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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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Accessible Housing: Costs outweigh benefits

Graphic with orange and red buildings depicting several sizes of home from small house to apartment block.The Australian Building Codes Board has released the long-awaited Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) on accessible housing. Bottom line of this complex document? The costs outweigh the benefits. But how did they measure both the costs and the benefits?

The RIS follows the consultations and submissions related to their Options Paper. A RIS is about weighing up implementation costs with community benefits. In this case, the RIS is about the cost and benefits of the Silver and Gold levels in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is only for new dwellings.

An article in Sourceable has picked out the most relevant information from the RIS executive summary for an easier read. It is worth reading this before going to the Australian Building Codes Board website for the full documentation. The Board’s website also has an explainer and project overview

Have your say. Personal stories and case studies are highly relevant to this consultation. What does it cost not to have accessible features, and what it has cost to have the family home modified? And it is not just dollars – it’s also about quality of life, and ability to do ordinary things. Don’t have a story? There is an online survey you can do which poses questions about the RIS to see if you agree. Submissions are open until 31 August. 

Case studies that show the actual costs in practice are also very useful, particularly if they are less than those shown in the RIS. They calculated Gold level features to cost more than $21,000 per dwelling, and $3,400 for Silver. 

The Australian Network on Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) also has a webpage with relevant information. This RIS is preliminary information. So there is time to submit useful information to help decision-makers. CUDA and ANUHD will be drafting responses for sharing, so watch this space.

For an overview of what housing policy and including universal design features have a look at the easy and quick to do online course Home Coming? It’s free and has a lot of good information and statistics to help your submission. 


Fully accessible. What does it mean?

A blue banner with the words in white, Fully Accessible.People with disability are often stereotyped and considered “the others” in plans, policies and products. This means we haven’t found the right terminology to cover this diverse group. So we have gradually invented words and phrases as we go. Some terms are OK such as universal access. Others are demeaning or patronising, for example, “differently abled”. Making something accessible also has many variations. It could be a building complying to government regulations. Or it could be something designed with the broadest range of potential users in mind. But saying universal access or something is fully accessible is vague.

Carrie-Ann Lightley discusses this issue in a blog post. When a website or brochure says “fully accessible” – fully accessible to whom? “Wheelchair Friendly” doesn’t help either. As Carrie-Ann says, “you just really like wheelchairs?” In the context of travel and tourism she repeats the message about information. That is, information that helps everyone decide if they can visit and get around in a place. Sweeping statements and wheelchair icons don’t cut it. Similarly, websites that ask people to call to confirm their needs. Information is power. 

Carrie-Ann also has a useful short video on her Twitter page.

From the editor – other terms to avoid are “all abilities” or any word where “ability” has been captured in a way to make it sound inclusive. It doesn’t. Special words are still special and segregating and label the group you are thinking of as separate. 


Public transport and people with autism

A busy station showing the escalator with lots of travellers.Getting out and about on public transport can be daunting, especially when travelling a route for the first time. With no control over the system it can give rise to worries about arriving at the right place and at the right time. This stress is just one of the worries people with autism experience when using public transport. Stress can impact on their ability to access employment, education and leisure activities. So what to do?

An in-depth study of young adults with autism found there were three main factors affecting participants. Dealing with uncertainty, a general level of anxiety, and the impact of sensory processing, such as crowds and noise. The research report is based on a qualitative study and the voices of the participants are included. People with and without autism will relate to many of their concerns about using public transport.

The researchers suggest a smart phone app that gives information to help reduce anxiety during trip planning and on the trip itself. Knowing about service disruptions and getting guidance at other times of uncertainty is important. However, no app can overcome worries about getting close to other passengers or the level of noise at train stations. But if can reduce anxiety.

As is often the case with solutions for people with specific conditions, this kind of app would be good for many other people. We all like to avoid travel stress if we can. 

The title of the report by the Australian Autism CRC is, The experiences of young autistic adults in using metropolitan public transport

A similar study was carried out in Los Angeles. The aim was to measure the accessibility of the bus system. The title of the article is, Understanding Public Transportation Accessibility for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Six Feelings Approach.  


Building the Inclusive City

Front cover of the book.Most academic writing about inclusion, disability and urban design is based on Western culture and traditions. Building the Inclusive City, an open access book, covers a recent history of disability in city planning and the cultural context of a middle eastern approach. It brings together social sciences, politics and disability studies for an integrated approach to policy.

There are three underpinning themes in the book: disability research needs to be placed in context, access and inclusion is both local and global, and planning education should apply a disability lens to the field.

Victor sits casually and smiles at the camera. It looks as if he is sitting in a wheelchair.The book by Victor Santiago Pineda can be downloaded in full or by chapter from the SpringerLink website. It’s good to see this important book has free access. Pineda is based in California.

Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Understanding Disability in Theory, Justice and Planning
    3. What makes a City Accessible and Inclusive?
    4. The Evolving Transformations of Disability in Dubai Between 1980 and 2012
    5. Exploring Functionings and Freedoms in Dubai
    6. Laws, Rights, and Norms
    7. Laws are Not Enough: Unlocking Capabilities Through Innovations in Governance
    8. Charting Access and Inclusion in Future Cities 

The full title of the book by by Victor Santiago Pineda is, Building the Inclusive City Governance, Access, and the Urban Transformation of Dubai

The website’s introduction to the book:

“This Open Access book is an anthropological urban study of the Emirate of Dubai, its institutions, and their evolution. It provides a contemporary history of disability in city planning from a non-Western perspective and explores the cultural context for its positioning. Three insights inform the author’s approach. First, disability research, much like other urban or social issues, must be situated in a particular place. Second, access and inclusion forms a key part of both local and global planning issues. Third, a 21st century planning education should take access and inclusion into consideration by applying a disability lens to the empirical, methodological, and theoretical advances of the field. By bridging theory and practice, this book provides new insights on inclusive city planning and comparative urban theory. This book should be read as part of a larger struggle to define and assert access; it’s a story of how equity and justice are central themes in building the cities of the future and of today.”

Picture of towering buildings in the Dubai skyline with river in the foreground
high rise buildings in Dubai

Editor’s note: I travelled to Dubai in 2015 and found much of the new infrastructure very accessible. I was impressed with the air conditioned bus stop shelters. 

Discrimination, Inclusion and Work

A man with grey hair is walking on grass and using a powered grass whipper snipper.Participation of older people in the workforce is the topic of ongoing policy debate. Working longer seems a simple answer to population ageing. However, stories abound about employers discriminating against people over the age of 50 years. But is this the only group to face workplace discrimination and exclusion?

Rethinking Advocacy on Ageing and Work challenges the notion that only older people experience discrimination in the workplace. Philip Taylor highlights the policy contradictions about work across the age spectrum. He asks whether working longer is a reasonable proposition for both employees and employers. He also critiques the Human Rights Commission’s Willing to Work report as too narrowly focused. After all, ageism doesn’t just apply to older Australians. A longer version of this paper was published by Per Capita. 

Taylor’s paper is one from a set of conference papers focused on discrimination and employment. They include: 

From jobless to job ready outlines a collaborative model of preparing people for work. Case studies illustrate that tailored education programs and collaborating with local industries achieves productive outcomes. This is especially important where poverty is a factor.

Breaking Through Barriers to Assist Young People who are Blind or have Low vision has micro case studies to illustrate Vision Australia’s project. It gives an overview of how employment barriers were overcome so that participants achieved their goals.

Enhancing Inclusivity at Work Through Mindfulness takes the discussion beyond gender, culture, age or sexual preference. It asks us to think about the every day judgements we make about other people. It’s these judgements that make true inclusion a huge challenge.


Care, Bodies, Buildings and Cities

black and white photograph of an open terrace at the top of a building. It has a row of stretcher beds facing out to the view.Designers are carers, but they might not see themselves this way. Everything they design has the potential to enhance the wellbeing of others. The book, Care and Design: Bodies, Buildings, Cities takes this perspective. 

Imrie and Kullman (editors) are interested in the intersection of design and care and the ways caring is expressed through design practice. They suggest that care should be considered from a societal perspective. It’s not something to be considered separately. Hence designers, among others, are potential carers in the broader sense.They discuss what makes good urban form and how easy it is to create “misfits that limit the caring potential of everyday environments”.

Their chapter, Designing with Care and Caring with Design is available on ResearchGate. The book is published by Wiley. Understanding the notion of care from this broader perspective is another way of understanding universal design. It shows how universal design is an attitudinal concept and more than just resolving inclusion issues in the design process. 

Table of Contents

  1. Designing with care and caring with design. Rob Imrie and Kim Kullman
  2. Age-inclusive design: a challenge for kitchen living. Sheila Peace
  3. Curating space, choreographing care: the efficacy of the everyday. Daryl Martin
  4. ‘I don’t care about places’: the whereabouts of design in mental health care. Ola Söderström
  5. The sensory city: autism, design and care. Joyce Davidson and Victoria L. Henderson
  6. Configuring the caring city: ownership, healing, openness. Charlotte Bates, Rob Imrie, and Kim Kullman
  7. ‘Looking after things’: caring for sites of trauma in post-earthquake Christchurch, New Zealand. Jacky Bowring
  8. Empathy, design and care – intention, knowledge and intuition: the example of Alvar Aalto. Juhani Pallasmaa
  9. Architecture, place and the ‘care-full’ design of everyday life. Jos Boys
  10. Ageing, Care and the Practice of Urban Curating. Sophie Handler
  11. Caring through design: En torno a la silla and the ‘joint problem-making’ of technical aids. Tomás Sánchez Criado and Israel Rodriguez-Giralt
  12. Design and the art of care: engaging the more than human and less than inhuman. Michael Schillmeier
  13. Afterword: caring urban futures. Charlotte Bates and Kim Kullman

Design of transport hubs

Three people are in front of a workboard with lots of coloured post-it sticky notes attached.The UK’s Network Rail organisation commissioned a project to find out what communities want from transport hubs. The Design Council ran eleven ThinkStation workshops with 320 participants who generated 35,000 Post-It notes. The aim is to embed the priorities into a design competition brief and evaluation framework. 

Participants consistently identified “community” as a key theme, especially for smaller stations. They said stations should be linked to the community and offer spaces for other activities and local businesses. Community meeting places, green spaces and well designed landscapes were also important. The Design Council report is comprehensive and explains the workshop process and the outcomes. While it is focused on the UK, there are many ideas that are applicable in other countries.

The nine priorities that will guide the future design, development and procurement of local stations are: 

    1. Support existing and new communities in their local area.
    2. Reflect and embody local character and heritage.
    3. Provide consistent quality of space and service.
    4. Establish connections with and between the town centre and/or the high street.
    5. Celebrate, improve the quality of and/or provide access to green and open spaces.
    6. Be welcoming and facilitate inclusive travel.
    7. Support and better integrate cross modal transport.
    8. Help to address climate change.
    9. Ensure longevity by accommodating changes of use, capacity and trends.

You can read the full report or the overview on the Design Council website. It’s also a good example of running a community engagement process.


UDL to Support Migrants and Refugees

A Class Of Diverse Higher Education Students Using Laptops In a LectureThis week, we take a look at using Universal Design for Learning to support migrants and refugees in English language learning in higher education.

A reader recently requested more information and references for using UDL on this topic. A great request! It is one that helps to highlight the flexibility and possibilities of UDL for making learning accessible to all.

All learners bring their own unique variability to their learning. Migrants and refugees may bring a learning profile with additional complexities. This may be due to their history, or priorities and experiences in becoming established in a new country. UDL principles provide a particularly appropriate design model, with their emphasis on design practices that cater for diversity. There’s more on this in a previous post.

An article by Katherine Danaher explores how to meet the learning needs of refugees and migrants. Her specific focus is in tertiary blended online English courses. With many tertiary providers moving to online courses during the coronavirus pandemic, this is of particular relevance.

A key feature of UDL is to consider barriers to learning prior to designing the course or lesson. Danaher explains the potential barriers of refugees and migrants in her paper. She highlights some of these barriers as being literacy, lack of prior experience, cultural factors and age.

Perhaps the most useful information in the paper is gleaned from the ‘Course Design’ section in the article. Specific pedagogies and frameworks are highlighted as being beneficial in teaching these learner groups in higher education. Flexible design, individualisation, a constructivist inquiry approach and UDL are all recommended.

Danaher quotes the National Center on Universal Design for Learning in explaining that the research-based principles of UDL are particularly appropriate for refugee and migrant learners, providing “. . . a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” She argues that by using UDL the diverse needs of refugees and migrants with differing educational backgrounds, expectations and goals, can be catered for.

Other links to UDL for migrant and refugee learners include:

A paper by John Bensemen on the needs and responses to refugee learners with limited literacy.

Education, Immigration and Migration is a book by Arar, Brooks and Bogotch that explores how educational leaders face the issue of refugees, immigrant and migrants in educational institutions.

Refugee Background Students Transitioning Into Higher Education Navigating Complex Spaces “untangles the complex nature of transition for students of refugee background in higher education, locating it within broader social trends of increasing social and cultural diversity, as well as government practices and policies concerning the educational resettlement of refugees”.

And stay tuned for an upcoming post on UDL in mathematics teaching and learning for refugees and migrants.  

A UD approach to urban planning

Front cover of guide for planning.A guide to taking a universal design approach to urban planning covers just about everything. The aim of the guide is to deliver sustainable solutions and to create inclusive places. Here are some of the reasons planners should take a UD approach:

    • It avoids the need for wasteful and inefficient retro-fitting of solutions
    • It informs genuinely integrated strategies for land-use, transportation and urban design
    • It creates greater efficiencies for public infrastructure investment
    • It widens the audience and market for development projects enhancing commercial viability
    • It helps provide an environment in which people can age and retain their independence

Although this guide is based on planning laws in Ireland, there are many similarities to other jurisdictions. It covers, consultation, neighbourhoods, community facilities, lifetime homes, travel chain analysis, street design, car parking, economic development, wayfinding, heritage and more. There are also sample policy statements for each section. 

Once again, a really comprehensive guide from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland.

The title of the guide is, Building for Everyone: A Universal Design Approach – Planning and policy.  


Creative bathroom designs

A long black sink shaped like a shelf hangs longways from the wall. The backwall is full length window and it is difficult to see the tap. It looks very modern.Todd Brickhouse’s latest Newsletter has some interesting pictures of bathroom designs. All are wheelchair accessible and look really good. 

While these designs are great for wheelchair users, there are others who might find these designs tricky to use. A case in point is a cantilevered sink against a glass wall. Maybe in real life it doesn’t trick the eye as much. However, I wouldn’t classify these designs as universal design. Anyone with perception problems would be confused with the sink. Have a look and see what you think. 

What the pictures clearly show is that accessible and universally designed bathrooms can look good. There is no limit to creative design.  Pale marble tiles line the walls of this bathroom. There is one long shelf with a mirror behind. A bath with a hand held shower is fitted just above the bath rim.Of course, a custom design for your own home should work for you if not others. 

This newsletter also has a picture of a man who got a tattoo of a cochlear implant on his head to make his daughter feel more comfortable with hers. 

Todd also has a magazine. He is based in New York.