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

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The principles of universal design can be applied to everything that is designed: products, buildings and open space, transportation, tourism, sport, as well as learning programs, polices and plans. Our newsletter covers as many design fields as possible.

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Just and Fair Design

Museum entrance with steps and ramp integrated. The tiles are a light colour and the way the light falls the whole thing looks very confusing.How can design be fair to everyone? Is it even possible to design for everyone? Do the literal interpretations of universal and inclusive design form a paradox of inclusive design approaches. The authors of Just Design argue that justice and fairness in design is not about the output but about the process, and that inclusion is more about the social context rather than the design of a particular thing. An interesting, if long read, for anyone interested in the philosophy underpinning universal design and inclusive practice. The authors published a similar paper, Fair by Design which is available for a free read on ResearchGate.

Note on the picture: Sometimes called “stramps” – a mix of steps and a ramp are the opposite of accessible and universal design. Hardly anyone can use these without a lot of concentration to avert the risk of falling, and wheelchair users run the risk of running over the edges as the ramp section is not clear. It does not comply with Australian legislation. 

Editor’s comments: Their arguments are not new to practitioners and advocates of universal design. They understand the context of inclusion is also about the participation of users with a range of disabilities. Discussions and decisions between them help solve the fairness issue. So their argument that making things inclusive can end up still excluding some people while true, is not well encapsulated in some of their examples. The example of a museum entrance (pictured above) that integrates steps and a ramp in a way that they cross over each other is an obvious nightmare for someone who is blind, or has perception difficulties, or needs a handrail on all steps. A consultation with users would have produced a different design solution that would be considered fair. They then add the example of a child’s wheelchair – an item that is by its very nature a specialised design. This device cannot fall under the universal or inclusive design flag, but it does allow participation and inclusion in environments designed to accommodate wheeled mobility devices.

It is not clear whether the authors understand the role of user feedback and the iterative nature of designing universally. The aim of authors’ discussion is to propose a theory based on justice and fairness of universal and inclusive design. Their references include the thinking of product designers, as well as built environment designers.

The article, Just Design is by Bianchin and Heylighten and is available from ScienceDirect. 

A similar discussion by the same authors is, Ethics in design: Pluralism and the case for justice in inclusive design.  Available on ResearchGate.


Draft Urban Design Guidelines for Regional NSW

Street scene showing level footpath, shade treas, shade umbrella and lots of seatingRegional and rural areas of NSW have a higher percentage of older people, particularly in areas popular with older tree-changers and sea-changers. So the draft Urban Design Guidelines for Regional NSW should take this into account. The seven objectives in the draft guidelines are: Better Fit, Better Performance, Better for Community, Better for People, Better working, Better value, and Better look and feel. They are explained in detail and will typically apply to the public realm, town centres, infill developments, and greenfield developments. This 90 page guide also includes a useful profile of each region. The website has a FAQ sheet and a webinar on good urban design in the regions.  

Each of the design objectives would benefit from an overlay of universal design concepts. The document explains that “Design draws together many fields of expertise … [with] often competing requirements … that meets the needs of many and diverse groups”.  A universal design approach automatically draws these groups together. However, such an approach is left up to individual councils.

Note: These draft guidelines were open for public comment during 2018-2019, but they are still in draft form. 

Gay neighbourhoods: an urban typology?

Three young men lead a street march with rainbow banners. It's a gay pride event.Last century lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) individuals felt the need to band together for safety in numbers. Some argue that successive human rights legislation has lessened the need for this to continue. Or has it? The notion that gay neighbourhoods are no longer needed is premature. Other neighbourhoods based on ethnicity or socio-economic factors haven’t completely disappeared, and neither have gay neighbourhoods.

Alex Bitterman discusses the lack of academic documentation and research on gay neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods will likely continue and be important to future generations of LGBT residents and families. He argues that gay neighbourhoods are neither dying nor flourishing – just existing – in the same way as any other typology. Gay neighbourhoods will also need to adapt to other trends such as gentrification and affordability. The notion that gay neighbourhoods are self-sustaining, or that they are diminishing is erroneous. 

Bitterman concludes his essay; “Through unglamorous scholarly inquiry, the true account of the evolution and trajectories of gay neighbourhoods will be revealed. To better understand the longitudinal progression of gay neighbourhoods, researchers should endeavour to differentiate between well-established gay neighbourhoods and emerging gaybourhoods, carefully studying the trends and demographics that lead to shifting LGBT populations and changes in gay neighbourhoods. This evolution, occurring in plain sight but largely undocumented, is LGBT history in the making and the opportunity to chronicle these unique and important changes is ours to lose.”

The title of the online essay is, Rainbow diaspora: the emerging renaissance of gay neighbourhoods.  You can also download a PDF copy


Designing software with adolescents with autism

Two male adolescents sit on the kerb looking at the phones.With the right supports and understanding adolescents with autism can make a significant contribution to software design. Applications for people with differing needs is a challenge for designers. So going directly to the users and working with them is the best solution. An Australian study did just that and found that once participants felt safe they readily engaged in the workshop activities. Participants also learned from their input and engaged with the iterative design process. The agreed overall goal of all stakeholders was to devise a platform where adolescents with autism could interact and socialise. Designers usually start out with goals in mind, but they used an open-ended approach so that participants could explore their needs to determine their goals for the software. The outcome was a co-designed app for smartphones and smartwatches. 

While this article is about software design, the processes and learnings are relevant to other design disciplines. The article uses the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. However, the notion of autism being a disorder is challenged by many people with autism. The article is titled Co-designing with Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder: From Ideation to Implementation.  It is open access and the researchers are based at James Cook University.

Abstract:  Most co-design-based Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) research is conducted with children and does not involve the participants directly. Studies have shown that people with ASD can take on the co-designer role in early phases of the software design process. We present a longitudinal study that investigates how adolescents with ASD participate as co-designers in an iterative software design process. In this work, we conducted seven co-design workshops with six adolescents with ASD over eight months. The team exchanged ideas and communicated through group discussion and drawings. Our findings suggest that: (1) parents, community group and fellow participants play a pivotal role in supporting a longitudinal ASD co-design study and (2) adolescents with ASD are also able to make better design decision over an iterative software design process. These findings should be considered when engaging adolescents with ASD as co-designers in a software design process.

Disability in Museums: Then and now

Front cover of the book.Representing Disability in Museums: Imaginary and Identities is an e-book about how disability has been, and currently is, portrayed in museums. The aim of the publication is to show empathetic and ethical ways of representing difference in museums of all types. Chapters cover the representation of disability in museum collections, the link between museums and disability, and cultural accessibility. The open access e-book comes from Europe where museums have a long history and play a large part in tourism activity. 

From the Introduction:

“Although in recent years the representation of disability in museums has raised much interest among the academic community as a social group, disabled people are still sub-represented in museum narratives and overall this remains a subject touched upon with some caution by the cultural practitioners. The discussion about these issues has been regarded as an important way to better understand disability, showing, in particular, its potential to gradually counteract forms of oppression and exclusion of disabled people in the museum context. Integrating narratives on disability in museums’ discursive practices seems to prompt their audiences to carry out deeper analyses on how through historic-artistic heritage the socio-cultural imaginary has been shaped and has influenced the attitudes and social values towards disabled people. The ways disability is represented in museums show how identities and specif social categories were assigned to this social group, being conducive, over time, to discriminatory and exclusion practices. In this sense, the social function of the museum also refers to ways to deal with these shortcomings and has significant impacts both on the cultural approach to disability and on the construction of more positive identities which aim for the inclusion of disabled people in today’s society.

The title of the book is: Representing Disability in Museums: Imaginary and Identities; it is a 15MB PDF file.

Inclusive approach to public toilet design

Front cover of the report showing a young woman holding up a floor plan drawing of a toilet.Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is a basic human right for everyone. And there are both technical and social dimensions to consider. The Australian Government funded a four year project in Eastern Indonesia to improve the lives of women and people with disability by focusing on improving access to public toilets. The project report outlines the issues, the context and how the researchers developed an inclusive participatory action research (PAR) approach. 

There is significant learning from this project, particularly about their inclusive PAR method. It shows how the method can be applied to any marginalised group. The learning as it applies to women and people with disability are listed and include: attentive listening, accommodating differences in language, meaning and ability, building on individual differences, and encouraging creative expression and being flexible.

The recommendations include being open about the risks, challenges and failures of a PAR project; moving towards more transformative ways of working with marginalised people, and engaging in inclusive dialogue about concerns and contextual issues with all stakeholders.

When it comes to public infrastructure, the humble toilet is essential. No matter where you live in the world, they are essential for getting out and about. For many, toilets make or break any activity outside the home – they are the deciding factor about where to go and how long to stay out.

The title of the report is, Participatory Action Research (PAR) In Practice – WASH for Women and People with Disabilities

Project partners included Plan International Australia, Water for Women, and Edge Effect.

Thinking UDL for all learning situations

Adults seated at tables in a classroom setting looking forward to the instructor at the front of the roomWhether doing on-the-job training or giving a seminar presentation, we should all think about utilising the principles of universal design. Universal design for learning (UDL) isn’t just for schools and universities. The aim is to get the message across as clearly as possible – but our audiences are diverse. A resource that has a set of universally designed slides as well as the academic version in a paper is a refreshing change. The link to the resource begins with the slides about universal design and applying it to learning. Showing an example of a wordy slide and how to turn it into a slide with just key take home messages is very useful for anyone that makes presentations.

The academic paper covers the basic ground of UDL, which is familiar territory to experienced practitioners. The focus is on including people with disability rather than creating separate material. However, there will always be some people who will need separate or additional learning material. As with universal design in the built environment, all learners benefit regardless of the learning context. Good for anyone new to the topic.

The title of the academic article is, “Tips for Creating Inclusive and Accessible Instruction for Adult Learners: An Overview of Accessibility and Universal Design Methods for Adult Education Practitioners”.

Cartoon drawing shows a person shovelling snow from steps next to a ramp. The text says, clearing the path for people with "special needs" clears the path for everyone.Editor’s comment: I look forward to the day when all presenters take the time to create slides for learners instead of slides for their own teaching benefit. I shake my head when a speakers says of a slide, “oh I guess people can’t see that” and then goes on to explain it. They lose me at that point.

Conferences and calls for papers

An external view of the venue showing level entry.

4th Australian Universal Design Conference

COVID-19 Update: This conference is postponed until 12-13 October 2020


National Sustainability Conference 2020, 27-28 April 2020 will be delivered online.  All presentations and additional learning material will also be recorded and accessible post-event.

Inclusive Africa Conference 2020 on Digital Accessibility, 3-4 November, Nairobi, Kenya. Call for video submissions close 1 October 2020. Submit online. 

Other conferences and events:  Where conference websites have been updated, new dates are shown below. There might be additional calls for papers. Check with conference organisers.

Access Israel conference postponed from May 2020 to a date to be advised.

Smart Accessibility 2020.  International Conference on Universal Accessibility and the Internet of Things and Smart Environments. New date: 21-25 June 2020, Barcelona, Spain. Wide ranging topics: accessibility by design, built environment, smart cities, techniques and tools, technology for independent living, digital inclusion, Internet of Things and much more. 

Dementia Australia National Symposium 2020, Postponed. Sydney. Includes the Dawn Booker Masterclass. Speakers include Ita Buttrose and Janet Anderson. Be quick for extended earlybird.

Australian Placemaking Summit, Melbourne, New dates 10-11 August. The placemaking movement is gaining momentum in Australia. Includes rapid talks as well as a long list of speakers including from San Francisco, New Zealand, and Denmark.

6th International Conference on ICT for Ageing Well and e-Health (ICT4AWE2020), Prague, Czech Republic 3-5 May 2020 via online streaming. Update: Papers can be delivered via video. For those who study age and health-related quality of life and apply information and communication technologies for helping people stay healthier, more independent and active at work or in their community. ICT4AWE is organized in 3 major tracks:
1 – Aging well – social and human sciences perspective
2 – Ambient Intelligence and Independent living
3 – Telemedicine and e-health

From Access to Inclusion 2020; an Arts and Culture Summit: Postponed until 22-25 March 2021. Dublin, Ireland.  An international gathering of access professionals and advocates exploring how to provide seamless, person-centred experiences in arts and culture.

Not to be confused with the 4th Australian Universal Design Conference, there is another one in Finland 15-17 June 2020 – revised dates to follow. This follows the four previous conferences in Scandinavia, UK and Ireland. This one will be Dipoli, Aalto University, Espoo.

International Dementia Conference 11-12 June 2020, Sydney. New date for September and presented online.  Main theme: Care in the age of outrage. There are many topics including built environment. ePosters are still being accepted.

22nd World Packaging Conference, Universidad de Monterrey, Mexico, 15-18 June 2020. Packaging is facing many challenges. Easy opening and ergonomics are included in the conference streams. 

Liveable Cities Conference 22-23 June 2020, Perth Western Australia. Program Themes include transport and mobility, circular economy, community engagement, affordability and employment. The concept of inclusion is under the Community Engagement and Culture theme. 

M-Enabling Summit Conference 2020,  Arlington (Washington DC). New date 14-16 September . This event is dedicated to promoting accessible and assistive technology for all. It is an annual meeting place for all who implement digital accessibility strategies or develop enabling ICT products, services for workplaces, learning environments or consumer markets.

Transportation professionals conference: Joint ITE International and Southern District Annual Meeting and Exhibition, 9-12 August 2020, New Orleans. Call for abstracts closed. Program to be published soon.

The Disability Innovation Summit 24 August 2020 – date under reviewPriority will be given to submissions with: a passion to collaborate globally; products and ideas that are ready to go to market; or have the ability to be scaled; and tangible solutions that can impact lives around the world.

17th International Conference on Computers Helping People with Special Needs, 9-11 September, Lecco, Italy. Call for contributions  close 1 April 2020 for science track and 1 May 2020 for forum track. A major international event supported by UNESCO. The terminology in the full title of the conference reflects that of the first conference in 1989, so is better known now as ICCHP. 

Designing Cities 2020: Boston 14-17 September 2020. Save the date. “The NACTO Designing Cities Conference brings together 900 officials, planners, and practitioners to advance the state of transportation in cities.”

International Council on Active Aging Conference, Summit & Expo. 26-29 October, 2020, Long Beach California. Theme: Aging well: the great disruptor. Call for presentations closed 10 January 2020.

National Parks and Recreation Annual Conference 27- 29 October 2020, Orlando, Florida.  Speed Session proposals accepted from 16 – 30 April 2020

Gerontological Society of America Annual Scientific Meeting (GSA2020), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 4-8 November 2020. Theme: Turning 75: Why Age Matters. Call for Abstracts open until 12 March.  “The 2020 theme was selected as a celebration of GSA’s 75th Anniversary. We’re celebrating the collective accomplishments of members that have strengthened the field of aging and the mission of GSA. Presentations, programs, and activities will reflect the theme of the 75th year which is “honor the past and enrich the future.” 


From Access to Inclusion 2020; an Arts and Culture Summit: Postponed until 22-25 March 2021. Dublin, Ireland.  An international gathering of access professionals and advocates exploring how to provide seamless, person-centred experiences in arts and culture.

Destinations for All 2021 Summit  19-21 September 2021, Miami, Florida. This follows from the one held in Belgium in 2018. Updates to follow.

Taming the wilderness with inclusive design

A boardwalk traverses a rocky slope down to the lake making it accessible for everyone.The natural landscapes of Norway conjure up pictures of fjords and wilderness with steep slopes. For some people, walks and bike rides in this natural environment aren’t possible. So one municipality of 1287 residents took up the challenge to create an activity park for everyone – locals and visitors of all ages. It was managed as a joint effort between the community and private and public partners. 

A man sits in a bike taxi which is being driven down a section of the boardwalk.Residents had input into all the elements of the park including information signs and a BMX park. Local businesses were invited to tender for contracts. Some thought the investment too much. However, when tourism increased and the cafe trade increased the criticisms receded. The award winning Hamaren Activity Park now gets 10,000 visitors a year.


A child rides a BMX bike on the BMX track in the park.The article on the DOGA website provides more information: methods, observations and lots of pictures. There is also a video where the designers and users explain their experiences. It’s in Norwegian but has English captions. Below is a YouTube video without words.


Step this way with no step

A grey tiled porch leads seamlessly into the home without any change in level.There’s lots of myths and worries about universal design features in homes. The no-step entrance is one of them. A covered entrance, which is great in itself, will keep away the rain for the most part. It’s also shade in the summer. A slight grade away from the entrance should deal with the rest. In fact, that is also good for all homes. And it’s easy to do when the home is first built. But people ask why have a no-step entrance when you don’t need it?

It’s based on the assumption that only wheelchair users need it. Think again. A new home means furniture deliveries. Perhaps a new baby on the way – yes, that’s the stroller or pram. Coming home with bags of shopping or a shopping trolley. And let’s not forget the teenager with a broken leg, or grandma who uses a wheelie walker. A no-step entry means everyone can visit and take part in family life. So it’s not just about now – it’s also about the future.

When it comes to cost, if it did cost a bit extra, how much would it be worth to you? The value of not going to institutional care sooner than you need to? The value of having a close family member come to your Christmas dinner? And what about the costly modifications you might need down the track. 

The Universal Design Project based in UK has a podcast and transcript that discusses this subject in more detail with a case study. 

Level entry to the alfresco area of a home showing tables and chairs on the tiled alfresco floor.

It’s also good to consider access to the patio or alfresco so that everyone can enjoy the family gathering.