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Welcome

Welcome to Centre for Universal Design Australia website

The aim of universalising design is to create a more inclusive world. Universal Design, as an endeavour in its own right, is being used internationally as a vehicle for bringing about wholesale change in design thinking throughout the design process so that all people are considered regardless of age, capability, or background.

Universal design is a design concept not a design product. The principles of universal design can be applied to concrete things like products, buildings and open spaces, to intellectual activities such as designing learning programs, and to conceptual things such as policies and practices.

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Conferences for 2019

picture of a large audience watching a presentation.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.

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.

ACAA Access Consultants National Conference, Theme Inclusion by Design: Equality, Diversity and the Built Environment. 14-16 August 2019, Luna Park Sydney. Call for Papers closes 1 March 2019.

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. Call for papers closes 28 February 2019. 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. 

​​International Conference on ​Transport & Health – theme: Smart Cities. Disruptive Mobility. Healthy People. 4-8 November 2019, Pullman Melbourne on the Park. Abstract submissions open 6 March to 8 May 2019.

World Engineers Convention – theme is Engineering a Sustainable World: The next 100 Years. 20-22 November 2019, Melbourne.  Call for abstracts closes 18 January 2019. 

Space International Conference 2019 on Housing: 29 November – 1 December, London, UK.  Call for papers close 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.

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Housing Design Guide from South Australia

Photo used for front cover of guide. It shows an outdoor area similar to a veranda.Housing for Life: Designed for Living was developed for the South Australian Government with an emphasis on population ageing and supporting active ageing policies. The report documents the features and factors that older people themselves identified as important as well as industry perspectives. It also outlines the economic arguments for considering the housing needs of older people. Examples of floor plans are included. The key principles identified through the co-design process are: 

Choice: Older people want to have choices about how they live, and scope to personalise their homes.
Quality: It is better to invest in quality fixtures and fittings now for better efficiency and maintenance in the long term.
Wellbeing: Wellbeing is a direct result of connectedness with community and home.
Design: The concept of passive and flexible design that adapts to people’s changing requirements, needs to be central to new Housing SA builds.
Cost: Older people prefer smart investment and the ability to personalise their homes, to ensure cost efficiencies are retained, but without sacrificing good design.
Smart: The integration of smart technology and renewable energy ensures these homes stand the test of time and remain affordable.
Access: Proximity to transport, services and the community is fundamental to living and ageing well, as are neighbourhoods that are easy to get around and foster active travel choices.

The report concludes: “There is significant economic opportunity to be gained by addressing housing, social and ageing related needs through innovative design.
> Technology has a critical role to play in meeting unmet needs for independent living, connected living and well-designed housing.
> Older people are an extremely diverse group and no single design will meet all needs. Age friendly housing options should be as diverse as the people who will live in them. However, there are core principles that apply across this population group and from these, flexible design can be developed.
> Co-design between the housing sector and end-users is essential for accurate and relevant design.
> Quality design and product are highly valued and of equal importance to design features that address ageing-related challenges.
> Features that are valued in age friendly housing and neighbourhood design are energy efficiency, natural lighting, connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, walkability, proximity to transport and services, connection to community balanced with privacy and security, and capacity for personalisation.”

The report is 16 pages in PDF.

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From Inclusive to Exclusive?

Front page of Vasilis van Gemert's slide show.At Accessibility Scotland 2018 Conference, Vasilis van Gemert described how he flipped the Paciello Group’s web Inclusive Design Principles and turned them into a set of Exclusive Design Principles.  Instead of designing exclusively for ourselves, he says, he started to design tailor-made solutions for – and together with – people with disabilities. This was part of a design challenge:The Good, The Bad, and The Interesting Exclusive Design Challenge. In the video of his 30 minute talk, Vasilis shows the results of these experiments, and shares all the insights he gained during his research. The webpage has a transcript of the talk and you can also download the slides.  Basically, he looked at specific requirements that only some people need so that he could make them inclusive. 

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Creating Gender Inclusive Bathrooms: A guide

Front cover of Creating Bathroom Accessibility & Gender Inclusive Society.The Creating Bathroom Access & Gender Inclusive Society bathroom guide illustrates how gender inclusive restrooms are also good for other groups of people who are often neglected in the assignment of sanitary facilities. Prevailing social attitudes are probably the biggest barrier to gender inclusive public bathrooms for people who identify as transgender. It therefore calls into question whether the historic binary idea of toilets (men and women) is necessary these days. Issues and solutions are provided in this guide.

“Bathroom access has played a key role in discrimination faced by many other minority groups, with sex segregation posing a particular challenge to enabling restroom inclusion for diverse gender identities. Research by scholars from the Haas Institute LGBTQ Citizenship research cluster highlights the ways gender inclusive bathrooms also benefit other populations including disabled and elderly people who may have attendants of another gender and parents caring for children.”

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Town planning and mental health: a personal perspective

five lane city highway full of cars.Jason Barr is an urban planner who lives with several mental health diagnoses. He has a unique perspective to share when it comes to mental health and urban planning/design. His article focuses on his personal experiences in different built environments, and how those experiences impacted his mental well-being. He emphasises the need to design for people and not cars, and to minimise urban sprawl, and why this is important. As we understand more about mental health and well-being, and how many people live with mental illness, this is a useful perspective to read.

He concludes: ” As planners, we all know one size does not fit all when it comes to built environments and how we experience them. Being able to live within a community built for people and not cars becomes even more crucial than the literature already tells us it is. Its real life. I hope my story can be a reminder to planners and designers everywhere that physical health is not the only dimension of our well-being that we need to pay attention to. Equally important is the consideration of how our cities and towns impact those with mental illnesses. I hope my story “drives” that home. Real consequences on real lives. It is my sincere hope that those who are reading this see that, and take these words into consideration as they craft their local neighborhoods, municipalities, and regions.”

The title of the article is: The impact of town planning on my own mental health as a town planner.   Published in the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health.

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Planning policy for accessible housing: costs and benefits

picture of Habinteg's report with two older people standing by a tree against a block of units in the backgroundHabinteg is a provider of accessible homes in the UK. They have developed a Web-based Toolkit for Planning Policy that includes accessible housing. There are several tabs including one on the cost benefit arguments. 

A review of Part M of the UK building code was commissioned to see what the costs would be to upgrade Part M of the building code. It habinteg logo - accessible homes, independent liveswas calculated at an additional £521, which is about 0.2% of a new house. Habinteg claims that no attempt was made to weigh any additional development costs against cost savings in other areas. For example, avoidable hospital admissions due to falls, impact on social care costs, and long stays in hospital due to no suitable home to return to. The calculated additional £521 for improved access standards would be more than met by avoiding one week in residential care. 

You can download Habinteg’s response to the review from the Toolkit webpage. The website also has some informative videos.

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Including children in high rise living

Children play with bubbles in urban area.Are high rise developments good for children? This is the key question in a study where children are included in the design of social spaces in high density living. The effects of high rise living on families with children are discussed; the methodology is explained; and tower blocks re-imagined. International examples are discussed and thoughtful design solutions are presented in the conclusions, both within buildings and in spaces surrounding them. 

From the introduction: “The significance of the skyscraper typology persists as populations grow, land continues to become scarce, and to defy the detrimental social and environmental effects of urban sprawl. What this typology seems to have denied over many years is its relationship with the child. It has led to a rapid decline of children’s physical activity and independent mobility resulting in increased rates of child obesity and other health concerns as described by psychologists and medical professionals across the country.” The author is Suruchi Modi, an architect and urban designer with a specialisation in Tall Building Design from the University of Nottingham UK. There is a useful list of references at the end.

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Ground floor bedroom is a UD concept

A double bed in a room with French windows to an outdoor area.The Colorado Builder magazine has an article that discusses the virtues of a ground floor master bedroom and ensuite in a two storey home. And it has advantages beyond those of finding the stairs difficult and staying home in later age. For this reason it’s argued that it’s a core element of universal design. The article goes on to say that in larger homes, two master bedrooms can be included and this then becomes a bonus feature for visiting relatives, or perhaps after a skiing accident. Here is the list of benefits from the article titled, First-floor master bedrooms: A trend with staying power:

  • As bones and joints age, a main-floor master eliminates the need to climb stairs. It also reduces the risk of falls.
  • As anyone who’s ever lugged a mattress up a narrow flight of stairs can attest, it’s much easier to move furniture in and out of a room on the ground floor.
  • First-floor bedrooms are usually close to the most frequently used spaces in a home, such as the kitchen, living room and entryway, making it easier for residents to catch all the action.
  • Even in a house with two stories, a master suite on the first floor can be constructed in addition to a second-floor master bedroom. This not only makes it easy for homeowners to change rooms as they grow older, but it also provides the perfect space for older overnight visitors. They may also elect to designate the upper floor for the kids’ rooms, a playroom or perhaps a study space, which helps to preserve the master bedroom’s peace and quiet.
  • Adding French or sliding glass doors to main-floor masters makes indoor/outdoor living a breeze.
  • Homes designed with a first-floor master bedroom or suite generally sell faster and for more money.
  • Aging in place becomes a real possibility, and that’s of paramount importance to most Americans.

Editor’s Note: Although this is a great idea for all the reasons above, I wonder how happy people will be about not being able to access their whole home. Another option is to include a storage cupboard arrangement on both floors that can be removed later to allow for a through floor home elevator. This would be closer to a universal design principles than being isolated on the ground floor. 

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Norway: A guide for UD is not enough

An aerial view of a hospital courtyard showing gardens, seating and children's play equipment.St Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim is considered an great example of how UD is deployed across the whole hospital setting from the outdoor and external features through to the internal design. The Chief Architect says, “Guidelines are not enough, you need clear intentions. You have to know what’s the point of this”. Knowing the point is a key success factor in taking a universal design approach. The point is inclusion – it’s about society, not just design. This is what is lost in access compliance – no-one knows the point. An article in Citylab provides some examples of how Norwegian designers are embracing the principles of universal design. This approach is driven by the Norwegian policy Norway Universally Designed by 2025.The Norwegian policy, which was launched in 2005, also includes transportation, open spaces and ICT and communications. Nicely written article by Marie Doezema. Olav Rand Bringa was part of the early movement and wrote about the processes in, Universal Design and Visitability: from Accessibility to Zoning.  He also presented at the UDHEIT conference in Dublin. 

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Self driving cars: trust and inclusion

Self driving vehicle on the road.The race is on for designing a self driving car that everyone trusts. While this is essential, it also needs to be a car that everyone can use. Mark Wilson writes for FastCompany about his test “drive” experiences of these vehicles. Reading his detailed experiences from a universal design perspective, there is still a way to go in the overall design. The developments so far show much thought about convenience, such as your smartphone linking to the car so it knows it’s you. They are using the phone to give instructions. This is a technology that needs to be followed closely as it has the potential to improve inclusion or inadvertently cause more exclusion. A very interesting article; “The fate of self-driving cars hangs on a $7 trillion design problem“.

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