Healthy active living is a good thing but it isn’t just about joining an exercise class or a gym. It’s about a whole of life approach to a process none of us can avoid – ageing. So it begins with the design of our built environment – the everyday places and spaces, including our homes. But does being ‘active by design’ include thoughts of older people and people with disability?
Healthy Active by Design is a Heart Foundation online resource. This website is a practical guide that offers evidence, advice and examples to assist with the development of healthy and active neighbourhoods. It covers:
Public Open Space Buildings Community Facilities Housing Diversity Destinations Sense of Place Movement Networks Healthy Food
Each section leads to more information and checklists. There is little mention of older people and people with disability in any of the section checklists. “Accessible” and “accessibility” are mentioned a few times but these terms mean different things to different practitioners.
In terms of housing, this is expressed as housing choice and aged care facilities and specialised accommodation. Unfortunately, old assumptions about the accommodation needs of older people are solved by age-segregation. While the guide is focused on younger cohorts it offers good information for taking a whole of built environment approach to active design. The video below gives an outline.
Editor’s Comment: I think this is another case of an organisation forgetting the National Disability Strategy which should be considered from the outset. It’s likely that hired consultants have no idea about the overarching Australian policies when devising resources. Inclusion, by definition, is not something separate to add at the end.
When a UK theatre embedded inclusive design in their new building they had a 25% rise in ticket sales from people with disability. This is one example in the Design Council a video showing what is possible with some preliminary design thinking. It showcases several organisations and their approach to embedding inclusion into the design of buildings and services – that includes social inclusion. Community engagement was a big part of the design process: “A lot of ordinary people were involved in the design”.
One interviewee explains how people don’t always use buildings the way you think they will. Consequently it is important to understand the diversity of users with lived experience of the built environment. The video shows several examples – a playground for children and adults alike, transport systems, information systems and devices. It’s down to the details that matter – Barclays bank has a teller machine that includes a spot to hang your walking stick. The theatre mentioned above is also featured. The video is 8 minutes and is captioned.
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.
Transportation is more than trains, planes and automobiles. The design of the built environment can make or break a successful transportation system. Transport for NSW and the state government architect recognise this and have come up with a great guide to movement and place.
The guide aims to change some established ways of working so that we get better places and better outcomes. It outlines:
a collaborative method for practitioners, stakeholders, and the community
shared responsibility and a shared language to support collaboration
a process for implementing this approach in decisions and project types
criteria for measuring and evaluating movement and place now and in future projects
The Practitioner’s Guide to Movement and Place has three main sections. The introduction to the concept and implementing a place based approach cover the practicalities. The third section is more about understanding why this approach is important. The guide is necessarily technical in places and has a reference list at the end.
Established working practices and standards are likely to change, according to the guide. It is asking professionals to think differently about their role in creating successful places.
Editor’s Note: I couldn’t find a mention of accessibility and inclusion. I assume that practitioners will make this part of the process, but that means it will likely rely on existing standards. Aboriginal custodians get a mention.
Accessible parking spaces are the focus in the latest issue of the access consultants newsletter. Each contributor offers a different perspective on the topic. Nick Morris gives a personal story, and Howard Mutrie and Eric Martin get technical with standards. Rachel Whymark discusses car parking related to Specialist Disability Accommodation. As with all standards there are always some anomalies and these are discussed.
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.
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.
Universal design is a thinking process that aims for the most inclusive design solutions possible – designing universally. It is a process that improves through iteration. This means that you can’t specify a standard, which is for one point in time, because it stops the process of continuing improvement. But we don’t live in a perfect world and some people just want to know they got it right. Ergo a standard please.
NATSPECis an non-profit organisation with the aim of improved construction and productivity in the built environment. Their website has along list of technical notes, which cover many construction elements. New to the list are:
These technical notes are just two pages long. They are good for quick reference and for anyone new to universal design concepts. The Accessible Housing guidance refers to the Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299), Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the Access to Premises Standard. it also references the National Construction Code and related standards.
Designing with inclusion in mind will sometimes mean that more than one solution is required. So a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be counterproductive. It also means doing the best you can with what you have at the time with a view to improving with the next iteration.
Accessible built environment advisors and practitioners know that it is an uphill battle to get clients to go beyond compliance. However, that doesn’t mean giving up. Occupational therapists (OTs) are often involved in home modifications, but not often thought about in the public domain. They often hold key information about how our minds and bodies interact with the built environment. So OTs can sometimes bring new solutions to the table with universal design.
Apeksha Gohil has devised a universal design guide for OTs. The aim of the guide is for OT practitioners to offer universal design solutions to enable full participation by all users. The guide is a three stage stepwise process to reach universal design solutions beyond compliance and prescriptive standards.
Gohil agrees stakeholders are primarily interested in what is required by the law. However, it is important to create awareness about user participation and co-design a part of the design process. One of the aims of the guide is to create awareness about role of OTs in universal design and create best practice examples.
The Universal Design Consultation Guide for Occupational Therapy Practitioners is structured as a step by step guide. It also serves as a learning tool because it is very detailed.
Joining the dots between all aspects of the built environment is not easy task. So the Whole Building Design Guide is a welcome resource. It is a collaboration among stakeholders and government agencies in the US. It could be titled, Building Design as a Whole.
Some technologies are overtaken by new discoveries, but others just keep getting better. One such technology is hearing loops. The basic technology remains the same but improvements are being made over time. Modern hearing aids have not improved so much that people don’t need augmentation in meeting venues. It’s a bit like saying wheelchairs have improved so much we don’t need ramps.
Andrew Stewart at Hearing Connections nicely addresses all the myths and misconceptions about hearing augmentation systems. He says that the hearing loop is still the most efficient and effective for users, and the most convenient for venue managers. Other systems are not popular because of additional equipment that needs to be worn or used, which singles users out from the crowd. Andrew also provides the BCA references at the end of the newsletter.
Myth 1: Hearing aids have improved and sufficient by themselves
Myth 2: Hearing loop systems are superseded by other technology
Myth 3: The newer technology is better
Myth 4: Use your smartphone as a receiver
Myth 5: SoundField systems are the modern-day replacement
Myth 6: Bluetooth is the answer
Myth 7: Captions are good enough
An excellent resource for building designers and property managers.
Picture is of Sydney Centennial Hall (Town Hall). A hearing loop is installed.