A recent in-depth study from UK on wheelchair usersreveals 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.
Three 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.
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.
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 detailsof books and where to purchase.
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
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
Readers are introduced to the principles and practice of designing for all people. Includes best practice examples.
Inclusive Housing: A Pattern Book
A book for designing homes with everyone in mind. Includes disability specific information.
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:
Distinctiveness: the information should have cues that are informative to the route and can be distinguished from the surroundings.
Consistency and standardisation: information overload can be avoided with the consistent placement, size, colour and shape of signage.
Simplicity: limiting each sign to three or four units of information, because people tend to glance rather than read, and avoid visual clutter.
Isolation: keep the signs away from other visual clutter to help focus attention in the right place.
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.”
Some major cities have neighbourhood lots that lay vacant for some time. It seems that a small investment in a fence and some grass can make quite a difference to the people that live nearby. The article,The case for building $1,500 parks, reports on a new study shows that access to “greened” vacant lots can reduce feelings of worthlessness and depression, especially in low-resource neighbourhoods. Using radomised control trials, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania observed cause and effect between access to green vacant lots and improved mental health. There were other benefits too such as decreased violence. The picture shows the before and after effect – simple and cost effective solutions. To find out more go to the article on the FastCompany website by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan. The original research report can be found in JAMA Network Open. Looks are everything.
The word “sustainability” mostly conjures up notions of clean and green, but social sustainability – an aspect just as important – has been left out of mainstream discussions. This point is made in Universal Design as a Significant Component for Sustainable Life and Social Development. The authors argue that both home and neighbourhood need to be considered for a socially sustainable environment. An evolving criteria for social sustainability is access to facilities and amenities that are vital for people to run errands and do all the everyday things. Going to the shops, a medical appointment, or the cinema should be available to all no matter their age or circumstances. There are useful explanatory graphs in this in-depth paper that emphasises well-being, safety and accessibility. The authors sum up in the conclusion, “The social aspect of sustainability should be emphasized in the mainstream discussion on sustainability because it influences human behaviour and quality of life in many ways”. They also point out that it is environmentally unsustainable to build homes that need major modifications, “which causes pollution, hazardous construction equipment and material and inappropriate methods of wastage removal”. The article can also be found in Asian Journal of Environment-Behaviour Studies.
Abstract: Universally designed environment provides comfort, adaptability and flexibility that can help to reduce human life cycle impact and encourage residents’ participation in the community. With that, the purpose of this conceptual study is to explore the concept of Universal Design (UD) as a significant aspect of social sustainability, based on professional practitioners’ and scholarly views. UD implementation in built environment may cater the needs of diverse users over the changing abilities throughout lifespan. This study concludes that UD has evolved as a significant component for sustainable life and social development within the individual’s own dwelling and the community as well.
How do you know if your action plan for accessibility and universal design is actually being implemented? The Norwegian Government’s action plan to be universally designed by 2025 now has a tool to monitor progress to see how it is working. A standardised method to collect and measure data nationally has been trialled. The first results show that Norway still “faces many challenges to meet the government’s goals for Universal Design”. Data were collected on buildings and major facilities such as transport hubs, walkways, cycleways and car parks. Different techniques were used and discussed in the article, “Mapping Norway – a Method to Register and Survey the Status of Accessibility“. The authors conclude that while their system is not perfect due to the need to fully standardise and simplify complex data, they believe it will be valuable to municipal and recreational planners and developers. The article and others can be found in the Proceedings of the International Cartographic Association.
Norway’s planning policies have been underpinned by the principles of universal design since 2000. With a focus on policy, not design detail, this means everyone has to think about inclusion and accessibility in everything they do. Olav Rand Bringa, author of the early reports and papers on universal design in Norway, writes a review of progresswith Einar Lund. In the introduction, they discuss the work and writings of British architect Selwyn Goldsmith that go back as far as 1963. In his last book in 2000, Goldsmith articulates his disappointment that little progress for access and inclusion has been made. The review asks the questions, What did we learn? and What did we Gain? In short, new buildings, outdoor environments, websites and more are all designed according to universal design. However, there is much to do with the existing environment. The paper concludes with, “And Universal Design, will it remain a particular design-concept in the future or will it simply be what everyone associates with good design? We should have good reasons to expect the latter.” Also of interest is the Nordic Charter for Universal Design initiated in 2011, and the main policy document, Norway Universally Designed 2025 that was updated in 2016.
Abstract:The national policy in Norway have since the last part of the 1990s been organized in programs that erected actions including national authorities, municipalities, regional authorities and private enterprises. What have we gained by our national activities to mainstream inclusive and accessibility policy for persons with reduced capability through the principles of Universal Design? Have we made society accessible to everyone and prevented discrimination. Are the results visible? We can measure results on several sectors, inter alia public buildings, outdoor areas, central communication hubs, public transport and the occurrence plans for Universal Design in municipalities and regions. Through several programs and action plans the Norwegian government has developed a sectoral approach for including persons with disabilities in the society. The majority of ministries have participated in these plans. Local initiatives, local councils for disabled people, and later on municipalities and county administrations were supported by national authorities as complements to regulations and laws. In addition, guidelines and assisting funds were used. The main objective was to redefine the national policy, using better defined national goals and introducing Universal Design to replace accessibility as the basic tool. The mainstreaming of the accessibility policy, where Universal Design was included in relevant sectors and activities, was a crucial part of the strategy. The national policy was organized in programs that erected actions focusing on how to reach, inspire and include municipalities and regional authorities in their own struggle for Universal Design. Through the mainstream approach ministries have both earmarked economic transfers to their own agencies and used steering documents guide to these agencies how to implement Universal Design in their advisory services, in practicing laws and regulations and in their own planning and building activities.
The full title of the paper is, From Visions to Practical Policy: The Universal Design Journey in Norway. What Did We Learn? What Did We Gain? What Now?
The overall aim of the NDIS is to enable people, previously excluded from mainstream activities, to join in and participate. However, the rest of society hasn’t caught up yet and the NDIS isn’t set up to make those changes happen. That’s up to the people who are not NDIS recipients. The Conversation has an article based on research carried out by University of Melbourne and La Trobe University. The research team has produced a report, How will the NDIS change Australian Cities? This paper sets out the research agenda on the urban policies that we need if the NDIS is to meet its aims. Housing is a key factor in this policy mix. And it is not just the built environment – services have to shape up too. The Conversation spells out the issues well.
One of the underpinning tenets of universal design is to involve users in the design process – at the beginning. Involving citizens in early stages of design can avoid costly retrofits, but more importantly, it is more likely to give people what they want. That means they are more likely to use it. Transport planning can also be universally designed. An article in The Fifth Estateargues that to leave out citizens is asking for trouble, and it is also undemocratic. Infrastructure is a public thing regarless of who owns it, runs it or controls it. It is about good city governance. Planners need to do three things:
consult and engage citizens early in infrastructure planning
improve quality and access of citizen engagement at the strategic planning stages
use more sophisticated strategic planning tools and practices to improve decision-making