Neighbourhoods and universal design

A woman stands at a street crossing with her assistance dog. She is touching a tactile street sign.Pedestrian death rates are rising. What’s the cause? Is it smartphones or road design and drivers? Or is it both? Australian figures show the older generation is a big part of the fatality toll. But they are not likely to be looking as smartphones as they walk. So road and street design need another look. The American Society of Landscape Architects has an excellent guide on neighbourhoods and street design. Safe intersections, wider footpaths, accessible transportation, multi-sensory wayfinding, legible signage, and connected green spaces are just some of the features addressed in the guide. City of Sydney gets a mention (see picture above) about a larger signage system that helps pedestrians calculate walking times within the city. 

 

How not to build a library

A long flight of stairs on the left looks out over Manhattan with rows of books tiered up on the right hand side. They are only accessible via the stairs.An architectural triumph that fails its patrons. If ever there was an example of how not to design a public library, this has to be it. All because the architects failed to check with any user groups. The architects still maintain the issues are just “wrinkles” in the design, not flaws. However, bookshelves lay empty, bleacher seating is sealed off for safety reasons, baby strollers block the walkways, and that doesn’t include the issues for people with disability – patrons and staff alike. Clearly they thought the ADA was nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, the building offers wonderful views. The article is from the New York Times, New Library is a $41.5 Million Masterpiece. But About Those Stairs. It explains the issues in more detail and has more pictures. There is also a news video from Spectrum News with the story. A salutary lesson in remembering function as well as form in design.

 

Inclusive environments: encouraging uptake

A modern building in Beijing. It looks like a concrete round beehive shape.The difference between inclusive design and accessibility is discussed by the Design Council in an article published in a special edition of World Architecture magazine. Catherine Howill and Elli Thomas explain how inclusive design works better for everyone. However, achieving this in the building industry has its challenges. “It requires a significant systematic and cultural shift.”

They argue for leadership from the top and commitment to change from the bottom. Collectively this can set up a framework and formal mechanisms to guide industry and also develop practitioner skillsets. The social and economic arguments are included together with thoughts on outcomes and next steps. The article includes a graphic of the Ladder of Participation.

The title of the article is Inclusive Design: Beyond Accessibility. It’s published in a special edition of World Architecture Magazine China – ‘Accessibility for All’. It is published in both English and Mandarin.

Part of the article is on the Design Council website which has an easier text to read than the PDF version in the magazine

Abstract: The essay advocates for the building industry to go beyond meeting accessibility requirements and instead focus on an inclusive approach to designing places, arguing that Inclusive environments work better for everyone and are essential if we are to create a fair society and a sustainable future. Through the lens of a UK context – the article examines the legal, systematic and policy changes already in place and discuss next steps to ensuring widespread industry and practitioner uptake.

包容性设计:超越无障碍
Inclusive Design: Beyond Accessibility

关键词:包容性设计,场所,多样性,需求,行业变革
Keywords: inclusive design, places, diversity, requirements,industry change

Innovative Solutions with UD

Long view of the inside of an airport building.Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access – IDeA, advocates for socially responsible design to be standard practice. IDeA claim that adoption of UD has been hindered by a lack of detailed guidelines and gaps in training for designers and builders. This is where their Innovative Solutions for Universal Design project, or isUD comes in.

The short video below begins with the basics of universal design and why designs should be inclusive. It then invites viewers to check out over 500 solutions in their online program. The nine chapters based on the 8 goals of universal design cover: design process; space clearances; circulation; environment quality; site; rooms and spaces; furnishings and equipment; services; and policies. The focus is on public and commercial buildings. IDEA, is a research-based organisation based at State University of New York, Buffalo.

Systems audit for wayfinding

wayfinding-design-guidelines-department-of-housing-and-public-The Wayfinding Systems and Audit checklist provides guidance for designing wayfinding systems. Included is the application of tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI), signage and graphic communication, auditory communication, maps and more. Although it was published in 2007, most of the information remains relevant. While emerging considerations for people with dementia are not included, it is a good guide for getting started. There is a mix of Australian Standards, thoughtful design, and end user convenience. Wayfinding is often considered as just signage instead of site or building legibility. So it’s often afterthought applied to designs instead of being integrated into the design process in the early stages. 

Published by the CRC for Construction Innovation, supported by the Queensland Government. The CRC came to an end in 2009. The Australian Standard for Wayfinding (AS1428.4.2) was updated in 2019.

The Victorian Department of Health also has a useful wayfinding checklist for hospitals and health facilities. 

Hear this! The value of a hearing loop

Two women are on stage. One is lying down and looks dead. The other leans over her with grief.When theatre patrons can’t make out the dialogue they stop going. There’s no point. But a hearing loop can bring them back. A hearing loop works with a special switch on a hearing aid. It sends the sound from the speaker directly to the aid. Yes, there are other types of hearing augmentation. But who wants to go to ask for a special device to hang round your neck? Older people generally shun assistive technology because of the perceived stigma. Hearing loops are far more discrete. See this video of a case study that surprised a theatre manager. 

There are several types of hearing augmentation systems, but hearing loops are preferred by users. Other systems don’t cut out background noise or require a special device to be worn by users. English subtitling is sometimes used for operas so that patrons can follow the story. Captioning is a similar system and could be applied to live performances as well.

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.