Canada was at the forefront of the development of the WHO Age Friendly Cities program in 2006. But that hasn’t been enough to overcome entrenched planning and development processes. A recently published study, No Place to Grow Old: How Canadian Suburbs Can Become Age-Friendly, found that although planners and others have concerns about an ageing population, their thinking hasn’t adapted. Older people are still thought of as a separate group similarly to people with disability. Consequently, little has changed in the last ten years.
The survey found that a “number of cities express the need to accommodate the housing requirements of their growing populations of seniors or to support aging in place. References to “supportive seniors’ housing” and “senior citizens’ facilities,” however, position seniors as a special-needs group, like people with disabilities, rather than establishing the basis for substantive policy solutions.” The report makes some useful recommendations and the findings are applicable to any urban area in any location.
You can find a list of Australian cities or communities that are members of the WHO Global Network of Age Friendly Cities by going to this link and choosing Australia in the search function on the right hand side of the page. You can also find out your community can become a member of the Global Network.
The graphic above depicts the 8 domains of life that need to be considered in making a community age-friendly: Housing, Transportation, Social Participation, Respect and Social Inclusion, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, Community Support and Health Services, Communication and Information, and Civic Participation and Employment. An argument was made at the International Federation of Ageing Conference in 2016 that housing should be in the centre of the the petals as it is the central part of everyone’s life.
The access symbol, often called the “disabled” or “wheelchair” symbol is one of the most recognised in the world. However, this icon is often interpreted as indicating use by wheelchair users only. Given that only some 15% of all people with disability use wheelchairs, this sign can be misleading and confusing. The TED Ed video below explains the history of the design, some of the issues in use, and puts out a call for action for updating the symbol.
Editor’s Note: Confusion exists on whether non-wheelchair users can use a “disabled” facility, such as a toilet. Some think that accessible toilets must be reserved for wheelchair users. But someone who is ambulant may need assistance with toiletting. A regular cubicle cannot accommodate two people and besides, may they not be of the same gender. Parents with strollers and small children, and people with continence issues, also need to use these facilities. Accessible car parking is another matter and that is why a permit is required. A factor that annoys some people is the accessible toilet being used for “other” purposes. These “other” purposes can also be done in a regular toilet. My view is that I only care that they don’t take too long, and leave the place clean. It matters not what they are doing. What matters is that everyone benefits from more useable and convenient facilities – I think it would be a rare case for a person to think a ramp is only for wheelchair users.
Auckland Council is on a mission to become the most liveable city in the world. The Council’s Design Team knows that critical to liveability is designing with everyone in mind. Other cities should take note. Rather than use the classic 7 Principles to explain UD, which most people do, Elise Copeland and Martine Abel explain UD using the 8 Goals of Universal Design developed by Steinfeld and Maisel: Body Fit, Comfort, Awareness, Understanding, Wellness, Social Integration, Peronalization, and Cultural Appropriateness. This last goal is clearly evident in the design plans for Auckland, the biggest Maori city in the world. This is a useful video to explain the eight goals, and how they can be applied, and is a useful adjunct to the Auckland Design Manual, which contains their Universal Design Hub, a great resource for developers, designers, planners and policy makers. The video is 3 minutes long.
St. Olav’s Hospital has received international acclaim for its innovative architecture that brings nature, the city, employees and patients together in an unconventional way. Taking a holistic approach to integrated precinct planning was the key to the winning design in the Norwegian innovation in universal design awards. St Olav’s Hospital is not a separate precinct. The buildings are merged into a public landscape where hospital staff, patients, visitors and other workers can utilise the public space. One of the jury members, Ragnhild Aslaksen, said,
“Establishing the concept of inclusive design at the initial stages has been crucial. Choosing a location that placed the hospital in the centre of an open city layout did later lead to challenges when trying to make the concept ‘public’. By offering parts of the buildings for rent, we have made it possible for the city population, employees and patients to mingle using the same restaurants and cafés, and in the open blue-green spaces that act as the ‘lungs’ of the building. An inclusive approach to design in the city also gives environmental benefits, since it becomes easier for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users to get to the hospital. Not least, the central location means that it is close to other public services that are also often used by the hospital.”
You can read more about the St Olav’s ward winning design and also some of the other winners of the innovation in universal design awards. It is good to see human experience included in the design along with functionality – usually the focus of hospital design.
Norway has been leading the pack on UD since the mid nineties. Critical to success was turning the paradigm around to focus on universally designed polices rather than the designs themselves.This made all government officials responsible for access and inclusion. Olav Rand Bringa was the author of the early reports and papers and now he joins with Einar Lund to provide a review of Norway’s progress: From Visions to Practical Policy: The Universal Design Journey in Norway. What did we learn? What did we gain? What now? Similarly to Singapore, Norway has used Universal Design as a basic tool for inclusion – moving beyond basic accessibility.
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.