Technology, Design and Dementia

Most people with dementia live at home and can often benefit from a range of technologies – but what are the best and when should they be used? In a PhD study, Tizneem Jiancaro of the University of Toronto has sought some answers. The thesis looks at three perspectives, developers, people with dementia, and the caregivers and significant others. Design factors were considered alongside emotional factors as well as usability. Not unexpectedly, “…empathy emerged as an important design approach, both as a way to address diversity and to access users’ emotional lives”. The title of the thesis is Exploring Technology, Design and Dementia. It can be downloaded from the University of Toronto.

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Hobsons Bay UD Policy Statement

Three circles in blue sitting inside one another. Centre light blue is minimum BCA compliance. Next circle is extension for Australian Standards, and third all embracing circle is for UDHobsons Bay City Council is situated south-west of Melbourne with a significant stretch of coastal area. As with many local councils in Victoria they are keen to embrace the principles of universal design in their planning policies. As part of their access and inclusion strategy they plan to implement UD principles in new buildings, buildings with significant upgrades, retrofits of existing buildings, features and public open space. The policy statement includes a table where the 7 classic principles of universal design are translated into specific guidelines for council staff. The policy statement discusses the myths, regulatory framework and how to implement universal design, and how to go beyond compliance. 

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Getting out quick-smart and safely

Picture taken looking up a building where a man in striped pajamas is being helped onto a ladder by two firefightersNext time you have a fire drill and have to evacuate a building, take a moment to consider if there is anyone around you that is, or could be, experiencing difficulty getting out – or maybe even you. If you are a Fire Warden even more reason to read the guide on Safe Evacuation for All from the National Disability Authority in Ireland. It can be downloaded in sections or read online. The aims of this publication are:

  • to encourage anyone preparing an evacuation plan to consider the needs of people of all ages, sizes, abilities and disabilities in those plans;
  • to help those responsible for buildings to recognise and understand the evacuation features relevant for people with disabilities;
  • to give guidance on providing safe evacuation for people of all ages, sizes abilities and disabilities; and
  • to identify good practice in providing safe evacuation for everybody.  
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Staying connected with “third places”

Two men tending a raised garden bed in a community garden. One is tipping up a wheelbarrow and the other is scraping out the soilThe Conversation has an interesting article about being lonely in the city. It discusses the notion of “third places” – places that are in the public domain that encourage informal and casual social interaction. The “first place” is home, and the “second place” is where significant time is spent in a formal sense such as the workplace. Community gardens and town squares are an example of a “third” place. This bring into focus the idea of creating spaces with the human scale in mind. Loneliness is a growing concern and spoken of as the “new smoking”. Time for urban designers to ensure social interaction is encouraged for everyone – yes, it’s universal design. The article, Many people feel lonely in the city but perhaps third places can help with that has links to relevant papers. 

 

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Leave no-one behind: infrastructure and inclusion

A yellow bulldozer is pictured against bare orange groundThe Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) embrace the concept of “leave no-one behind”, but we hear little of the SDG in Australia. Perhaps because the focus of the SDG are on developing countries. But some of the aims and ideas could be applied at home as well as elsewhere. A report from the University of Birmingham in the UK reviews ways in which “different groups of people might be unintentionally excluded .. in infrastructure projects.” While the SDG are broad ranging to cover many aspects of exclusion, this report has a focus on people with disability, people of all ages and women. Large scale infrastructure projects can have negative effects for people who are largely invisible to investors, designers, and deliverers of such projects. The report covers transport, water and electricity, discusses tools and approaches, participatory planning processes, social equity audits and universal design. Case studies are provided throughout. Again, although this report is written with developing countries in mind, there are still learnings to be had for developed countries. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a booklet promoting universal design in aid projects funded by the government. 

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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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Smart cities include everyone and everything.

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundNabil Eid writes a thoughtful piece on how inclusion in urban environments is an investment that benefits everyone. And not just built infrastructure – it includes services and experiences. This means a collaboration across disciplines that go beyond the traditional links. The more active we are, the healthier we will stay. He says, “Such concepts apply across the entirety of built environment, including not only buildings, transport infrastructure, public space and parks, but also to key products, services and facilities that help improve the experience of movement and connectivity. [It] will involve a wide array of different types of designers, each of whom will benefit from collaborating across disciplines and working with experts in a range of technologies or on designs that extend beyond their traditional spheres of interest.”
See his comprehensive article on the need for inclusion, Smart city means building an inclusive society for all.  

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Is Australia Age Friendly yet?

An older woman walks on a bitumen path in a park. Two older men are sitting on a seat along the pathway.Australia was one of the first countries to contribute to the WHO’s age-friendly cities project, but how much has been implemented? Hal Kendig explains the situation in a book chapter, Implementing age-friendly cities in Australia, which can be found in Age Friendly Cities and Communities: A Global Perspective. Kendig and co-authors conclude, “Notwithstanding the potential value for the broader community interests, there has been little achievement demonstrating the benefits of taking age and the life span into account in mainstream policy areas such as transport, housing and land-use planning.” They add that perhaps as the baby boomer numbers increase, the value might be better understood as this is a group with higher expectations of self determination in later life. The book is important reading for policy makers at all levels of government, particularly local government where the real lives of people are more keenly felt. Some parts of the chapter are available for a free read. You might also be interested in the WHO’s New Urban Agenda and the Place Design Group‘s ideas on implementation. 

Editor’s note: I compiled the five most important aspects of neighbourhood design in a workshop handout: Footpaths, Seating, Lighting, Wayfinding, and Toilets. 

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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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