Designing autonomy in cars

A view looking down a long vertical tunnel with cars parked in racked baysA survey and two focus groups were carried out to find out current attitudes towards autonomous vehicles. The researchers present their findings in a book chapter in Designing for Inclusion. The title is, “Designing Autonomy in Cars: A Survey and Two Focus Groups on Driving Habits of an Inclusive User Group, and Group Attitudes Towards Autonomous Cars”. With Australian governments and transport planners focused on connected and autonomous vehicles for the future, this is timely research. We must make sure everyone is included.
Abstract: Autonomous driving is a topic of extensive research; however user views on this new technology are largely unexplored, especially for an inclusive population. This paper presents a survey and two focus groups, investigating driving habits and attitudes towards autonomous cars of an inclusive group of UK drivers. A subset of survey participants were invited to attend one of two focus groups, to discuss handovers of control between car and driver. Maintaining safety, trust and control were themes commonly identified in both focus groups, while unique views and concerns, relating to different characteristics of the group were expressed. These results can inform an inclusive, user-centred design of autonomous vehicle interfaces, especially for the safety-critical use case of driver handovers of control.”
You will need institutional access for a free read, otherwise the chapter can be purchased.
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Lifelong mobility with automation

cars on a two lane highway Connected and automated vehicles are being trialled across the world, but will their use and facility be universally designed? The arrival of the driverless car could be life-changing for people who have been unable to own and/or drive a car. In their article, Towards Life-Long Mobility: Accessible Transportation with Automation, the authors explore some of the challenges and opportunities for automated vehicles for people usually excluded from driving. They conclude that the future of automated vehicles for currently excluded people seems to be promising.

Abstract
Despite the prevalent discussions on automated vehicles, little research has been conducted with a focus on inclusiveness of traditionally excluded populations from driving. Even though we may envision a future where everyone can drive with perfect automation, the problem will not be that simple. As with any other problem domains, we need to scrutinize all the design considerations – not only each population’s characteristics (capabilities and limitations), but also the entire system, technological limitations, and task environments. To this end, the present paper explores challenges and opportunities of automated vehicles for multiple populations, including people with various difficulties/disabilities, older adults, and children. This paper brings up some controversial points and is expected to promote lively discussions at the conference.

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Transgender, recreation and inclusion

10 balloons of different colours float on the surface of a swimming poolPeople who identify as transgender are often concerned about their safety in public recreation situations. Dreaming About Access: The Experiences of Transgender Individuals in Public Recreation is a report of the qualitative research undertaken by Linda Oakleaf and Laurel P. Richmond. Designing universally for inclusion of people who identify as transgender is not just about participation, it also affirms their worth and dignity. At the end of the executive summary they say,

“Practitioners who wish to translate data from this study into policy should focus on two areas: removing barriers to access, and affirmatively encouraging participation. The barriers discussed most often by participants related to public/private spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers. Practitioners should ensure that all locker rooms, bathrooms, and showers allow for privacy. As is frequently the case with  niversal design, this will benefit many users who are not transgender. While the best practice would be to provide gender neutral spaces, at a minimum there should be at least one stall with a door in each bathroom and curtains or other barriers in all showers. Policies and procedures should affirmatively include participants across the gender spectrum and should be aimed at increasing participation.”

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Universal Design vs Specialised Design

Blue background, white symbols for a changing places toilet signFrom the Editor: One of our members raised an interesting point with me this week about Changing Places toilets and whether they meet the principles of Universal Design. This is one of those situations where it isn’t easy to distinguish where UD ends and specialised design begins. 

The European perspective is that inclusion is a continuum – a chain of inclusive thinking. At one end of the continuum are universally designed products, services and environments that almost anyone can use. At the other end are specialised assistive technologies and devices such as prosthetic limbs and speech synthesisers. Somewhere in the middle the two intersect. Some people need both specialised and universally designed products and environments.

A simple example is ramps and level entries go together with mobility devices – a wheelchair user depends on both for achieving entry to a building. So where does that leave us with Changing Places (CP) toilets? 

Toilet signage showing Men Women Accessible and Changing Places toilets

The Changing Places website says their toilets are designed to “meet the needs of people with severe and profound disabilities”. It also says, “It is required that accredited Changing Places facilities be built in addition to and separate from required Unisex Accessible Toilets (see picture of signage). This is to ensure that the needs of both groups of toilet users are met without compromise”.  This clearly puts Changing Places toilets at the assistive technology end of the continuum as as a specialised design for particular users. The toilet is therefore not universally designed because not everyone can use it due to the way it is designed. But CP toilets support universal design because in conjunction with other toilet types in the vicinity they provide equitable access for everyone to the surrounding environment. Consequently, everyone gets the benefits – everyone is included.

Changing Places toilet showing the change table, the hoist and the toilet with drop down grab barsHowever, there are concerns that where funds are limited, it would be easy for the uninitiated to assume the CP toilet would work for all wheelchair users. In that case, there would be problems with the drop-down grab bars, particularly for people with MS, Parkinson’s and others with balance problems. The accreditation for these facilities should be through the Changing Places organisation without reference to the public accessible toilet standard (AS1428.1). The term “Lift and Change” toilets is being used in New South Wales and leaves it open to misinterpretation of what the CP toilet is supposed to achieve and who it is for.

Australian Standard for accessible public toilets (AS1428.1) does not cover CP facilities. And not all adult lift and change toilets are accredited by the Changing Places organisation. Hence this leaves it open for a non-accredited Changing Places/ lift and change toilet to be installed without a companion accessible toilet nearby.

CP toilets give families a new freedom to participate in activities, both outdoor and indoor. In this respect these toilets facilitate greater participation and inclusion for individuals and families – and this is a principle that universal design fully supports.

Jane Bringolf, Editor

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Shared space or contested space?

front cover of the report. black background with a collage of pictures and the title in white letteringPolicy makers are concerned about growing motor vehicle usage, pollution, and poor health outcomes due to lack of exercise. So, the transport and planning experts are keen to get people out of their cars an onto bikes and public transport. Creating pedestrian malls is looking like a policy favourite too. But this often means that pedestrians have to mingle with slow moving traffic, light rail, and cyclists. Alright for some, but not for everyone. Older poeple in particular do not like to share walkways and footpaths with cyclists. And for many older people, the car is their mobility device.

Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has done some research on this topic which is titled, Shared Space, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones from a Universal Design Approach for the Urban Environment in Ireland . It comes as two documents, a short executive summary, and the full document. The study explored “contemporary national and international practices and thinking on Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones and to investigate these concepts from a Universal Design approach in the Irish urban environment. This report sets out key evidence based findings and provides key recommendations in relation to the implementation of Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones in Ireland”.

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Upgrading existing buildings

Front cover of the handbook with a purple background and pictures of buildings in a narrow band across the front.The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has produced a new handbook, Upgrading Existing Buildings Handbook. The Preface introduces the document as “one of a series produced by the ABCB … in response to comments and concerns expressed by government, industry and the community that relate to the built environment…on areas of existing regulation or relate to topics which have, for a variety of reasons, been deemed inappropriate for regulation. The aim of the Handbooks is to provide construction industry participants with non-mandatory advice and guidance on specific topics, specifically, buildings classified as Class 2 to 9 in Part A3 of NCC, Volume One”. This is a 47 page document.

Importantly, this handbook outlines a five-step process for scoping proposed new work in existing buildings, with a very strong emphasis at step four to determine whether potential deficiencies are actual deficiencies – i.e. the building does not meet a performance requirement of the National Construction Code. The takeaway message is that Performance Solutions may be the only practical solution to address actual deficiencies, and this is where a Universal Design approach will be most beneficial.

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Universal Design, Affordability and Cost in housing

Head and shoulders pic of Kay Saville-Smith

At a roundtable meeting following the 2014 Universal Design Conference in Sydney, Kay Saville-Smith  shared her experience on universal design and affordability.  She was happy to share her five key points about universal design in housing: 

“The usual argument is that universal design is consistently unaffordable (by which they mean more costly) than poor design because of the difficulties of retrofitting the existing environment and lack of economies of scale. Actually, the reasons why universal design is seen as costly can add cost. Five points are interesting: 

  1. Most products are not designed but driven off existing tools, processes and organisational  structures. To change these does require some investment (hump costs) but these are one off and should not be seen as an ongoing cost. Indeed, those changes can bring reduced costs in the long term through increased productivity etc.
  2. The costs of poor design are externalised onto households, other sectors or hidden unmet need.
  3. Comes out of an advocacy approach that pitches the needs of one group against another and treats universal design as special design etc.
  4. Win-win solutions need to be built with the industry participants that are hungry for share not dominant players who have incentives to retain the status quo.
  5. UD is different from design which is fashion based. The trick is to make UD fashionable so no one would be seen dead without it.”

Her keynote presentation provides more information about why it is so hard to get traction with universal design in housing. The picture is of Kay Saville-Smith.

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