Accessibility by another name – does it work?

picture of a modern building Norway Opera HouseNorway uses the term accessible to signify solutions specifically for people with disability when not required generally in the population. An interesting distinction by Olav Rand Bringa using his 20 years of experience working in the field of universal design. In his paper says succinctly, “The term accessibility for people with disabilities does not broadcast an understanding of qualities beyond the targeted user group”.  Consequently other terms try to compensate for this. However, it is difficult to move away from this term because it is perpetuated in legal and other statutory documents. Bringa writes thoughtfully and incisively about the issues of getting language right in order to get inclusion right. An important contribution to the quest for inclusive societies. The title of the article is, Universal Design as a Technical Norm and Juridical Term – A Factor of Development or Recession? it’s open access. The picture is of the Oslo Opera House.

Abstract: Universal design was introduced as an ideological and technical concept in Norway in 1996 and was introduced in the first law in 2003. Since then universal design has replaced accessibility for people with disabilities in national policies, laws, regulations, standards, projects and everyday language. Accessibility is now used to characterize solutions made more exclusively for people with disabilities or when a high, general quality is not required. Few countries have made this extensive use of the concept of universal design and the concept has faced several challenges from lawmakers, architects, economists, user organizations, entrepreneurs and debaters. This paper reflects on some aspects of more than 20 years of extensive use of the concept of universal design and try to answer the question: Is universal design an academic invention with little extra positive impact compared to accessibility for people with disability, or does the concept defend its supposed role as a step towards a society with equal opportunities for all?

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.  

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Playgrounds and mental health

Four children are in an open space with buildings in the background. They are jumping in the air and holding hands .Access to play spaces can improve mental well-being as children grow up according to an article, by Alice Covatta . She argues that there is a connection between lack of play and the rise of mental health conditions. The way we design our urban areas has an impact on play in outdoor locations and this in turn either encourages or discourages play. The article expands on these concepts and uses case studies to highlight the issues and the solutions and introduce play as sustainable design. The article comes from the latest edition of Urban Design and Mental Health, which has several interesting articles.

NSW Government has published a guide to taking a universal design approach to play spaces, Everyone Can Play. 

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Tactile ground markers vs wheelchairs: A solution?

Train platform showing wheelchair crossings across a strip of yellow tactile markers.One paper that sparked the a lot of interest at the UDHEIT conference is the thorny issue of pedestrians and wheelchair users negotiating those yellow strips of tactile markers. Tactile markers, known as Braille Blocks in Japan, cause problems for wheelchair users, pram pushers, and others with mobility difficulties. Based on research by Yoshito Dobashi in the context of public transportation, the solution seems simple. Create small breaks in the line of tactile blocks to make wheelchair and baby buggy crossing points. These crossing points are now installed in Fukuoka city and in some airports, but not yet on a national scale. Dobashi cautions that, “…improvements need to be made in response to the voices of visually disabled persons who note that the crossing points pose a hazard to them. In his latest study, Dr. Ito of the University of Yoshito Dobashi pointing to his slide at the UDHEIT conference showing wheelchair crossing points, one with a man wheeling a suitcase.Tokyo proposes a new braille block system that incorporates an improved version of braille blocks with wheelchair crossing points upon verifying its feasibility with wheelchair users and baby buggy users. As the press release of this study was published in nationwide newspapers, widespread dissemination can be expected hereafter. It is worth keeping an eye on future developments of this new system.” Good research paper by a man passionate for his topic and keen to find solutions. The title of the paper is, Re- examining the Creativity of Universal Design Initiatives in Public Spaces in Japan.  

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.

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Universal Design: Tangible and empathetic?

A group of students are on the grass outside the university building. they have several large cardboard shapes and appear to be arranging them in some kind of format.Students rarely get to practice on real clients, and this means they are left with just an academic understanding of issues such as inclusion and universal design. Using age as a lens for thinking about designs is one way to help architecture students understand diversity. The Department of Architecture at Buffalo challenged students through various exercises related to the extremes of age to empathise with, and ultimately design for, small children and frail older people. The article explains their process and is titled:  Age-Focused Design – A Pedagogical Approach Integrating Empathy and Embodiment. Several pictures and graphics help with explanations.

Abstract: Architects seldom design for themselves, yet in the course of studying architecture one is rarely presented with the opportunity to design for a real client. The abstract nature of this education model leads to a focus that typically prioritizes formal or technical design exploration and de-emphasizes the role of the user. While Universal Design centers human bodies within design practice, the broad and often vague ambition of universality is difficult for students to engage within an academic context. We argue that approaching Universal Design through the lens of human age emphasizes the physical, sensorial, and cognitive modes of spatial understanding of the young and old and offers a focused perspective through which to address difference and diversity in architectural education. In this paper we outline a pedagogical approach that prioritizes human embodiments, over physical bodies, and integrates empathic understanding as critical to an inclusive, human-centered design methodology. We will discuss how the approach emerged from design seminars and studios taught in the Department of Architecture at the University at Buffalo and was tested through exercises that challenged students to research, empathize with, and ultimately design for the specific needs, abilities, and desires of individuals at the limits of human age.

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.

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Pedestrians on Wheels: A new paradigm?

Personal mobility devices are shown as the Segway, Hovertrax, Ninebot Mini, Solowheel, Onewheel, and Z-board.Pedestrians are becoming more diverse. It’s much more than walking or wheeling these days. Added to strollers, wheeled suitcases, mobility scooters and wheelchairs, are Segways, skateboards, hover-boards, unicycles, and scooters. Manoeuvering around all these different pedestrians is difficult enough, but then we need to add in people who are using umbrellas, carrying large parcels, pushing delivery trolleys, and those looking in shop windows and their smart phones. Moving through public spaces needs more design consideration by urban designers. It also means accessibility is more than having kerb ramps and level footpaths. Pedestrian mobility will become more complex as mobility choices increase especially with battering powered devices.  An interesting study on personal mobility devices is reported in  Diversity of “Pedestrians on Wheels”, New Challenges for Cities in 21st Century“. In the conclusions, the authors discuss the need for regulations for users and on the use of the devices and using designs which can be easily detected by other pedestrians by using colour and sound. 

Abstract: Traditionally, pedestrians were identified as singular entities with standard needs. Reality shows us that pedestrian diversity is a reality that is becoming increasingly complex. How does urban design face the changing reality of pedestrian typologies? In the same way that in the 20th century the car set aside horse carriages and pedestrians, in the 21st century pedestrians are returning to take centre stage with regard to motor vehicles, but with new formalizations that imply new considerations in the design of streets, many of they are still unsolved. Citizens strolling on scooters, skates, skateboard, segway, unicycles, are added to the already traditional baby strollers, wheelchairs, and suitcases with wheels … “pedestrians on wheels” that pose new challenges of coexistence and design. Own functional requirements to walk and maneuver, to see and be seen … functional requirements of coexistence with other pedestrians that make a different use of the street (people looking at shop windows, pedestrians with umbrellas, reading on the smartphone…) or changes of use of the same space when the conditions are different: snow, strong sun, fog, at night … These are considerations of Universal Accessibility and Design for all that we cannot leave out while our society progresses. This paper identifies some of these new needs and studies this new pedestrian mobility is carried out through a progressive analysis in three phases: 1 classification of the different user of the street, 2 study of the Personal Mobility Devices (PMD) and 3 the new accessibility barriers that arise with the use of PMD. As a result, some action strategies are pointed out to respond to the difficulties of accessibility derived from this new reality and to integrate them into the Universal Design of the urban public space.

The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.

 

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A city designed only for young and old?

a Disney type street facade with imaginative designs that look appealing to childrenA city only for children and older people and all other age groups are welcome on visitor passes? What would such a city look like?  A good question because having a visitor pass to your own city is what it feels like to groups who have not been considered in the design. The article, Diversity and belonging in the city comes from the Urban Design and Mental Health Journal. Erin Sharp Newton.poses various human perspectives on the city, urban form, architecture and design. A somewhat philosophical piece, but a step away from the usual thinking.

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Wheelchair users identify the real barriers

A man in a wheelchair is separated from the crowd by a low concrete barrierA recent in-depth study from UK on wheelchair users reveals that in spite of legislation to improve accessibility, designers are still providing a bare minimum without regard to functionality for wheelchair users. One aim of the study was to find out the problems wheelchair users encounter in the built environment. Unexpectedly, they also found that wheelchair users were critical of their wheelchair saying the design could be improved. The title of the article is, “An Inclusive Design Study of Wheelchair Users in the Built Environment” published in the Journal of Engineering and Architecture, Tom Page & Gisli Thorsteinsson.

Abstract: The aim of this study is to determine the problems wheelchair users face in the built environment and why these problems have not been resolved. The study considered the role of the designer in creating an inclusively designed built environment. The literature review finds that there are many designers that support inclusive design, but also some that do not. The government has enforced many directives and legislation, but this is often met by designers using the bare minimum required and does not solve the issues that wheelchair users face. The empirical research then moves on to finding answers to research questions that were not found during the literature review. Two online questionnaires were used in order to gain qualitative and quantitative results from 45 wheelchair users and 54 designers. The results are analysed through the use of charts, and then the results are discussed. The designers are found to be in support of designing for wheelchair users, but often feel that if they do the revenue potential of their design will be affected. The study concludes that wheelchair users’ problems are a combination of the poorly designed built environment and the wheelchair they use. 

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Cinema, Users, and Public Space

Front cover of the publication showing a long gradual flight of steps in a street with a travellator running beside itThree papers from the latest issue of International Journal of Architecture and Planning address universal design. Once you scroll through the usual context-setting paragraphs on the principles of UD, the research itself has something to offer.

Disability and Otherization: Readings on Cinema in The Light of UD Principles. The study is about the relationship between architecture and disability in cinema, and how it is portrayed. Using 6 well-known films that include othering, the researchers apply the 7 principles of UD to analyse how disability is portrayed. Interesting way of dissecting societal attitudes and how such films might impact on social attitudes perhaps reinforcing prejudices.

User-Involved Universal Design Experience in the Space, Product and Service Development Process, concludes that universal design is about multiple users regardless of the design discipline. The aim was to encourage students to design beyond specialised “disability products” and to integrate a wide spectrum of users.

Public Space and Accessibility examines pedestrian ways including ramps. Specific dimensions make this a guide largely for wheelchair access. Car parking and bus stops are also covered. The article reports on a workshop they ran on UD. It ends with the note that other disabilities including cognitive diversity now need to be considered. Perhaps of most interest to access consultants to compare with Australian standards.  

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4 Built environment resources for practitioners

The IDeA Center at Buffalo is a research institute set within the Architecture faculty. It has a good website with publications and other resources. Here are just four of the books. They can be purchased online. Go to the IDeA website for details of books and where to purchase.

Inclusive Design: Implementation and Evaluation

Inclusive Design: Implementation and Evaluation. 

The book focuses on the direct application of universal design concepts with technical information. Good for designers, contractors, builders, and building owners.

Accessible Public Transportation: Designing Service for Riders with Disabilities

Accessible Public Transportation: Designing Service for Riders with Disabilities

This book is about public transit systems with a focus on inclusive solutions for people with disability and older people. Includes best practice examples.

Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments

Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments

Readers are introduced to the principles and practice of designing for all people. Includes best practice examples.

Inclusive Housing: A Pattern Book

 

Inclusive Housing: A Pattern Book

A book for designing homes with everyone in mind. Includes disability specific information.

 

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Which way is up?

A sign post with one sign saying this way and the other saying that way.Signalling the right way to go has to account for cognitive abilities, visual acuity, and spatial awareness. As people age some of these abilities decline. Consequently, considering the needs of this group in wayfinding design will make wayfinding easier for everyone.  Mishler and Neider have identified five key points and explain them in detail in their article. They are: 

  1. Distinctiveness: the information should have cues that are informative to the route and can be distinguished from the surroundings.
  2. Consistency and standardisation: information overload can be avoided with the consistent placement, size, colour and shape of signage.
  3. Simplicity: limiting each sign to three or four units of information, because people tend to glance rather than read, and avoid visual clutter.
  4. Isolation: keep the signs away from other visual clutter to help focus attention in the right place.
  5. Reassurance: letting people know they are still on the correct route especially if the destination is a long way from the directional sign.

The title of the article is, “Improving Wayfinding for Older Users with Selective Attention Deficits”, in Ergonomics in Design.  Here is part of their conclusion:

“Because maps and other layout information may not be easy for older adults to use, providing environmental support through wayfinding signage might be the best way to mitigate these difficulties. However, visual selective attention, which is needed to find and read a sign, declines in old age, which makes it particularly important to adhere strictly to certain guidelines for signage design.

Adhering closely to the principles of distinctiveness, consistency and standardization, simplicity, isolation, and reassurance should help not only to improve wayfinding performance for all users but also to reduce the performance gap between older and younger users.

Providing age-inclusive signage could help to maintain high mobility in older adults, prevent them from becoming isolated from their communities, and therefore help to avoid the mental and physical health issues that tend to be comorbid with age-related isolation. Age-inclusive signage design is therefore an increasingly important topic in an aging population.”   

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