Progress on UD in Norway: A review

Tall houses are reflected in the water.The houses are different colours, yellow, red and blueNorway’s planning policies have been underpinned by the principles of universal design since 2000. With a focus on policy, not design detail, this means everyone has to think about inclusion and accessibility in everything they do. Olav Rand Bringa, author of the early reports and papers on universal design in Norway, writes a review of progress with Einar Lund. In the introduction, they discuss the work and writings of British architect Selwyn Goldsmith that go back as far as 1963. In his last book in 2000, Goldsmith articulates his disappointment that little progress for access and inclusion has been made. The review asks the questions, What did we learn? and What did we Gain? In short, new buildings, outdoor environments, websites and more are all designed according to universal design. However, there is much to do with the existing environment. The paper Picture of the front cover of the Norwegian Action Planconcludes with, “And Universal Design, will it remain a particular design-concept in the future or will it simply be what everyone associates with good design? We should have good reasons to expect the latter.”  Also of interest is the Nordic Charter for Universal Design initiated in 2011, and the main policy document, Norway Universally Designed 2025 that was updated in 2016.

Abstract: The national policy in Norway have since the last part of the 1990s been organized in programs that erected actions including national authorities, municipalities, regional authorities and private enterprises. What have we gained by our national activities to mainstream inclusive and accessibility policy for persons with reduced capability through the principles of Universal Design? Have we made society accessible to everyone and prevented discrimination. Are the results visible? We can measure results on several sectors, inter alia public buildings, outdoor areas, central communication hubs, public transport and the occurrence plans for Universal Design in municipalities and regions. Through several programs and action plans the Norwegian government has developed a sectoral approach for including persons with disabilities in the society. The majority of ministries have participated in these plans. Local initiatives, local councils for disabled people, and later on municipalities and county administrations were supported by national authorities as complements to regulations and laws. In addition, guidelines and assisting funds were used. The main objective was to redefine the national policy, using better defined national goals and introducing Universal Design to replace accessibility as the basic tool. The mainstreaming of the accessibility policy, where Universal Design was included in relevant sectors and activities, was a crucial part of the strategy. The national policy was organized in programs that erected actions focusing on how to reach, inspire and include municipalities and regional authorities in their own struggle for Universal Design. Through the mainstream approach ministries have both earmarked economic transfers to their own agencies and used steering documents guide to these agencies how to implement Universal Design in their advisory services, in practicing laws and regulations and in their own planning and building activities.

The full title of the paper is, From Visions to Practical Policy: The Universal Design Journey in Norway. What Did We Learn? What Did We Gain? What
Now? 

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How shall I say that?

A blackboard with words: learn, language, adjectives, nouns, verbs, adverbs written in chalkLanguage is more important than many people realise. As toddlers we start with nouns – naming things. Until we can name things, they cannot exist. For example, until we could say “policewoman” there could be no women in the police force. When it comes to language around disability naming is important. It is personal, which can mean there is no consensus. For example, in the UK the generic term is “disabled people”, in Australia it is “person with disability”. Each has their reason for their choice. Then there are particular disability groups that like to identify with a specific name, such as “I am autistic” or “we are autistic people”. Robin M Eames has written a thoughtful blog page on this topic and gives us plenty to think about. The bottom line is, check it out first and don’t assume about terms. As for Robin, she describes herself as “a queercrip writer/artist/activist living on Gadigal land (Sydney, Australia).” There are lots of good reference links at the end of the article. 

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Climate Change includes everyone

View of a cyclone forming taken from space.In her introduction to Disability Inclusion in Climate Change: Impacts and Intersections, Marsha Saxton begins, “Mention “climate change and disability” and most people are immediately puzzled— it’s an issue that has often never occurred to them…” This is an article about the right to be rescued. Saxton argues that while people are now aware of this group, they are somewhat at a loss about what to do. Disaster guidelines and related literature talks of “people with access and functional needs” and “individuals requiring additional assistance”, but this terminology has not entered the climate change literature. This is quite a long article, but comprehensive, including responsibilities under the UN Conventions for Climate Change and for Persons with Disability. The article concludes, “Responses will require large-scale initiatives, focused actions and strong collaborations between stakeholders across the climate and disability spectrum. It is fortunate that those currently addressing climate change and disability, respectively, are well-engaged with a social justice framework. Both groups must understand the scope and complexities between climate change and disability. The key is thus to educate and activate these stakeholders to develop strategies to safeguard people with disabilities as climate change unfolds.”  

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Another look at missed business

Close up of a a man's hand holding a wallet with some bank notes sticking out.Champions of universal design are often told that to effect change you need a good economic argument. Several such arguments have been written, but have met with little success in terms of gaining greater acceptance of universal design and inclusive practice. Shops, buses, buildings, hotels, meeting places, schools, parks, tourist destinations, and homes still remain inaccessible to many. The tourism sector has recognised that telling hotels and holiday businesses that they are missing out on a significant market is not sufficient of itself to make change. What is needed is more “How to…”.  The latest publication  discussing economics, is on the purchasing power of working age people with disability. It travels over familiar ground with the latest statistics, facts and figures relative to the United States. It compares the disposable income of people with and without disability and with Front cover of the reportdifferent disabilities, and goes on to discuss the data from a marketing perspective.

The full title of the paper is, A Hidden Market: The Purchasing Power of Working-Age Adults with Disabilities, by  Yin, Shaewitz, Overton & Smith. Published by the American Institutes for Research. You can download from Researchgate

Note: The economics of universal design in housing by Smith, Rayer, Smith (2008) is an excellent example of economists applying their skills to a social problem. Nothing has changed yet.

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Altering design mindsets about people with dementia

Close up of an older man and woman with their heads together dancing. He is wearing a hat and cravat, and she is wearing a red flower in her hair. They look loving.Until recently it was thought that a diagnosis of dementia meant staying home and being cared for. Those who work in the area of dementia are doing their best to change this view in the general population. But is the design community prepared to embrace people living with dementia? In Breaking Well-Formed Opinions and Mindsets by Designing with People Living with Dementia, researchers report on a range of disruptive design interventions to break the cycle of well-formed opinions and mindsets. Co-designed interventions have resulted in providing ways for people with dementia to continue contributing to society and have fulfilling lives. The abstract explains more.

Abstract: This paper presents ongoing research that highlights how design thinking and acting can contribute significantly to breaking down preconceived ideas about what people living with dementia are capable of doing. The research, undertaken in collaboration with Alzheimer Scotland and other dementia organisations across the UK, has adopted a range of disruptive design interventions to break the cycle of well-formed opinions, strategies, mindsets and ways-of-doing that tend to remain unchallenged in the health and social care of people living with dementia. The research has resulted in a number of co-designed interventions that help change the perception of dementia by showing that people living with dementia can offer much to UK society after diagnosis. Moreover, it is envisaged that the co-designed activities and interventions presented here will help reconnect people recently diagnosed with dementia to help build their self-esteem, identity and dignity and help keep the person with dementia connected to their community, thus delaying the need for formal support and avoid the need for crisis responses. The paper reports on three design interventions where the authors have worked collaboratively with nearly 200 people diagnosed with dementia across the UK in co-design and development activities. The paper concludes with a number of innovative recommendations for researchers when co-designing with people living with dementia.

Cambridge Workshop on Universal Access and Assistive Technology
CWUAAT 2018: Breaking Down Barriers pp 251-262

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UD Principles in Service Design

Top half of the front cover of the plan. The graphic is various shades of blue with a woman operating an automatic teller machineService design is yet to get on board with universal design according to a Norwegian Masters thesis study by Oda Lintho Bue. Norway leads the way with its overarching policy and commitment in their policy document, Norway Universally Designed by 2025. So it is no surprise to see this study undertaken here. Universal design is not a profession in its own right, but many projects need a UD champion on the team. Committing resources on universal design early in the project will most likely ensure that there will be no need for resources used on redesign later. This point is well made in the thesis. Given that Norway has such a strong stance on UD, it is interesting to note that even Norway is struggling with getting implementation across the board. 

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Disability Data: Does it add value to the cause of inclusion?

hundreds of lego people, white bodies with yellow heads are lined up like soldiers on paradeHigh values are placed on statistics and economics. So when it comes to the topic of people with disability questions are asked such as, “So how many people are there with disability anyway?” and “Should we bother about a few people when there are so many other things to think about?”  What more could statistics add (or detract) from the inclusion agenda? What kind of statistics might matter most? Who is the subject of such data and how is it collected? Who is best placed to collect such data? And who decides on the questions to be asked?

Deborah Rhodes addresses some of these issues in a thoughtful discussion paper “Monitoring and Evaluation in Disability-Inclusive Development: Ensuring data ABOUT disability-inclusive development contributes TO inclusion”. Elements of this discussion paper provide food for thought for both development projects and policy development here at home in Australia. There are some key questions at the end of the paper that should be asked as there are many unspoken assumptions that all data are good data:

  1. What is the most important purpose for collecting data?
  2. Who is determining the reason for the data collection?
  3. What are other purposes for collecting data (that may or may not need to be prioritised)?
  4. How can we ensure that the data we collect is relevant to the policy, programming and attitudinal changes that people in the specific context seek to achieve?
  5. What information will tell us about the specific changes involved?
  6. Who will actually benefit from the information generated?
  7. What is the opportunity cost associated with data collection, i.e. would funds needed for the survey be better spent on raising awareness or responding to local priorities for inclusion?
  8. Will the data help to raise awareness of the costs of exclusion?

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) oversees the funding of Australian Aid projects and has has produced guidelines on universal design for all Australian aid projects.

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No More Missed Business

Front cover of the Missed Business guide showing an empty car park and an empty accessible car spaceThe Missed Business booklet originally devised by the Australian Human Rights Commission and Marrickville Council has been updated by the NSW Business Chamber. On the positive, it gives key messages in simple sentences and information is presented on three pages with lots of graphics. The layout is designed for two page spread so font is small for online reading. Nevertheless it is good to see this publication appear again. It is aimed at small businesses. There are links to additional documents. You can access the guide online or by downloading the PDF document directly. Lane Cove Council, and Macarthur, have developed their own similar guides with a little more information. Check you local council too. For more on customer service and digital access, see the Human Rights Commission’s additional booklet, Access for all: Improving accessibility for consumers with disability (2016).

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What’s it called? Terminology and universal design

Picture of the back of a house that is being built. The ground is just dirt. Overlaid are words in different colours: Adaptable, Universal, Visitable, Usable, Accessible, Disabled, FlexibleUniversal, inclusive, accessible, design-for-all – are they all the same? Some would argue there are some differences, but the goals are very much the same – inclusion of everyone. Different disciplines, different practitioners, and different countries tend to favour one over the others. Academics find this problematic as it makes it difficult to build an international body of research on a topic where terminology can vary so much. Regulations and codes have not helped the cause: Web accessibility standards, Adaptable Housing standard, Access to Premises Standard, and then there is “universal access” which tends to relate to the built environment. Not having an agreed language or terms is discussed in the Journal of Universal Access in the Information Society. The article  has a long title: Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. This is a very useful paper to get a grasp of how we have come to this position and where we need to go. You will need institutional access for a free read, or it can be purchased.

Abstract: Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in the digital age have become increasingly important over the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller extent in most projects that develop interactive systems. However, the concept varies among different professions, cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal access and inclusive design are all different names of approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts? This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used for accessibility, its methodological and historical development and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It can be concluded that there is little or no consensus regarding the definition and use of the concept, and consequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the target audience. Particularly in international standardization the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this discussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may have on measurability, conformance with standards and the overall usability for the widest possible range of target users.

Editor’s note: I also wrote on this thorny topic in 2009: Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? Or you can get the quick version from the PowerPoint presentation.

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Books on fighting inequality with design

A pile of 8 books on a table with the spines on the left hand side so you can only see the bottoms.The FastCoDesign website has an article featuring books on using design to fight inequality. Urban designers, architects, professors, and activists share their essential reads. The article begins, “Design has afforded us more convenience, more connectivity, and more beauty. But at the same time, it’s also threatening our civil libertiesmanipulating our decisions, and spreading bias.  Here are a few to start with. The rest can be found on the website.

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, by Cathy O’Neil.

Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation discusses the importance of co-creation, by Esio Manzini.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America– is about seeking justice in the built environment, by Ibrim X Kenzi.

The Endless City and Living in the Endless City – a critical analysis about the workings of cities from detail and nuance, edited by Burdett and Sudjic. 

Dark Space: Architecture, Representation, Black Identity. A study of the intersection of race, and architecture. through a deep probing of the aesthetics of blackness, spatial inequality, museum culture, and queer space, by Mario Gooden.

And then there isFastCoDesign’s Thirty five books every designer should read.  

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