Universal Design for Streets: A guide

A street in Seattle showing pedestrian areas.The American Society of Landscape Architects has a guide to universally designed streets. Green, complete streets, which incorporate green infrastructure and safely separate pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles, and public transport, use strategies to reduce reckless driving behaviour, rather than designing around the most reckless driver. Each of the topics below is explained in greater detail in the Guide. There is also a video (below) showing how people with autism or who are neurodiverse can find streets and public places overwhelming. The same can be said for people who are hard of hearing. The picture from the Guide is of Bell Street Park, Seattle.

    • Wide sidewalks and pathways
    • Areas for socializing
    • Clearly defined spaces
    • Attenuated acoustic environment
    • Places of enclosure
    • Perpendicular tactile paving
    • Pedestrian safety islands
    • Flexible seating
    • Frequent seating with arms
    • Well-lit and consistent lighting
    • Green infrastructure

Autistic people can be overstimulated by the amount of sensory information that is present in the built environment. This video offers insight into what this sensory overload can be like for autistic people. 

Universally designed leisure facilities

A walkway entrance at a leisure facility has a big green sign that has icons showing lots of different user groups.What does washroom and change room design have to do with social justice? Darryl Condon answers this question in a Pools and Leisure Magazine article. He has a good grasp of all the relevant design issues across the diversity and inclusion spectrum. The advice and information is transferable to any kind of public facility because it is explained with a universal design approach. Condon lists five design strategies that designers can take away. At the end of the article he advises that with any new facility, a diverse group of users should be consulted. A very thoughtful article in this international magazine published via issuu. It has other articles of interest to designers and architects. You can find the article, Designing for Inclusivity: Strategies for universal washrooms and change rooms in community sport and recreation facilities, on page 48. Pictures and graphics are a nice addition.

The article begins: “What does washroom and change room design have to do with social justice? A great deal. As architects, we must consider the social impact resulting from all aspects of our work. Universal washrooms and change rooms are increasingly crucial in the design of recreation and sport facilities and are one element in our approach to more impactful design”.

This article is also on Linked In and probably easier to read than the issuu version. The picture is from the Linked In version. The social inclusion aspect is also discussed by Katherine Webber in Toilets, Taboos and Design Principles.  

Hospital design and dementia

Floor plan of a hospital setting showing different spaces.Hospital stays are distressing at the best of times, but for patients with dementia it is doubly so. Apart from appropriate patient care, hospital design factors can help patients feel more relaxed. The Dementia Enabling Environment Virtual Information Centre has a section on the design of hospitals. 

This interactive web tool shows a layout of a typical section of a hospital. Clicking on each room takes you to another page which is illustrated with Before and After features. A slide bar takes you between the Before and After illustrations. Design ideas for the staff station, bed area, patient or family lounge and reception area show how a few tweaks can make the place more dementia friendly. For a more in-depth guide see the guide from Ireland on using a universal design approach.

The website from Alzheimer’s WA also has sections on public buildings, gardens, care environments and homes. The Principles of Dementia Enabling Environments could be applied to most places:

      1. Unobtrusively reduce risks
      2. Provide a human scale
      3. Allow people to see and be seen
      4. Manage levels of stimulation
      5. Support movement and engagement
      6. Create a familiar space
      7. Provide a variety of places to be alone or with others
      8. Design in response to vision for way of life  

Landscaping with universal design

A garden with water features and lots of plantings around a curving footway. In the background a woman is being pushed in a wheelchair.Compliance with legal requirements in public spaces is rarely enough to guarantee access for everyone. A focus on technical aspects often results in spaces that are still challenging for many. The American Society of Landscape Architects has a Universal Design page where they list some of the disabilities and impairments regularly overlooked. For example, dementia, deafness, vision loss, and autism. The classic 7 Principles of Universal Design are re-jigged to suit landscape design: 

      • Accessible
      • Comfortable
      • Participatory
      • Ecological
      • Legible
      • Multi-sensory
      • Predictable
      • Walkable/Traversable.

More detail on the above list is on their web page.You can also find more resources on their website including one specifically on Universal Design: Parks and Plazas with some nice case studies too. 

A UD approach to fitouts

Front cover of the guideAll you ever wanted to know about reception desks, waiting areas, storage, coin operated machines, kitchen sinks and ticket dispensers. These and other related topics are covered in a guide to taking a universal design approach to facilities in buildings. This is a companion to the internal environments booklet, also from the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. One of the key issues in creating universally designed places and spaces is the details are often left until last and not integrated into the whole of design. The introduction to Design Issues begins,

“Integration, not afterthought: Many facilities in buildings will be designed and specified by the project team, for example, a built-in kitchen or refreshment area in a new building or refurbishment project. By considering the spatial and detailed requirements of such facilities at the outset, clients and designers will be able to provide facilities that meet the needs of the broadest range of people and be universally designed.” 

A UD approach to internal environments

Front cover of the publication.Floor finishes, lighting, acoustics, hearing systems, signage and alarm systems are all included in a guide to taking a universal design approach to the design of internal environments.  Although the booklet covers specific aspects in detail, they are interrelated. And of course they need to be taken into consideration with the overall design of the building. Published by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland it is very detailed. Checklists help guide the reader through the material. This booklet links with others in the series, particularly the one on entrances and circulation spaces.  

A UD approach to all building types

Front cover of the guide.A guide from the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design covers all types of public buildings: offices, transport, retail, shopping centres, restaurants and bars, museums, galleries, libraries, entertainment centres, religious buildings, hotels, outdoor areas, parks and historic sites. The whole guide takes a universal design approach to all aspects of building design and across all types of buildings. It’s a very detailed guide, but the sections have clear subheadings. 

The guide contains checklists for each section and pictures show some of the design issues needing to be overcome. This is a comprehensive publication and brings together all building types together in one place. This makes it a good resource for local authorities that need to join the dots between all buildings in their community. It is also useful for planners and designers involved in one or more of the building types. 

Dementia Friendly Hospitals: An in-depth study

A hosptial room with three empty beds. It looks very clinical.People with dementia find new places and routines challenging. So when it comes to going to hospital they often experience increased anxiety and disorientation. The design of the hospital environment can have an effect on this group. That’s the finding of some new research carried out in hospitals where they interviewed patients and family members. “The voices of patients, particularly persons with dementia and their APs, are a crucial element in helping hospitals to fulfill their role as caregiving and healing facilities”.

The title of the article is, Dementia Friendly Hospital Design: Key Issues for Patients and Accompanying Persons in an Irish Acute Care Public Hospital  You will need institutional access for a free read. This is further work from Ireland on their guide to dementia friendly hospitals

Objectives: Research was conducted to investigate the impact of the hospital environment on older people including patients with dementia and their accompanying persons (APs). The article presents key research findings in the case study hospital.

Background: For many patients, the hospital is challenging due to the busy, unfamiliar, and stressful nature of the environment. For a person with dementia, the hospital experience can be exacerbated by cognitive impairment and behavioral or psychological symptoms and can therefore prove to be a frightening, distressing, and disorientating place.

Method: The findings are based on a stakeholder engagement process where the research team spent approximately 150 hr observing within the hospital, administered 95 questionnaires to patients and/or APs, and conducted 12 structured interviews with patients and APs. A thematic analysis was employed to analyze and generate key themes emerging from the process.

Results: Themes were grouped into overarching issues and design issues across spatial scales.

Conclusion: This research confirms the negative impact of the acute hospital setting on older people with cognitive impairments including dementia and delirium. The multiple perspectives captured in this study, including most importantly people with dementia, ensure that stakeholder needs can be used to inform the design of the hospital environment. The research points to the value of understanding the lived experience of the person with dementia and APs. The voices of patients, particularly persons with dementia and their APs, are a crucial element in helping hospitals to fulfill their role as caregiving and healing facilities. 

Universal Design and Health

The Center for Health DesignThe logo of Center for Health Design based in California has an excellent checklist that focuses on design features specific to older people. Of course, such features will generally benefit others. The checklist supports a universal design approach to environments for ageing populations. It is not designed as a list of comprehensive specifications, but a “thought starter”. It is probably best used to guide the discussion of design teams at the outset of a project. The checklist covers Home and Community including dwellings, Healthcare and design of clinics and emergency rooms, and Workplace designs and strategies.

The checklist matrix lists the strategy or goal, design considerations for the built environment, and the universal implications (benefits for everyone). For example, the goal of ageing in place in one’s home requires (among others) features that are easy to clean and maintain. The universal implication is that it increases the suitability of housing for a wider range of users and potential buyers. The checklist has a comprehensive reference list to support the content and for further reading.



Autism and Building Design

A young girl is wide-eyed with a drooping mouth as is she is about to be unhappy.If designers are not thinking about autistic people now, they soon will be, or should be. Autistic people have the same rights to functional and accessible spaces as everyone else. In his article on Branch Pattern website, Stuart Shell gives an overview of ASD (autism spectrum disorder). He explains why building owners and designers need to include this group, and how it will create great architecture at the same time.

One in one hundred and fifty children were diagnosed with ASD in 2000. ASD can take the form of extra sensory awareness, and higher levels of anxiety or involuntary responses. However, most autistic people say they have their own way of experiencing the world – not a “disorder”. He concludes with a list of design options and different guidelines. It is a lengthy but very useful article that includes acoustics, lighting, thermal comfort and material finishes and furniture. There is a list of references at the end for further reading. What Autism Teaches Us About Design is an easy and comprehensive read on an important topic. 

As an aside, he mentions studies that show exposure to particulate matter (eg from motor vehicles) during pregnancy increased the odds of having a child with ASD.