophic terms, but when it comes to actual catastrophes, the needs of older people are not always considered. And it is not just physical needs – fears and anxieties can make older people resistant to rescue. Australia is not immune from major disasters. We have experienced several extreme weather events this summer as well as bush fires. Fortunately we have good disaster systems ready to cope – but there is always room for improvement. A recent study shows that even in developed countries, such as Japan, older people are more likely to die in a disaster than younger people. In the tsunami of 2011, 56 per cent of those who died were 65 and over, despite this group comprising 23 per cent of the population. HelpAge International’s findings on older people and disasters are reported in Disaster Resilience in an Ageing World. Anyone involved in disaster relief or emergency service might want to check their policies and response systems for the inclusion of older people and their needs in disasters and emergency situations. There is a related article in the International Journal of Emergency Management – Recognising and promoting the unique capacities of the elderly. It also discusses how older people are at greater risk in major disasters.