“I don’t need a microphone.” But yes, you do

Picture of an ear with sound wavesThere are three types of hearing augmentation systems – but which one to use? The system preferred by most users is a “hearing loop”. It is connected to the sound system in a meeting room or auditorium. People wearing a hearing device with a telecoil, have the sound sent directly to the device. It screens out all the background noise and gives definition to the speech. However, a microphone must be used all the time. So no more “I’ve got a loud voice, I don’t need a microphone” because it won’t be transmitted. Hearing Connections website gives an explanation of this system, FM and Infra-red systems. A system with an ambient microphone that picks up all the sound in the room amplifies all the sounds – so background noise is included with the speech. It can defeat the object. Also, the system should be turned on automatically – no-one should need to ask for it – that’s the point. Building designers, owners and managers have a legal obligation to incorporate the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

Editor’s comment: I’ve been given lots of different reasons why the hearing system isn’t working. I’ve been told that permission is needed from  security to turn it on, as well as being told it can’t be switched on because people outside the room might hear confidential information. Clearly, having the system installed and connected is one thing, and training people about its use and purpose is another. 

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Buildings for Everyone NZ style

Front cover of the resourceThe New Zealand Government has a new guide to support their building code, Buildings for everyone: Designing for access and usability.  It’s a good practice guide which goes into fine detail. For example, for entrances it gives reasons why revolving doors are not a good idea, problems with sudden changes in light levels, issues with highly patterned flooring, and how wheelchair users might inadvertently damage doorways or tiling. The guide also links to features to the relevant sections of the Building Code. The main contents are:

  1. Builder user activity
  2. Surrounding area and transport
  3. Pedestrian circulation
  4. Vehicle circulation and parking
  5. Building entrances
  6. Internal circulation
  7. Interior space
  8. Fixtures and fittings
  9. Building types
  10. Means of escape 
  11. Building management

This guide explains the “why” of the specific designs. So there should be no more thinking, “near enough is good enough because a little change here and there won’t matter”. It does matter. The publication is from the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

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Creating Gender Inclusive Bathrooms: A guide

Front cover of Creating Bathroom Accessibility & Gender Inclusive Society.The Creating Bathroom Access & Gender Inclusive Society bathroom guide illustrates how gender inclusive restrooms are also good for other groups of people who are often neglected in the assignment of sanitary facilities. Prevailing social attitudes are probably the biggest barrier to gender inclusive public bathrooms for people who identify as transgender. It therefore calls into question whether the historic binary idea of toilets (men and women) is necessary these days. Issues and solutions are provided in this guide.

“Bathroom access has played a key role in discrimination faced by many other minority groups, with sex segregation posing a particular challenge to enabling restroom inclusion for diverse gender identities. Research by scholars from the Haas Institute LGBTQ Citizenship research cluster highlights the ways gender inclusive bathrooms also benefit other populations including disabled and elderly people who may have attendants of another gender and parents caring for children.”

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Town planning and mental health: a personal perspective

five lane city highway full of cars.Jason Barr is an urban planner who lives with several mental health diagnoses. He has a unique perspective to share when it comes to mental health and urban planning/design. His article focuses on his personal experiences in different built environments, and how those experiences impacted his mental well-being. He emphasises the need to design for people and not cars, and to minimise urban sprawl, and why this is important. As we understand more about mental health and well-being, and how many people live with mental illness, this is a useful perspective to read.

He concludes: ” As planners, we all know one size does not fit all when it comes to built environments and how we experience them. Being able to live within a community built for people and not cars becomes even more crucial than the literature already tells us it is. Its real life. I hope my story can be a reminder to planners and designers everywhere that physical health is not the only dimension of our well-being that we need to pay attention to. Equally important is the consideration of how our cities and towns impact those with mental illnesses. I hope my story “drives” that home. Real consequences on real lives. It is my sincere hope that those who are reading this see that, and take these words into consideration as they craft their local neighborhoods, municipalities, and regions.”

The title of the article is: The impact of town planning on my own mental health as a town planner.   Published in the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health.

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Norway: A guide for UD is not enough

An aerial view of a hospital courtyard showing gardens, seating and children's play equipment.St Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim is considered an great example of how UD is deployed across the whole hospital setting from the outdoor and external features through to the internal design. The Chief Architect says, “Guidelines are not enough, you need clear intentions. You have to know what’s the point of this”. Knowing the point is a key success factor in taking a universal design approach. The point is inclusion – it’s about society, not just design. This is what is lost in access compliance – no-one knows the point. An article in Citylab provides some examples of how Norwegian designers are embracing the principles of universal design. This approach is driven by the Norwegian policy Norway Universally Designed by 2025.The Norwegian policy, which was launched in 2005, also includes transportation, open spaces and ICT and communications. Nicely written article by Marie Doezema. Olav Rand Bringa was part of the early movement and wrote about the processes in, Universal Design and Visitability: from Accessibility to Zoning.  He also presented at the UDHEIT conference in Dublin. 

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Just what is a hearing loop?

International symbol for a hearing loopThere is a lot of confusion about hearing loops and assistive listening devices. Although public venues should have the loop switched on at the same time as the microphone (because that’s how it works), there are some places that think it should only be switched on if someone asks for it. And then, sadly, all too often, that’s when they find it doesn’t work. The Listen Technologies blog post provides a comparison between three technologies used for assistive listening. It refers to a recent New York Times article A Hearing Aid That Cuts Out All The Clatter which points to the many benefits of using induction loops in theatres, places of worship and other venues. As the article points out, this is not about rights, it’s about good customer service. A useful read for anyone who wants to know more about this technology.  The Clearasound website has excellent Australian resources written by someone who really understands the technology from both a user and installer’s standpoint.

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Physical Access and Sport

Access-for-all-publication-211x300An accessible and inclusive sports club sometimes requires a few physical adjustments to buildings, but more than anything it needs some forward planning and continuing commitment. Access for All: Opening Doors is a guide aimed at anyone involved in running or working in a sports club. The resource covers the main areas of physical access and leads on to other information. It is published by the Centre for Accessible Environments in the UK. Other resources are available from the Centre for Accessible Environments website – free publications section.

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Museum has UD integrated throughout

A distant aerial view of the huge arch and the park and landscapingIntegrating universal design was a priority in the redesigning of the Gateway Arch Museum in St Louis. A gently sloping plaza, architecturally integrated ramps, and engaging exhibitions. An article in the St Louis online news gives a good run-down of the features. The touchable exhibits have been a great success with everyone. The universal design concepts allow people to interact with exhibits rather than just look at them. There are other enhancements for people with disability too. The arch and the park are now easier to access by foot or bike as well. The Archinet website features a brief overview by the architects, and pictures of the museum. The timelapse video of the construction is interesting because of the landscaping of the parkland around it. 

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Fixture is UD but placement isn’t

A drinking fountain sits on a small concrete apron in the middle of the grassHere are two pictures showing the difference between of access compliance and universal design. The drinking fountain with dog bowl is designed for children, adults and wheelchair users in mind. But it was placed away from the footpath on sandy soil that bogs down in wet weather. And the concrete apron was too small to allow approach from either side. Once the council were informed, they came back and made the concrete apron larger and connected it to the footpath. It may have been the council’s intention to have this in the first place, but perhaps the Drinking fountain has a larger concrete surround and is connected to the footpath.contractors thought they could save money on materials.

The first photo shows the drinking fountain on a small square of concrete in the middle of the grass. The second photo shows a larger concrete apron connected to the footpath. It is now accessible to all. Thanks to John Evernden for this item and the photos.

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UD principles for Australia’s aid program

DFAT UD guidelinesThe Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stipulates that all overseas aid programs must follow the Principles of Universal Design. They have produced a comprehensive guide to all types of development projects including water, health, education and the built environment. It is useful to see how thinking universally about design can produce such a clear guide to inclusive practice and accessibility. This document was updated with a 2016 brochure with ten tips for promoting universal design in aid projects. There is also the companion document Development for All: 2015-2020 Strategy.  

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