Public toilets by universal design

A row of handbasins in a public toilet.We all have to go sometime. Accessible public toilets have their own Australian Standard. It spells out how to design it and what fittings go where. But an accessible toilet doesn’t solve all our toileting issues. It’s time take a universal design approach and re-think the business of public toilets. That’s what Katherine Webber will be discussing at the upcoming Universal Design Conference.

Thinking more broadly than people with limited mobility is important if we are to be inclusive. Katherine Webber’s Conference paper explains where the design of public toilets are letting some people down. She discusses the taboos, policy and legal barriers in several countries. Katherine lists the many issues people found with public toilets and they go beyond those of wheelchair accessible toilets. She proposes that a universal design approach be taken to the design and placement of public toilets. 

Katherine recently visited Canberra to talk to policy makers how our public toilets should better. ABC News has written a short piece on her visit and some of the findings from her Churchill Fellowship research. 

The title of Katherine’s paper is, Everyone, everywhere, everyday: A case for expanding universal design to public toilets. She will also lead a discussion group at the lunchtime Table Topics session at the conference.

You can find more peer reviewed papers from the upcoming conference in Melbourne  17-18 May 2021 on the Griffith University website 

Planning Inclusively: Make Communities Just for All

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street.Urban planning is a highly contested and politicised area to work in. The talk is that planning is about people, not roads and buildings. But when do users – people – get a say in planning? Only at the end when plans are put on exhibition. Then you need to be an expert to understand them. Planning inclusively is to make communities just for all. 

Lisa Stafford, in a briefing paper, asks how well do we consider human diversity in planning cities and regions?  Planners and bureaucrats would rarely even consider the concept of “Ableism” in their designs. That’s why we still have marginalisation by design. The lens of the average or the “normal” person is rarely put aside for a lens of diversity. 

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion.Social planning can drive inclusive communities because it operates from a justice framework. Participatory planning is one way to work towards inclusion. 

The tile of Lisa Stafford’s paper is, Planning Inclusively: Disrupting ‘Ableism’ to Make Communities Just for All.  She has four recommendations at the end of her easy to read paper. Briefly they are:

      1. Adopt an approach of planning for all
      2. Apply spatial justice thinking to planning
      3. Embed universal design as a core planning principle
      4. Re-emphasise the social in planning

Editorial Introduction 

“Disabled people continue to experience exclusion by design in our everyday spaces, infrastructure and services, which has been magnified through the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, there is an opportunity for urban and regional planning practitioners, researchers and disabled people to come together to advocate for and create inclusive, sustainable communities for all. However, to make this transformative, we must first critically question how well do we really consider human diversity in planning cities, towns and regions? This question is examined in this briefing paper by contesting entrenched challenges like ‘ableism’ before providing fundamental starting points for planners in planning more inclusive and just communities for all.”

Age Friendly Communities Handbook

Front cover of the handbook.From Norway comes an Age Friendly Handbook that presents information in easy to consume formats. Norway has been driving a universal design agenda through national and local government since 1999. Norway’s key document for this is Norway Universally Designed 2025. This Handbook fits nicely within that framework but with an emphasis on an ageing population. The WHO Age-Friendly Cities guide is useful and detailed, but it’s showing its age. So this handbook comes at a good time.

Infographic from the handbook showing the essential element of age friendly.The Handbook for Age-Friendly Communities is 70 pages with many photos and graphics. It covers the key steps in the planning cycle, aspects to consider in built design, transport, housing and social participation. Pre-requisites for age-friendly development are co-creation and communication.

Elements not considered in the WHO guide are plain language, internet use and how to co-create and gather information from older people.  Checklists and examples are included. Fortunately the Handbook is in English so many more people can benefit from Norway’s 20 year’s experience. A great resource, particularly for local government.

Norway has reviewed its policies over time and began to include more than the built environment. They also developed a method for mapping their level of accessibility in 2017.

 

Disasters and emergencies: Leave no-one behind

Road Closed signs and a barrier of a road that reaches down to swollen river.‘Leave no-one behind’ is the tag line for the Sustainable Development Goals. In disaster management this idea takes on a very practical meaning. People with disability are two to four times more likely to die or be injured in a disaster than the general population. So why is our planning and risk reduction failing people with disability?

Being able to attend community meetings to find out what to do in an emergency is one factor. Having more than one person in the household with disability is another. Community education and plans assume everyone can get out of the house with a few belongings, get in the car and drive to safety. But some of the problem is that people with disability don’t make a plan or don’t tell anyone their plan. 

There is no nationally consistent standard for including people with disability in disaster risk reduction. An article in The Conversation explains some of the research into this. It includes the comments made by people with disability when asked about disaster planning. One such comment is very telling,

“But I spoke to three different people who had three different disabilities, and you realise that the communication has to be targeted. Because those three people required completely different things. And the information they got was not in a mode which they could use.”

Four men with orange lifejackets are standing in a yellow State Emergency Service boat on a swollen river.The title of the article in The Conversation is, ‘Nobody checked on us’: what people with disability told us about their experiences of disasters and emergencies

The academic version was published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. The title of the paper is, Applying a person-centred capability framework to inform targeted action on Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction, and is available from ScienceDirect.  

Key points from the study are:

• Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction requires collaboration with people with disability to remove barriers that increase risk in emergencies.

• The Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness framework directs attention to the choices that people with disability have in emergency situations and factors that enable or limit them.

• Findings can be used to support implementation of Australia’s National Strategy for Disaster Resilience by defining person-centred responsibilities of people with disability and service providers in emergencies.

“Findings from this study enabled deep insight into the diversity and interrelatedness of factors that increase the vulnerability of people with disability and their support networks to disaster; offering new perspectives on why Australian’s with disability are disproportionately affected by disaster. The Capability Approach is used to consider what is required for stakeholders to work together across sectors to increase the safety and resilience of people with disability to disaster.”

COVID-19 Screens and hearing augmentation

A man wearing a striped apron passes is behind an acrylic screen. A woman on the other side of the screen is paying for her goods.Acrylic screens have appeared at almost every reception desk in response to covid-safe requirements. But without related hearing augmentation installed, it makes it harder to hear each other.  If people are wearing masks as well, this makes it worse. 

We are familiar with screens at ticket offices, such as train stations, where hearing augmentation systems are mandatory. An article by Bruce Bromley explains how these new reception desk screens contravene the building code if they don’t have hearing augmentation. When businesses installed new screen, few, if any, thought about the communication problems they would cause. And if they did, they perhaps thought we could all live with it.  We need respond to this issue because being covid-safe looks like being a new normal. 

Any service or business that recently installed an acrylic screen at reception should look at finding a hearing augmentation system. It will benefit the receptionist and the customer. Plug and play solutions are available where there is a microphone and speaker on both sides of the screen. I suspect that these screens will not disappear even if and when covid does. It’s all part of adjusting to the “new normal”.

Editor’s comment: Sometimes I find myself or the receptionist ducking around the screen to hear and to be heard. So the screens only work some of the time.

Walking Space Guide: Ease and Comfort

A large arched walkway at night with purple bougainvillea flowers overhead. The pathway is well lit but has the line shadows of the arches across it.Getting out and about is good for our health. We know that. But the environment has to be conducive to encourage walking and wheeling. That means streets and paths have to be designed for ease of access and walking comfort. The Walking Space Guide sets out standards to ensure sufficient walking space is provided for everyone. That includes people with disability, people with mobility limitations, families with young children and prams, and people walking dogs. 

A graphic from the guide showing the distance needed for footpaths.The Guide sets standards for designing, planning and implementing footpaths. It sets targets for five levels of footpaths: local with low and medium activity, and main streets with low, medium and high activity. There is no standard less than 2 metres wide. 

There is a quick overview in a summary of the Guide. Transport interchanges or where walking is highly managed is not covered. Work on a space guide for crossings is underway.

Included in the guide is a method for carrying out a Walking Space assessment and guidance on how to understand the results. There is an accompanying Excel spreadsheet for recording data and calculating results. The Guide was developed by the NSW Roads and Maritime Authority

 

Spaces for all ages

Urban landscape with shade trees and lots of casual seating with people sitting.We often hear that an ageing population is going to be a burden. Viewing older people through the prism of health and disability ignores their continuing contribution to society.  The 2015 Intergenerational Report talks of the ‘three Ps’ – population, participation and productivity. But where is the fourth P – policy? 

Emily Millane discusses the issues of ageism, employment and social participation in a percapita report. She asks, where is the fourth P, policy, and argues we need policies to overcome age discrimination in all its forms. This includes the design of public spaces, parks and streets. Urban design plays an important role here. It needs to capture all ages and foster interaction between generations. This strategy might be easier than changing community attitudes in the short term.

Older people are considered lesser value than others – something highlighted by the Royal Commission into Aged Care. COVID brought forth words such as ‘vulnerable’ and applied them only to older people and people with disability.  By perpetuating the idea of being less capable or being a burden on society affects attitudes that are hard to shift. 

The report is titled, Spaces for All Ages: policies for an inclusive Australia.

This report follows on from The head, The Heart and The House

 

Complete Streets: Health agencies play a role

Pedestrians are walking towards the camera. They are on a wide walkway. Some people are looking at their phones. They are dressed for warm weather. There are buildings on each side of the walkwayThe Complete Streets concept is about creating a safe place for all road users regardless of their age or ability. Transport and planning agencies usually have control over road and street plans. But public health agencies also have a role to play. Along with other stakeholders, health agencies can evaluate initiatives from a health, physical activity and inclusion point of view. A report from the US gives an overview of strategies and examples of how public health agencies, advocates and practitioners were involved in planning processes.

The report, published by University of Illinois, is titled, “Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned”, is 18 pages plus appendices. 

Complete streets should also mean good footpaths. Parking on and across footpaths in Australia is illegal. For people who are pushing strollers or wheeling anything it means going out on the roadway. And not good for people who are blind or have low vision for the same reason. An article on the BBC News website explains some of the difficulties about this issue, especially now that the UK are providing designated places where it is OK now to Two cars parked with one wheel mounting the kerb of the footpathpark on the footpath. A backward step (excuse the pun). The article includes videos showing the problems. 

Access to Premises Standard Review

It’s time to review the Access to Premises Standard again. The Department of Industry wants to know what works and what needs to be improved. People with disability and their families, and disability advocates are encouraged to say what works and doesn’t work in the built environment.  Building professionals and local council people can also respond. Submissions close 30 November 2020.

The Department of Industry website has a link to a survey where you can give your opinions. There will be a discussion paper to follow.

There is an Easy Read guide to the process and information about the Access to Premises Standard. 

The Review of Access to Premises Standard closes 30 November 2020. You can also send in a written submission.

 

Ambient Technology: Assistive or Intrusive?

A graphic of a blue body with different labels around it. For example, telehealth, patient monitoring, assisted living.Designing and creating electronic devices for older people so they can stay home in their later years is a good thing. But are they actually what older people want? It’s a balancing act between assistance for independence versus privacy intrusions. Where do you draw the line? And will the older person have a say in where that line is drawn? These are tricky questions and the answers are likely to be individual. And what happens to any data that are collected both deliberately and as a by-product?

A conference paper from Germany discusses some of these issues as we are increasingly looking to technology to solve our problems. The issues raised in could benefit from a universal design perspective. Taking this view, one would ask, “How can we make ambient technology more universal and general and less specialised so that people don’t feel stigmatised? As Eva-Maria Schomakers and Martina Ziefle say, privacy concerns include the feeling of constant surveillance, misuse of personal information by third parties, as well as the invasion of personal space, obtrusiveness and stigmatising design of these technologies.

The title of the article is Privacy Perceptions in Ambient Assisted Living 

Ambient Assisted Living is a growing field of research. A related paper on ResearchGate “Enabling Technologies for the Internet of Health Things”, might be a place to start. It contains some useful diagrams.