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Universal design is a concept not a product. The principles of universal design can be applied to concrete things like products, buildings and open space, as well as learning programs, polices and plans.

The aim of universal design is to create a more inclusive world. It is being used internationally to change design thinking throughout the design process so that all people are considered regardless of age, capability, or background.

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Staying put and walking more

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands.A new Australian study found that older people who live in separate houses walk more than those in retirement villages. The Curtin University study accounted for several factors before coming to this conclusion. It adds to the literature that for most people, staying put in your own home is the best way to age. Of course, we need homes and neighbourhoods designed to support this. While the study has some limitations, it is another angle on staying put versus age segregated living arrangements.

The title of the article in Sage Publications is The Potential Importance of Housing Type for Older People’s Physical Activity Levels. You will need institutional access for a free read. 

Abstract: Limited research has investigated the effect of housing type on older people’s physical activity, and the small amount of work to date has relied on self-reported activity levels. The aim of this study was to assess whether housing type is associated with objectively measured physical activity among community-dwelling older people. In total, 430 Australians aged 60 years and older completed a survey and wore an accelerometer for a week. Controlling for a range of confounding variables (age, gender, physical health, neighborhood walkability, and the density of open spaces in the local area), participants living in separate houses were found to engage in higher levels of activity compared with those living in retirement villages. In addition, those living in separate houses and apartments were significantly more likely to meet the physical activity guideline of 150+ min/week compared with those living in retirement villages.

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Design tool for dementia-friendly public buildings

A basic floor plan showing a meeting room, toilets, reception and lobby area.The online tool for Dementia Enabling Environments has a section on public buildings. A click on the Public Buildings picture takes you to a page with a floor plan. Clicking on a room in the floor plan brings up a 3D view of the room. Hovering the mouse over questions marks in the room brings up more detailed information about design ideas that are good for people with dementia. Of course, these designs are usable for almost anyone else who is ambulatory, including people with other cognitive conditions.

This is an excellent resource that takes accessibility beyond the access codes which don’t cover this level of design. The Dementia Enabling Environments tool also covers homes, care settings, and gardens and nature. There are links to other resources as well.

This website has lots of other information about dementia design. You can use the search facility on the menu, or to get you going here are eight references

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UD in Housing: Does it really cost more?

Facade of a large two storey home commonly called a McMansionDo homes really have to be larger to incorporate universal design features? Unlikely says Kay Saville-Smith, a housing researcher from New Zealand. In her keynote address at the UD Conference in 2014 she explained why. Her presentation discussed the “size fraud” and the mistaken idea that homes need to be larger and therefore more expensive. She also referred to the “blame game” where nothing changes because no-one takes the first step. Below is an excerpt from the full transcript of her presentation, Making Universal Design a Reality – Confronting Affordability.  

“Builders like to talk about cost per square metre so the larger the living space, the cheaper the perceived cost. Although the floor space need not expand to bring in UD features, it is believed that you do. So people say they won’t pay for that – or more to the point the builders say that”.

She goes on to say, “…there are still the two old barriers to renovating and building homes with universal design and indeed the streetscape, and those two things are twofold. One is what I’ve talked about in the past as the vicious cycle of blame that goes on in the building industry, which is no-one wants to change to do anything because the other person hasn’t asked them to do it. Investors don’t want universal design, so I the builder can’t build that, but if investors want it, sure I will build it. Investors will say I can’t build it because the builder won’t come in at the right cost, and both of them blame the architect, of course, because the architect is off site at that point. So that is one issue. The other issue is that we have the “innovation chasm” where we have solutions but getting them taken up and getting to a tipping point where it’s an expectation of what you get out of the housing market, is a big jump and typically you need about 30% or so of the market to be taking that kind of innovation challenge rather than taking the opportunity to be an early adopter. 30% is a big jump…”  

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DIY – IT Accessibility

Part of the handout with the six steps.University of Maryland has a neat one page with the six essential steps for accessible online content. None of it is rocket science or geeky. This ready reference just has reminders to be a bit more thoughtful about how you go about it. The aim of the six steps is to give everyone equal access to information and services. It’s simple things such as colour contrast, alt-text for pictures, and appropriately placed links to other pages – not “click here”, for example. It’s a handy reference to print out and pin up at your desk. Good for designing online-learning and adding content to an organisation’s website.

There is more on the University IT Division website. https://itaccessibility.umd.edu/

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ACAA newsletter: Open & shut case

Front cover of Access Insight Newsletter.The theme for the latest issue of Access Insight is the Ins and Outs of Doors. It covers door controls, heritage doors, power operated doors, and dementia and doors. Some of this is quite technical. However, the feature on doors and dementia highlights much of what should be design thoughtfulness for everyone. The newsletter is published by Association of Consultants in Access Australia and is presented on the Issuu platform. It can also be downloaded in PDF.  

The association’s  next conference will be in Sydney 14-16 August 2019.

Richard Duncan also takes a look at doors in a residential setting.

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Sensory furniture for kids

Agirl sits on a bean bag style chair. Next to her is a desk and chair. The chair is designed to rock.Children with heightened sensory perception are at the centre of a new range of furniture and clothing by Target. They are designed to feel as if they are giving a little “hug”. Target has put a lot of research and investment into these products. It’s in keeping with their attempts at inclusive design, or designing for “fringe users”. Of course, these products can be appreciated by all children, but the research is saying that some children appreciate the sensory appeal more than others. The title of the article on FastCo website is, “Target’s newest furniture is for kids with sensory sensitivity“. The article shows a desk chair designed to rock, a foam crash pad, weighted blankets, and more. Not sure if these products are, or will be, available in Australia. But an  interesting read from a design point of view.

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Diversity, inclusion and wearables

An Apple watch is sitting across an Apple iPhone on a desktop.Clothing and fashion tastes vary from person to person, so it should be assumed that no two people will have the same taste in wearables. A study of women’s preferences and concerns about wearables found that in terms of aesthetics, they needed to have elements of personalisation to suit different situations and style. This is a case where one size does not fit all. Some were happy with brightly coloured and conspicuous wearables, while others preferred muted tones. Early commercialisation brought about large, ugly, clunky and very masculine-looking wearables that didn’t take off well in the market. So it is good to see some research on this aspect.

According to the research, important factors in wearables are the social and cultural connocations, how they portray women and whether women are ready to accept the attention these devices might bring. Privacy is another concern in terms of what these devices might give away through sharing information via social media. Of course, including a broad range of users in the design development is essential for success.

The title of the article is Diversity and Inclusivity in the Age of Wearables: A Buzzword, a Myth, an Uncertain Reality.  This is an open access publication that discusses how we use technology to empower individuals and improve our way of living in the world, particularly from the perspective of women.

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Conferences 2019-2020

A large conference room is filled with people with some standing at the back.Here is a list of conferences in Australia and overseas. Some are calling for papers. Check them out.

Inclusive Tourism Workshop, 30 April 2019, Grand Hyatt, Melbourne. Half day with international speakers. In conjunction with the AHICE conference. CUDA is supporting this important workshop.

ATSA Independent Living Expo: Sydney on 8-9 May, Brisbane on 15-16 May, and in Canberra on 27-28 August as part of iCREATe conference.

Australian Network on Disability Conference 14 May 2019 in Melbourne. This conference is employment related. Registrations are now open.

Liveable Cities Conference, 12-13 August 2019, Adelaide. Call for abstracts closes 26 April 2019. Key themes: Happiness, Health and Wellbeing, and Strategies, Planning and Design for People. Call for abstracts closes 26 April 2019.

ACAA Access Consultants National Conference, Theme Inclusion by Design: Equality, Diversity and the Built Environment. 14-16 August 2019, Luna Park Sydney. 

AAATE 2019: Global Challenges in Assistive Technology: Research, Policy and Practice. 17-19 August 2019, Bologna, Italy. Note that Universal Design is included in this conference. AAATE is sister organisation to Australia’s ARATA. See conference flyer for more information.

Constructing our World: People, Performance, Politics 18-20 September 2019, Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney. Joint hosts are the Institutes of Building of Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Earlybird Registrations open now.

​​International Conference on ​Transport & Health – theme: Smart Cities. Disruptive Mobility. Healthy People. 4-8 November 2019, Pullman Melbourne on the Park. Abstract submissions close 8 May 2019.

52nd AAG Conference Sydney. Coming of Age Together: New Ways of Knowing and Acting. 5-8 November 2019. Call for papers includes social engagement, environment, design, innovation and technology.  Abstracts close 29 April 2019.

International Conference on Urban Health: People Oriented Urbanisation – Transforming cities for health and well-being. 4-8 November 2019, Xiamen, China. Abstract submissions close 19 April 2019.

World Engineers Convention – theme is Engineering a Sustainable World: The next 100 Years. 20-22 November 2019, Melbourne. Call for papers has closed.

Space International Conference 2019 on Housing: 29 November – 1 December, London, UK.  Call for papers closes 19 August 2019. Aim: to discuss recent advances and research results in the fields of Housing as well as architecture, policy studies, education, interior architecture, city planning and urban studies, social sciences, and engineering.

Florida State University AMPS Conference: Experiential Design – Rethinking relations between people, objects and environments. 16-17 January 2020, in Tallahassee. Abstract submissions close 20 June 2019  

The next Australian Universal Design Conference will be held 13-14 August 2020 in Melbourne. Save the Date! A call for papers will be made later this year.

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Accessible Housing Report from ABCB

Timeline for the next steps to the Regulatory Impact Statement.Last year the Australian Building Codes Board released an Options Paper on Accessible Housing for comment. They have collated the information from the 179 submissions and produced a report. The 121 page report does not have recommendations about accessible housing. Rather, it leaves this to governments. The document identifies factors to shape the next stage of the project, the Regulation Impact Statement. The Executive Summary lists some of the key issues raised in the submissions:

 There is a need to consider aligning the project objectives to the concepts of equity and independence, and consideration of the principles of universal design.
 Previous government commitments, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and the COAG National Disability Strategy, were generally interpreted as commitments to regulate accessible housing.
 The prevalence of households with an occupant with a disability and the future impact of the population ageing need to be properly taken into account in establishing the need for regulation of accessible housing.
 Consideration should be given to the application of accessible housing provisions on difficult sites, where local planning policies may also impact upon the feasibility of an access standard applied to housing.
 Consideration should be given to residential tenancies legislation that may be restricting some groups from obtaining suitable housing or modifying rental housing to improve its accessibility.
 The importance of a step-free path to the dwelling entry door, and conversely, the practical difficulties associated with mandating such a feature in 100 per cent of circumstances. 
 Whether or not features that are more difficult to retrofit — generally referred to as ‘structural features’ — should be prioritised in the design of possible NCC changes.
 Qualitative, or intangible, benefits should be identified and given due consideration in the RIS, as well as ensuring that it goes beyond consideration of people with a disability. Generally, stakeholders suggested that such benefits include reduced social isolation, and increased community participation and inclusion.
 It is important that costs are accurately quantified and the distribution of costs and regulatory burdens between industry and consumers is clearly identified.
 Although outside the scope of the NCC, non-regulatory options — including financial incentives and the further development and promotion of voluntary guidelines — should still be assessed against regulatory options and considered by governments.

While submissions are not public, references to various submissions are included within the document, including ours (CUDA), and the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design. The next steps for the project are provided in an infographic shown above.

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Older people like self driving vehicles

Graphic from the paper showing the elements people would think about when planning a journey with an autonomous vehicle.A series of workshops with older people in UK revealed they are likely to welcome autonomous vehicles. The workshops also gave participants time to think about some of the implications, both negative and positive.  Accessibility was a key factor. Declining vision and hearing, as well as dexterity issues such as arthritis, were mentioned in relation to touch screens. Being able to stop for a toilet, room for a pet and for shopping or luggage, and where to leave the vehicle at the end of the trip were factors that designers need to consider. There’s good information about older people and their reasons for travel, and how autonomous vehicles might enhance their ability to get out and about and socialise.

The title of the paper is, Finding from Workshops held with Older People considering participating in Connected Autonomous Vehicle trials. It also contains information about the five levels of autonomy of vehicles. The workshops are part of a larger project, Flourish, a multi-sector collaboration.

See also Lifelong Mobility with Automation. 

Editor’s note: Too many people are thinking about drivers and self-driving vehicles when in fact, fully automated vehicles are self-passenger-ing. That is, no-one is driving, so everyone is a passenger. 

The graphic from the article shows factors older people thought about when making a journey: toilets, luggage space, route choice, refuelling, journey time, leaving vehicle at destination, and road conditions.

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