Evaluating universal design: can it be done?

People walking on a wide pedestrian crossing. They are blurred as if they are walking quickly.The intention of the principles of universal design is to give an overview of designing inclusively. But what does universal design mean and how do you measure it? What if there was an assessment tool for access and inclusion? Would this change the attitudes of designers to think about the diversity of the population in their designs?  If an assessment tool helps designers to think universally then this will be a step forward. The risk is that this type of research ends with yet another checklist and a “tick the box” approach by designers.

Researchers from Italy have tried their hand at finding a method for evaluating universal design in the built environment. Their research paper concludes that two methods are needed: the involvement of users, and the use of indirect methods such as checklists. They aim to continue their research into developing a tool for assessment of inclusion, and to “stimulate the continuous and lasting improvement of inclusion from a UD perspective through the application of shared and measurable data”.

The title of their paper is, Towards a Universal Design Evaluation for Assessing the Performance of the Built Environment, by Erica Isa Mosca and Stefano Capolongo

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

Universal Design and the Politics of Disability

Book cover showing anthropometric diagrams of a wheelchair userBook reviews can reveal good information in their own right. One such case is the review of Aimi Hamraie’s book, Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. The book traces the history of universal design from the 1950s in the United States to current ideas. Hamraie discusses issues from both a design and a disability perspective. This is an academic text that would be of value to both design and disability studies. Other articles about Hamraie posted previously are:

UD: Social justice or just marketing? 

The evolution of UD and accessibility

Mapping Access: People, Place and Justice  

Dementia Friendly Hospitals: An in-depth study

A hosptial room with three empty beds. It looks very clinical.People with dementia find new places and routines challenging. So when it comes to going to hospital they often experience increased anxiety and disorientation. The design of the hospital environment can have an effect on this group. That’s the finding of some new research carried out in hospitals where they interviewed patients and family members. “The voices of patients, particularly persons with dementia and their APs, are a crucial element in helping hospitals to fulfill their role as caregiving and healing facilities”.

The title of the article is, Dementia Friendly Hospital Design: Key Issues for Patients and Accompanying Persons in an Irish Acute Care Public Hospital  You will need institutional access for a free read. This is further work from Ireland on their guide to dementia friendly hospitals

Objectives: Research was conducted to investigate the impact of the hospital environment on older people including patients with dementia and their accompanying persons (APs). The article presents key research findings in the case study hospital.

Background: For many patients, the hospital is challenging due to the busy, unfamiliar, and stressful nature of the environment. For a person with dementia, the hospital experience can be exacerbated by cognitive impairment and behavioral or psychological symptoms and can therefore prove to be a frightening, distressing, and disorientating place.

Method: The findings are based on a stakeholder engagement process where the research team spent approximately 150 hr observing within the hospital, administered 95 questionnaires to patients and/or APs, and conducted 12 structured interviews with patients and APs. A thematic analysis was employed to analyze and generate key themes emerging from the process.

Results: Themes were grouped into overarching issues and design issues across spatial scales.

Conclusion: This research confirms the negative impact of the acute hospital setting on older people with cognitive impairments including dementia and delirium. The multiple perspectives captured in this study, including most importantly people with dementia, ensure that stakeholder needs can be used to inform the design of the hospital environment. The research points to the value of understanding the lived experience of the person with dementia and APs. The voices of patients, particularly persons with dementia and their APs, are a crucial element in helping hospitals to fulfill their role as caregiving and healing facilities. 

100-Year Life: People, Planning and Housing

Four women using wheelie walkers crossing the roadThe longevity revolution is here, but we haven’t prepared for it. The way cities are planned and homes are designed hasn’t really changed since mid 1900s. This lack of foresight is having a significant effect on people over 65 years who are not getting any younger. This is a common problem for most developed nations. The Design Council in UK tackled this topic in “The 100-year life: the role of housing, planning and design“. Their article contains some small scale but effective case studies, showing various ways to address the issues with inclusive thinking. It includes home modifications, ways to finance home and community upgrades, transportation, and the application of the WHO Guidelines for Age Friendly Communities. Educating designers and planners is of course paramount as well as involving citizens in the design and development processes. The article ends with a summary of recommendations. Their conclusions resonate with the principles of universal design:

“If we are going to be successful in creating homes and places which meets both fast rising demand, and the diverse and individual needs of older people, our thinking needs to be much broader. We need to consider how we help people afford better housing and plan their finances; how we develop long-term special plans and a workforce with the right skills; and how we use existing policy levers, such as expansion of personal budgets, to best effect. We need a whole-population, whole-place approach to planning for our future health, care, housing and support system at both the national and local levels.”   

The Design Council has a free online CPD course on inclusive environments designed to suit built environment professionals. It takes about an hour.

Putting a value on universal design

A Westpac bank branch in NSW country town. It is a large old two storey house with steps to the entranceBuilding regulations stipulate certain access requirements, but what do people value most and will they be high cost, particularly in retrofits? Using Stated Preferences analysis and cost-benefit data, researchers found that some features suited a wide group, while others suited only a few. The question then is, if the feature for the few costs the most, should it be included or ignored in a retrofit? 

The authors commented that by, “using the projects results and calculation tool in prioritising, more emphasis will be put on measures that improve the buildings’ quality for a wide audience. Such measures may easily be forgotten if one only focusses on the most obvious deficits.” Among high benefit features, were good lighting, visual and tactile markings, and stair handrails.

An interesting study that reveals the preferences of building users and the value they place on certain features and the related costs. This can be compared with features set down in access standards where the value for users is not assessed, nor the costs.

The title of the article is, Upgrading Existing Buildings to Universal Design. What Cost-Benefit Analyses Can Tell Us.  It is open source from IOS Press. 

Shopping with universal design

A long view of the Family Mall - one of those in the study. It looks like any other western style mall.In most countries new shopping complexes  must comply with current disability access standards. However, that doesn’t guarantee a comfortable, safe or convenient shopping experience for everyone. An article published in Sustainability discusses the adaptation of the classic principles of universal design to suit shopping environments. Usability, safety and comfort were seen as the key design elements. The article includes a literature review and a study of six shopping malls. Although the study was carried out in a developing country, Iraqi Kurdistan, the model and survey results are applicable anywhere. However, it provides useful information for those designing buildings in this context. It is good to see a detailed review of shopping complex design, and a model for design criteria. 

The title of the article is an indicator that it contains some technical data, but most of the article is readable: “Using Structural Equation Modeling to Propose a Model for Shopping Complex Design Based on Universal Design Concept”. A very useful document for designers of all public buildings.

The picture is of the Family Mall, one of those included in the study.

Children like it green

A group of children are walking along a path in a nature park.It’s amazing what can be done when GPS data is linked to population data. The Danish study used satellite data to show a link between growing up near green space and issues with mental health in adulthood. They found that children under 10 years who had greater access to green space may grow up to be happier adults. The FastCo article goes on to say that data was correlated between the child’s proximity to green space during childhood and that same person’s mental health later in life. The more green space they had access to, the less likely they were to have mental health issues later.

The title of this interesting article is “Kids surrounded by greenery may grow up to be happier adults“.

The study was conducted by researchers at Aarhus University. 

Age-friendly meets sustainability

A street scene showing tall buildings, some traffic and people walking on a pedestrian crossing.Is there a link between an age-friendly urban environment and sustainability? This is a question posed by a group in Hong Kong. They carried out an on-street survey to see what the links are, if any. They claim that “The empirical results suggest how the aging‐friendly factors have impacted the economic, environmental, and social sustainability to a certain extent”. Among other results, outdoor spaces were not found to be a planning factor, but community support and health services were. The abstract below gives more detail. This paper shows how it is possible to bring different disciplines together rather than having them compete for attention. That is also apparent when taking a universal design approach to planning. 

The title of the article is “Does aging‐friendly enhance sustainability? Evidence from Hong Kong” You will need institutional access for a free read. 

Abstract: The aging population is one of the demographic changes in the 21st century. World Health Organization defines an age‐friendly city as a place that has an “inclusive and accessible urban environment that promotes active aging.” It receives considerable attention in the field of gerontology and contains important aspects of sustainable urban development. Unfortunately, there have not much research that addresses the relationship between aging‐friendly and sustainability. There is a need to modify the market mechanism to achieve environmental objectives while striking a balance between social and economic considerations. This paper aims to empirically examine the integrated relationships between the dense urban environment and the social and emotional needs of the elderly in the Hong Kong context. The on‐street survey was conducted in eight districts in Hong Kong to collect the opinions about aging‐friendly criteria and sustainability indicators. It utilizes principal component analysis and multiple regression technique to unveil the mask of their intrinsic relationship. The empirical results suggest how the aging‐friendly factors have impacted the economic, environmental, and social sustainability to a certain extent. Notably, two key findings were revealed from the empirical results. (a) “Outdoor Spaces” is consistently found not to be a planning factor that can enhance three types of sustainability, irrespective of the age groups in Hong Kong; (b) “Community Support and Health Services” is regarded as a significant factor, with the exception of economic sustainability (age group ≤60).

Urban planning for population longevity

A row of two storey houses painted in different pastel colours.Urban designers can be champions for improvements for population ageing. That is a key theme in an article that proposes ways for helping older people stay put in their home, and if not, in their community. The article discusses current innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive both physically and socially. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing smallscale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations.

The title of the article is, “Improving housing and neighborhoods for the vulnerable: older people, small households, urban design, and planning”. You will need institutional access for a free read from SpringerLink. Or you can access via ResearchGate and request a copy of the article.

Abstract: The number of older people who need help with daily tasks will increase during the next century. Currently preferences and policies aim to help older people to stay in their existing homes, to age in place, even as they become less able to care for themselves and, increasingly, live alone. However, the majority of homes in the U.S. and many other countries are not designed to support advanced old age or are not located to easily provide support and services. The paper explores the needs of older people experiencing frailty. It examines the existing range of innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive, physically, socially, and in terms of services. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing smallscale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations. Some will allow people to remain in their current dwelling but others focus on people remaining in a local community. Few are widely available at present. Urban designers can more fully engage with the multiple challenges of those who have physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments and living in solo households by becoming champions for a more comprehensive set of public realm improvements and linkages.

Planning action tool from an inclusive perspective

A diagram with five balloons. In the centre is Design for All. On the outside are the other four elements, multifunctional users, quality of life, sustainability, and inclusive planningThe principles of Design-for-All are used for the basis of an efficient and effective planning action tool in this academic paper from Italy. It brings together quality of life, multi-functional spaces, environmental sustainability, and inclusive urban planning strategies. The claim is that Design-for-All approach “represents a solution for matching people needs to urban environmental quality improvement”, and that inclusive planning strategies can support an ecosystem services network. You will need institutional access for a free read. The title is, Anthropic space and design for all. New knowledge paths for urban planning strategies.  The paper originates from Italy which may account for some of the heavy language.

AbstractNowadays city environment shows the presence of a mixed variety of elements, as natural, semi natural and anthropic components that build up both structure and connections of the urban context. This specific structure shapes and directs space and its functions strictly connected with their sustainable potential uses and sustainable development opportunities. The lack of rules and proper planning methods produces inefficient use conditions by resident citizens, entropy, functions’ reduction of ecological networks and deep environmental impacts. The consequence comes out to be a great widespread life quality decrease in urban areas. These thoughts lead the authors to rethink the definition first and then the place concept own interpretation, as a theoretical reference approach and in a particular way of the urban place, as an anthropic action useful in a multidimensional relationship analysis. Based on these considerations, the aim of the paper is that to introduce design for all as an efficient and effective planning action tool able to get sustainable operating strategies to match both people needs and urban system quality of life protection and enhancement in a long term timeline analysis.