Can you keep practising as an architect after you go blind? The answer is Yes. This is Chris Downey’s experience. With a few work-arounds and new tools he says he is better at his job now. He found a way of getting tactile versions of drawings and developed his own tools for making drawings. He has been a campaigner for a universal design approach to the built environment ever since. CBS News has a story about him talking about his approach to work and life, including playing baseball with his son. Downey covers a lot of issues with grace and humour. His TED talk is very popular and there is a transcript of the talk. Being blind doesn’t mean giving up on life. For Downey it was discovering new adventures.
There’s nothing like the real thing, but the next best thing is virtual reality. A paper from Europe explores Immersive Virtual Reality as a means of informing architects and designers about designing inclusively. The technology helps with seeing how people navigate a space and interact with the design elements. However, this does not replace the live user feedback that goes beyond technically navigable space. Nevertheless, it is a good start. You will need institutional access for a free read.
Abstract: Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) technology is capable of simulating highly realistic environments and affecting behavioral realism via the creation of the feeling of immersion in a virtual world. Because of that IVR has got a great potential as a tool for evaluation of architectural designs. IVR allows to navigate in the designed space and interact with its elements as if they were real. In this paper, we demonstrate that IVR can assist during the Inclusive Design process and improve the architects’ understanding of the needs of different users, especially those that are older or disabled. Inclusive design promotes products and environments that are inclusive for all people. Architects require in-depth insight into how particular groups of people experience the designed environment and how they interact with it. IVR can help with that.
Well designed buildings support people with physical impairment, but what about people with other sensory issues or cognitive impairment? Shelly Dival argues that we can do more in the built environment to support people on the autism spectrum in educational, work, and home environments.
One of her insights was the crossover between autism and other neurological conditions including dementia. Designing for neurodiversity rather than specific conditions may be an effective future-proofing strategy that supports everyone. That’s similar to the approach adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their forthcoming Guidelines on cognitive accessibility, based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.
Three papers from the latest issue of International Journal of Architecture and Planning address universal design. Once you scroll through the usual context-setting paragraphs on the principles of UD, the research itself has something to offer.
Disability and Otherization: Readings on Cinema in The Light of UD Principles. The study is about the relationship between architecture and disability in cinema, and how it is portrayed. Using 6 well-known films that include othering, the researchers apply the 7 principles of UD to analyse how disability is portrayed. Interesting way of dissecting societal attitudes and how such films might impact on social attitudes perhaps reinforcing prejudices.
Public Space and Accessibility examines pedestrian ways including ramps. Specific dimensions make this a guide largely for wheelchair access. Car parking and bus stops are also covered. The article reports on a workshop they ran on UD. It ends with the note that other disabilities including cognitive diversity now need to be considered. Perhaps of most interest to access consultants to compare with Australian standards.
The IDeA Center at Buffalo is a research institute set within the Architecture faculty. It has a good website with publications and other resources. Here are just four of the books. They can be purchased online. Go to the IDeA website for detailsof books and where to purchase.
Inclusive Design: Implementation and Evaluation.
The book focuses on the direct application of universal design concepts with technical information. Good for designers, contractors, builders, and building owners.
Accessible Public Transportation: Designing Service for Riders with Disabilities
This book is about public transit systems with a focus on inclusive solutions for people with disability and older people. Includes best practice examples.
Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments
Readers are introduced to the principles and practice of designing for all people. Includes best practice examples.
Inclusive Housing: A Pattern Book
A book for designing homes with everyone in mind. Includes disability specific information.
What if mothers and age pensioners were designers? asks Christine Murray in the UK edition of The Guardian. She laments the low number of females in architecture, “they are all male and pale” also alluding to the lack of ethnic diversity as well. She analyses the built environment and transport systems from the perspective of a mother with small children and a pram, and includes lack of toilets for good measure. While this article is based on Murray’s experiences in London, I hope that there are some things we do better in Australian cities. However, we are still a long way from meeting policy commitments on accessible public transport and train stations. In Sydney I regularly see people dragging suitcases up steps at train stations as well as strollers. At least it can be done albeit with effort. But what if you can’t do steps?
Do architects have the skills and attitude we need to create truly inclusive environments? Is it even possible to design architecture for everyone? These two questions were put to Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. She says architects are in pole position, but we are still polarising people into people with disability and people without disability. It is time we realised “that we just need to design for people.” The article in Smart Cities Library is short but to the point. As a person who is just five feet one inch, Jane Duncan finds many things physically out of her reach. So she is in a good position to call for architects to design for diversity. The website has other good items.
Compressed urban footprints might be related to higher rates of depression. Drawing a long bow here? Maybe not. In, Mind over matter: The restorative impact of perceived open space, the authors argue that the loss of natural open space could be having a detrimental affect on mental health: “By 2050 three out of four people will live in urban environments.This premium on open space will reduce vital access to the healing effects of undisturbed nature”. The article by David Navarrete and Bill Witherspoon discusses some of the neuroscience about enclosed spaces, lack of natural light and other factors and how they relate to our perceptions of the world around us. There are references for further reading at the end of the article. The article was posted on the Conscious Cities website.
The attitudes of architecture students to universal design is the focus of a Deakin University study. It builds on previous work (Design 4 Diversity) in 2010 on inter-professional learning for architecture and occupational therapy students. The findings of this latest studyshow that while architecture students viewed access to public environments favourably, there was a mixed response in relation to private homes.
Reasons not to include universal design features in homes included cost, client desires and restrictions on creativity. For example, “Over-designing for the sake of making the residence accessible in the future, just in case, is an unnecessary cost”; “Private homes should be designed to the individual”; and “Legislation restricts design, resulting in negative impacts the ‘requirements’ did not intend”. (Ed Note: These phrases have been used many times by practicing architects and designers as followers of UD are aware.)
The study used a quantitative approach and applied statistical techniques to the data. The first part of the document covers the history of universal design (as all such studies do) and there is an extended section on methods and statistics. For followers of UD, the Discussion section might be of most interest.
As followers of universal design know, designing with people with disability in mind often results in greater convenience for everyone.
The Australian Network on Disability, and Design for Dignity, with support from Lendlease, and the Commonwealth Bank, have produced an excellent resource for retail outlet designers. The key is for designers and retail outlets to understand the level of their missed business by ignoring population diversity. Graphs and statistics are used to highlight the lost opportunities. The missed business point is clearly made: “It is rare in business or design that organisations set out with “minimum standard” customer experience in mind. Designing to minimum accessibility standards is saying that this group of customers doesn’t deserve the same degree of thought, innovation and insight that is invested in other customers.” Readers are reminded that complying to Australian Standards does not make for best practice.
There are two versions of the guide aimed at retail business owners, service providers, shopping centre owners and managers, designers, builders and certifiers. The Australian Network on Disability has a webpage dedicated to the guide with additional links. It includes a link to an accessible PDF and Word versions. There is also a Design for Dignity microsite with the information in a web-based format with more detail
Readers are cautioned about the notion of disability being about wheelchair users. A graph (above) is included showing the use of other mobility devices and communication aids.
The diversity within the population is often disregarded in designs. Building code access compliance is still considered at the end of the design process as a necessary evil (hence the tacked on ramp) instead of integrated at the beginning. This guide helps to show the value of thinking inclusively from the outset.