Universally designed emergency management

With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the need to have inclusive emergency systems is paramount. While there is some awareness of people with disability within emergency management, there are few tools that embrace universal design principles. Research in this area has focused on the general public, but not on stakeholders such as first responders, control room personnel and decision makers. The Australian experience last summer meant that many of us turned to our mobile phones and downloaded apps to keep us up to date on our situation. But how inclusive are they?

A research paper from Norway takes the topic of emergency management beyond the physical environment, such as escape routes, to communications technology. Appropriate technology can improve disaster management for everyone.

The paper is a literature review of universal design methods in emergency management. Among the findings was awareness of people with disability was increasing and systems were being adapted accordingly. However, gaps remain. Some of these are:

    • Most of the work on ICT tools and platforms for Emergency Management does not take into account Universal Design nor accessibility.
    • There is a lack of communication support between emergency medical responders and people that are deaf.
    • In use of social networks in emergency situations, the age gap was identified as significantly more severe than the disability gap.
    • Good efforts towards accessible tools and platforms exist, but most of them are on the conceptual or at best on the prototype level.
    • Research on the use of assistive technology by older adults during disasters is a neglected issue.
    • Accessibility is often limited to access to Internet, rather than concerning the diversity of stakeholders and their access to digital solutions in Emergency Management.

They also found that participatory design methods gave best results but were rarely used. Maps for visualising disasters were unlikely to be accessible, but had high value for users. The article is comprehensive and covers every aspect of emergency and disaster management, particularly from the perspective of emergency personnel. 

The title of the article is, Universal Design of ICT for Emergency Management from Stakeholders’ Perspective. It is open source.

Abstract: While Universal Design principles have been adopted in many areas to ensure that products and services are usable for the broadest possible diversity of users, there is still an open area when it comes to the emergency management domain. This article aims at providing a systematic overview of the current state of the emerging research field of Universal Design of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Emergency Management, and to highlight high-impact research opportunities to ensure that the increasing introduction of ICT in Emergency Management can contribute to removing barriers instead of adding more barriers, in particular for the elderly and people with disabilities. A systematic review on relevant literature on Universal Design, ICT and Emergency Management between 2008 and 2020 was employed using predefined frameworks, to answer the following questions: (1) Who are the target audiences (stakeholders) in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management in the different categories of Emergency Management ICT tools, and to what degree is Human-Centred Design and Universal Design taken into account? (2) What are the most important challenges and gaps in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management? We identify a set of gaps in the literature, indicating that there are some challenges where Universal Design is still limitedly addressed in technology development. We also derive promising future research topics based on areas that are missing in the literature.

Colour combinations for everyone

tfnsw_portfoliophoto_03 This article from Japan came about from observations during a disaster situation – in this case the 2011 Tsunami. This short paper outlines research into colours and colour combinations that are easily seen and interpreted quickly by people who have one of the colour blindness conditions. 

A bright pink sign saying Wynyard and directions to the station.The results of this study and other colour studies are now reflected in the Japanese standards for the paint, printing and design industries. The colour scheme-set contains 20 colours and is divided into groups depending on whether things are small scale or large scale. Bright pink turned out to be a colour for large signage.  For more on the colours go to the Open Journal of Social Science and download the five page article, “Color Barrier Free Displays in Disaster Situations”.

 

Architecture and Health

Picture of Cabot Square, Canary Wharf, London showing an open paved space with attractive buildings on all sidesIt would seem that green spaces are only part of the story when it comes to urban design and health. Beautiful buildings also rate highly according to a study in the UK. However, beautiful landscapes need to be enjoyed by the whole population and unfortunately, we still have architects thinking of children, disability inclusion, and ageing as a ‘tacked on’ afterthought or special add-on feature. Obvious ramps and rails not only detract from the building itself, they detract from the overall enjoyment by people whose needs are excluded at the design concept stage. 

The Sourceable article by Steve Hansen explains how beautiful architecture positively affects health. Based on research findings, green space did not always gain top spot with residents in urban areas. Being green does not necessarily make it “scenic”. The research involved participants viewing photographs of open space and buildings and rating them as scenic or un-scenic. The conclusion is that “scenic-ness” is more important to health than just being green.

Universal design and an historical city: a case study

A late evening view of the pedestrian area showing street lighting and pedestrians. Real life examples of taking a universal design approach to urban areas are few and far between. This is especially the case for established city areas including those that are heritage listed. So, a universal design case study from Konya, a heritage city in Turkey, makes an interesting subject for a case study. This city has a history of many settlements over thousands of years that were not designed for modern day needs.  

Using the 7 Principles of Universal Design, the researchers carefully analysed the pedestrian area to find out what improvements were needed to be more accessible and inclusive. They ranked circulation space, pedestrian crossings, building entrances, parking areas, transportation stops, wayfinding and street furniture for their level of access and inclusion. 

Each principle of universal design is applied methodically to each aspect of the built environment. Photographs, tables and graphs help illustrate their findings.

The article begins with an overview of universal design and similar terms and reminds us that this is not “design for people with disability”. The article concludes by highlighting the areas in most need of urgent attention based on the analysis.

The title of the article is, Universal Design in Urban Public Spaces: The Case of Zafer Pedestrian Zone / Konya-Turkey, and is available from ResearchGate. It is a good example of how to apply the 7 Principles of Universal Design. The 8 Goals of Universal Design can be used in the same way.

Abstract: Individuals in society who have different requirements and needs (disabled people, elders, children, pregnant women, parents with strollers etc.) go through many difficulties while accessing urban indoor and outdoor services due to the constraints originating from built environment. Universal design is the design of the environment and the product that can be used by all the people. With it’s inclusive and unifying characteristics, universal design has become a design approach that have been adopted by the academia during the recent years. Planning and organizing the urban spaces with regard to the universal design principles will contribute to an increase in the life quality of all the people who use the city. This article aims to evaluate the usage of urban spaces in Zafer Pedestrian Zone, located in Konya city centre, within the scope of universal design principles. The concept of universal design in the historical process, universal design’s emergence process and it’s principles and significances has been discussed in the theoretical infrastructure section of the article. In the fieldwork section of the article, the suitability analysis of a chosen sample place’s space usage have been carried out scrutinisingly under four chosen headlines, with regards to the universal design principles and standards.

 

Accessible built environment: Ulaanbaatar case study

What can a project in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia teach us about an accessible built environment? Well, probably not much, except that the issues are the same the world over. Doesn’t matter if it is a developed or developing country – there’s plenty of work to do. And that means doing more than drafting a policy. 

Many of the 163 signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are developing countries. And many of these are taking matters seriously. They see the economics of it – participation improves productivity. Australia has lots of strategies and plans for disability inclusion and age friendly environments. But will Australia start falling behind developing countries with our lack of coordinated action? Not a good look if so. 

Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia is the subject of a study funded by UKaid. The case study report reads similarly to many case studies and guidelines from developed countries. But the backdrop is very different. While countries like Mongolia engage with universal design and accessibility, we are still talking about these issues. However, the Sustainable Development Goals might help us get a move along. 

The Ulaanbaatar case study makes an interesting read.  The report summary lists the key barriers which look familiar:

• The way the city is evolving leaves limited space for accessibility. Urban planning and coordinated efforts should make space to build in accessibility

• A lack of knowledge on the cost of inclusive design is a barrier for decisionmakers. Good quality design should not cost more

• Laws and policies fall through on implementation. Mechanisms are needed to ensure implementation

• A lack of responsibility and accountability for inclusion in built environment and infrastructure projects means existing standards are not enforced

• A lack of good examples of local inclusive design solutions creates a barrier to motivating the general public and designers. Ulaanbaatar needs a vision for inclusive design.

The title of the report is, Inclusive Design and Accessibility of the Built Environment in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

There is a report summary and a full report, which has insights and lessons learned. The project included access to assistive technology (aids and devices) as well as the built environment. Together universal design and assistive technology create the continuum of inclusion. 

Mongolia ratified the UN Convention in 2016 and passed a law to protect the rights of people with disability. This began the drive towards accessible environments. The city does not have a history of urban planning so it is possible to begin with a relatively clean slate. 

Design, Dignity and Dementia Report

Front cover of the Design Dignity Dementia Report.The field of dementia and the design of the built environment is not well understood. Until now. Comprehensive Australian research has resulted in two volumes on the topic. The research looks at current best practice in design, and regional and cultural aspects. It also covers the importance of including people with dementia in the design process. The impact of the pandemic is another discussion point. People with dementia have the same human rights as others and that includes being treated with dignity.

The first volume is about the approach to the topic, the thorny issues, design processes and the 10 principles they developed. The second volume presents 84 case studies from around the world. A collection of day care centres, residential care facilities, and public buildings illustrate good design principles. The case studies include architectural detail and photos illustrate some of the design points.

The title of the report is, World Alzheimer Report 2020: Design, Dignity, Dementia: dementia-related design and the built environment. Authors are Prof Richard Fleming, John Zeisel and Kirsty Bennett.

The report launch webinar gives a good overview. Unfortunately the captions are auto-generated so they aren’t the best. However you can increase the speed and still understand the content.

Principles of dementia 

    • Unobtrusively reducing risks: Minimise risk factors such as steps and ensure safety features are as unobtrusive as possible.
    • Providing a human scale: The scale of buildings can impact the behaviour of people with dementia, so provide a human scale to minimise intimidating features.
    • Allowing people to see and be seen: The provision of an easily understood environment will help to minimise confusion. A literal line of sight should be clear for both residents, and staff.
    • Reducing unhelpful stimulation: Environments should be designed to minimise exposure to stimuli that are unhelpful, such as unnecessary or competing noises and the sight of unnecessary signs, posters, spaces and clutter.
    • Optimise helpful stimulation: Enabling the person living with dementia to see, hear and smell things that give them cues about where they are and what they can do, can help minimise their confusion and uncertainty.
    • Support movement and engagement: Providing a well-defined pathway of movement, free of obstacles, can support engagement with people and opportunities.
    • Create a familiar place: The use of familiar building design, furniture, fittings and colours affords people with dementia an opportunity to maintain their competence.
    • Provide opportunities to be alone or with others: A variety of spaces, some for quiet conversation and some for larger groups, as well as spaces where people can be by themselves, gives people with dementia a choice to how they spend their time.
    • Link to the community: The more an environment enables visitors to drop in easily and enjoy being in places that encourage interaction, the more the sense of identity that comes from spending time with loved ones and others is reinforced.
    • Design in response to vision for way of life: The way of life offered needs to be clearly stated and the building designed both to support it and to make it evident to the residents and staff.

Urban public space and active ageing

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands.China, Singapore and Japan have a policy framework that supports older people to remain within the community. Many Western countries have favoured the age-segregated community model. Regardless, both need to take a holistic view of the lives of older people to maintain quality of life. The design of urban public space is key to this approach. 

Social participation is part of staying healthy and active in older age. A study using an active ageing framework draws together physical, social and mental health into a strategy for urban design. The author argues that adding accessible, barrier-free to existing spaces is insufficient to encourage participation. Creating age-friendly spaces that are not joined up also needs to be addressed. Ageing is much more than providing health care or islands of specialised design for older people. The answer is public space that has mixed functions and integrates all generations. That is, universal design.

One of the strategies is taken from an example in Japan where a day care centre is adjacent a kindergarten. The space between is designed to encourage interaction. While this is not a new idea, it is yet to be realised more widely in new developments and urban renewal projects.

The world’s population is getting older. More people are living 30 or more years in older age, and many are maintaining health for longer. Urban design has a role to play in supporting our longevity in all aspects of health and wellbeing. It is also about dignity and independence.

The title of the paper is, The Research on the Optimum Design Strategies of the Public Space Against the Background of Active Aging

Editor’s note on terminology: “Older people” is the preferred terminology in Western cultures, not “the elderly” as if they are an homogeneous group. 

ABSTRACT:  The urban public space is an important part of the daily living space of the elderly. The paper explores the practical significance of the urban public space in meeting the psychological needs of the elderly and their will to participate in the society. The urban elderly space based on the concept of active aging, is conducive to the spiritual consolation and satisfaction of the elderly in the space with multigenerational integration, multi-functional combination and guidance and helps guide the elderly to realize their self-worth through learning and creating and participating in the society more comprehensively. Based on the theory of active aging, the paper analyzes the differences of the functions of the urban public space for the elderly in China and in view of the limitations of the design of urban public space for the elderly in China. With typical cases in China and abroad, it proposes the ideas and directions of optimum designs of urban public space for the elderly and summarizes the design strategies of the active responses to aging of the urban public space for the elderly.

Slips, Trips and Falls: More can be done

A brown shoe is about to step on a banana skin.How do we know if a flooring surface is slip resistant? And is it resistant in different situations? Slips, trips and falls account for a significant proportion of hospital stays. But we seem to accept this as inevitable. Lots of energy goes into educating older people and others to avoid falls, but the issue is much broader. A group of passionate people think we can improve the situation by developing and testing floor surfaces that minimise the risks. This diverse group came together in a conference earlier this year.

The Slips,Trips and Falls international conference brought together a diverse group of professionals all keen to prevent accidents. So they had everything from technical specifications to footwear. The proceedings have five main sections which are worth a browse:

– Design and technical standards in architectural design; 
– Issues of slip resistance measurement;
– Ergonomics, rehabilitation, footwear and innovative products;
– Analysing accidents and the causes of falls; and
– Biomechanics, human behaviour and ageing.

It seems that Spain is ahead of the pack when it comes to testing and standards development. They demand a high level of compliance for slip resistance in the built environment. That transfers to Spanish flooring products. That means any flooring products sourced from Spain have been thoroughly tested.

A yellow A frame sign indicating a safety hazard of a wet floor.Much of this conference is technical, but the bottom line is that we could prevent many falls and hospital stays if we had the same emphasis on ensuring products had good slip resistant properties. While the Livable Housing Design Guidelines promotes slip resistance, this is one area which is often ignored. The other concern is that technical standards are lacking in Australia for homes and the public environment.  

A short video gives some of the key points from the conference. The link is on Richard Bowman’s page on ResearchGate. The video is subtitled due to the different languages spoken. A nicely filmed piece. Richard Bowman’s paper is also available on ResearchGate. 

Neighbourhoods for every age

Shows the street of a new housing development with driveways for cars but no footpath for peopleDesigning universally requires the involvement of users of all ages and abilities in the design development stage. Inviting them to comment at a later stage assumes only cosmetic changes are needed to the “grand design”. But inclusive design begins right at the stage of design “thought bubbles”. 

Using the experiences of children and older adults, two case studies illustrate the need to utilise universal design principles in neighbourhood planning and design. The authors discuss how universal design is the bridging concept for joined up thinking for greater liveability for all ages. However, entrenched practices based on compliance leave no space for the application of voluntary guidelines whether for one age group or another.

Planning neighbourhoods for all ages and abilities: A multi-generational perspective, is an academic paper. It has several photographs illustrating the findings and the points made in the case studies. 

Abstract: Taking a more integrated approach to planning our neighbourhoods for the continuum of inhabitants’ ages and abilities makes sense given our current and future population composition. Seldom are the built environment requirements of diverse groups (e.g. children, seniors, and people with disability) synthesised, resulting in often unfriendly and exclusionary neighbourhoods. This often means people experience barriers or restriction on their freedom to move about and interact within their neighbourhood. Applying universal design to neighbourhoods may provide a bridging link. By presenting two cases from South-East Queensland (SEQ), Australia, through the lenses of different ages and abilities – older children with physical disabilities and their families (Stafford 2013, 2014) and seniors (Baldwin et al. 2012), we intend to increase recognition of users’ needs and stimulate the translation of knowledge to the practice of planning inclusive neighbourhoods.

 

Finding Your Way: Learning from users

A university campus map showing buildings juxtaposed to each other with no semblance of order.University campuses are some of the most confusing places to visit. There seems no sense of order with buildings set up higgledy-piggledy fashion. Finding you way takes more than a campus map. Given that most campuses have buildings added as the years go by, creating a good wayfinding system is always going to be a problem. However, learning from users is a good start.

Wayfinding around an Oslo university is the subject of an interesting study. There were four main parts to the user-centred design: understanding, envisionment, design, and evaluation. Interviewing users and scenario testing helped with understanding. Envisioning entailed testing different media to find the most suitable ways to communicate information. The design phase Oslo Met University showing an old brick facade.translated the information into prototypes. The evaluation phase used two types of user testing.

The researchers conclude it was a great learning experience for them. It showed how important it is to include users in the design process. The title of the article is, User-Centred Design for a Not Straightforward University Wayfinding.

AbstractOsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University receives thousands of students and visitors annually. Its main campus consists of many buildings in which students, staff and visitors navigate. Unfortunately, navigating around the campus can be challenging, as the existing wayfinding system is complex and not straightforward. This paper presents a problem-based approach to address the wayfinding challenges around the campus. A group of European Project Semester students followed a user-centred design approach to involve participants throughout the four main phases of the study—understanding, envisionment, design and evaluation. Interviews and scenario-based user testing were conducted to identify the underlying problems. The findings indicated that the numbering system for rooms was inconsistent, and the signage was not clear, visible and coherent for all the buildings on the campus. Using graphic design principles and wayfinding guidelines, a new consistent room numbering, a signage system and a mobile navigation app were proposed, developed and evaluated. The results showed that the new wayfinding system was clear and easy to understand, and it can be applied in all buildings. We observed a shorter time spent navigating to a specific room, and no mistakes was made. The app was found to be a useful and helpful tool for wayfinding. As a result of this study, the authors highlight the importance of involving users throughout the entire research process, which is our most significant learning experience as a group.

The campus map in the top picture is the Parramatta South campus of Western Sydney University. It has several heritage buildings going back to the time of early settlement. Many new buildings continue to be added.