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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Smart should also mean accessible and inclusive

Graphic showing silhouetted city outline showing links to homes, factories, offices, transport and other city servicesThe term “Smart Cities” usually conjures up ideas of good urban planning and linking with Internet and communications technology. But how can it be smart if it is not also accessible to everyone by incorporating the principles of universal design? There is a plethora of apps to help with navigation and destination selection, but these don’t turn steps into ramps, or garbage bins into seating. Aimi Hamraie writes about a new breed of accessibility apps that can make life easier, but they can also make it more difficult. “Nothing About Us Without Us” is great for political purposes, but maybe not so good when it comes to mainstreaming goods and services. Much is covered in this comprehensive article.

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Mapping Access: People, Place and Justice

picture of a Google map with icons for parking and transportCreating access maps using data collected from individuals is part of a Google Maps project. But there is more to this than just knowing how to get from one place to another when you are a wheelchair user. What does it say about architecture and how we value citizens? Codes for architectural compliance do not include the human perspective of how people actually use places and spaces and relate to each other. This point is made in a philosophical article by Aimi Hamraie, “Mapping Access: Digital Humanities, Disability Justice, and Sociospatial Practice“. She covers the history of access mapping and uses a university campus as a case study, and challenges notions that access mapping is just a database of directional information. Hamraie claims she has developed a methodological tool for “excavating the politics of design embedded in the most banal features of everyday built environments”. A good read for anyone involved in mapping, GIS projects and the architecture of digital inclusion.  

Note: This article uses academic language and concepts, but is thorough in discussing all aspects if the issues.

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Accessible Housing Options Paper

Front cover of the Options Paper. Dark blue with white text. The Australian Building Codes Board’s (ABCB) Options Paper on Accessible Housing is open for comment. The document is about including accessible features in the National Construction Code for new-build mainstream housing in the future to make them mandatory. Submissions close 30 November 2018. Visit the ABCB webpage to get an overview and download the Options Paper in either PDF or Word. Community forums will be held in capital cities between 15 October and 1 November. For more information see the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design Webpage and Facebook page. 

Editor’s Comments: The term “accessible” is currently used in building legislation specifically for people with disability in the public domain. In my opinion, the same assumptions are underpinning this proposed review of housing – it is focused on people with disability. As a follow-on, it discusses the issues in terms of a problem that might or might not need to be resolved rather than a community need with benefits for everyone.

This approach makes the benefits for others invisible and consequently discounts them. This leaves it open to interpretations such as a the demands of a few outweighing the choices of the many. Considering the costs and benefits is an important part of the Options Paper. There are several research papers on this topic that have previously been ignored and this is an opportunity to put them before the ABCB. Please read the Options Paper carefully and consider the holistic view of accessible, universally designed housing for all when making a submission. Case studies are also welcome along with personal stories. Jane Bringolf, Editor. 

 

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Engineering diversity and inclusion

Two men in hard hats are crouching on a large concrete floor.they look like they are discussing something.The American Society of Civil Engineers has acknowledged that they have work to do on diversity and inclusion within their ranks and the people for whom they design solutions. While the focus of the Special Collection Announcement publication is about educating engineers, it is interesting to see that they are taking the matter seriously and introducing a new section to their Code of Ethics. At the end of the Announcement they lament that there were no articles submitted about disability or socio-economic status and that this needs to be addressed in the future so that all aspects of diversity are discussed. You can see all abstracts to papers in this collection by going to the journal’s library link. 

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Are stairs an answer to physical activity?

Looking up a long flight of stone steps in a park. No handrails.Walkability is discussed as the solution to keeping people active and engaged in their community. I have heard it said by health enthusiasts that we “have to have steps and stairs because that is good exercise”. Well it might be for some, but not for others. A research study on stairs and older people concludes that the presence of stairs “may deter older persons (and others) from walking outdoors.” The study was a systematic review of the literature. The full article is available online from BMC Public Health. Or you can download the PDF. The title is “Examining the relationships between walkability and physical activity among older persons: what about stairs?” by Nancy Edwards and Joshun Dulai. 

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Local Government leads the way

An older man and woman sit on a wooden slatted park bench. The man is holding a blue umbrella to shade from the sun. There is another empty bench next to them. They are sitting alongside the path and there are trees behind them.It seems the need for all councils in NSW to have a Disability Inclusion Action Plan is starting to have an effect. As part of the plan councils have to be informed by an access and inclusion committee made up of residents, usually with a disability. And now the message is getting through according to an article on the ABC website.  Some councillors are taking to the streets in wheelchairs, and with glasses that mimic low vision. This moves council staff from the “tick the box” compliance list to better understanding why certain features and design details are needed. For example, why benches for sitting are no good unless they have backrests and armrests, and why footpaths need to be continuous and not just end suddenly so that you are left walking on grass. The other message from these committees is that accessibility is everyone’s business, not just the ageing and disability coordinator.  

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Driverless cars: Who really benefits?

An aerial view of a car manufacturer's parking lot showing rows of white carsThe concept of driverless cars excites some and terrifies others. But it is the technology and big business behind it that perhaps we should be concerned about. David Wilson writes in The Fifth Estate about this issue. He alerts us to the size and influence of tech giants and how they can utilise the data they can collect. He provides a table of vehicle enhancements and the time it took or is taking for the market to fully embrace them. The other factor is that vehicle components will change from the current 90% hardware and 10% software to 40% hardware, 40% software, and 20% app providers that link the two together. The article goes on to the important issue of governance. He concludes the article with, “The question is: will the loss of our familiar manual cars be a benefit for humanity, or are we heading towards an Orwellian future where a concentration of high-tech global “fangs” manipulate and control our lives, minimising government regulators to toothless tigers?”  Worth a read because this is part of the AI revolution that we will all have to deal with sooner or later and we need to make sure it is inclusive.The title of the article is, Driverless cars: benefit to humanity or road to an Orwellian dystopia?

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