Just what is a hearing loop?

International symbol for a hearing loopThere is a lot of confusion about hearing loops and assistive listening devices. Although public venues should have the loop switched on at the same time as the microphone (because that’s how it works), there are some places that think it should only be switched on if someone asks for it. And then, sadly, all too often, that’s when they find it doesn’t work. The Listen Technologies blog post provides a comparison between three technologies used for assistive listening. It refers to a recent New York Times article A Hearing Aid That Cuts Out All The Clatter which points to the many benefits of using induction loops in theatres, places of worship and other venues. As the article points out, this is not about rights, it’s about good customer service. A useful read for anyone who wants to know more about this technology.  The Clearasound website has excellent Australian resources written by someone who really understands the technology from both a user and installer’s standpoint.

Universal Design Guidelines from Singapore

shows a man carrying a small child on his shoulders and a young woman pushing an older man in a wheelchairThe Singapore Government’s Universal Design Guidelines for commercial buildings has been well thought out and is presented clearly with many illustrations and drawings. This is a comprehensive guide that goes beyond basic accessibility requirements of previous guidelines. Access consultants might wish to compare this document with the Australian Access to Premises Standard, and the guidelines which can be downloaded from the Human Rights Commission website.

Singapore is keen to progress universal design and has a Universal Design Department within the Building and Construction Authority. 

4 Built environment resources for practitioners

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 details of books and where to purchase.

Inclusive Design: Implementation and Evaluation

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

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

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

 

Inclusive Housing: A Pattern Book

A book for designing homes with everyone in mind. Includes disability specific information.

 

Would cities designed by women be better?

A man walks backward down steps holding the front of the pram while they mother holds the handles. They are going down a flight of steps in a public place.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?  

Access to Premises Standard and existing buildings

A Westpac bank branch in NSW country town. It is a large old two storey house with steps to the entranceMichael Small’s Churchill Fellowship report tracks and compares discrimination laws and industry practice in relation to public buildings. He questions whether the control of the Access to Premises Standard is falling more into the hands of industry as Human Rights Commission resources are becoming increasingly constrained. Three of his recommendations are: that more training is needed for industry to help them understand the standards; more flexibility is needed for building upgrades; and better systems are needed for compliance enforcement and auditing. The title of his report is, Ensuring the best possible access for people with disability to existing buildings that are being upgraded or extended. The countries visited and compared are Canada, United States of America, Ireland and United Kingdom. 

Luminance Contrast: seeing the light

Photo showing visual distortion and reflections in a glass doorLee Wilson writes in Sourceable that we should pay more attention to luminance contrast. But what is this and how do you measure it? The International Standard gives a technical definition. The non-technical explanation is the contrast of the light reflected on one surface compared with that of another, adjoining or adjacent surface. For example the contrast between the kitchen bench and the cupboard below and the wall behind. So why do we need such contrast? Not everyone has perfect vision, colour discrimination, or visual perception. Contrasts provide good visual cues and create greater safety especially in areas like the kitchen and bathroom. Lee Wilson lists the many things in and around the home and public buildings that need such contrast in this Sourceable article. Wilson explains in more detail everyday items that we might not think of: coat hooks, locker handles, buttons, switches, toilet seats, floors/walls, and more.

You can also read Measuring up for luminance contrast for more information on the topic.

Shopping for All: Inclusive Retail

Photo of wide shopping corridor at BarangarooAs 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 detailgraph of people using mobility and hearing devices

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.

Universal Design and Cultural Heritage

architectural plansDo architects design first and worry about legislation later or is it the reverse? Danish researcher Camilla Rhyl decided to find out in the context of increasing universal design in the built environment. She found that the legislative interpretation takes precedence over architectural interpretation and is perceived as limiting creativity and architectural quality. Architects regularly work with sensory, social and cognitive aspects of design, but there is no legislative reference to this part of their work. The following is from the second half of Camilla Rhyl’s abstract from a book chapter, So much more than building regulations: Universal design and the case of practice.

“The article shows how their methods, values and architectural thinking is built on a foundation of multisensory inclusion and quality, only they do not perceive this understanding as being UD in the general and legislative manner. There seems to be an apparent gap between their values, methods and architectural thinking and the legislative framework in which UD is presented and perceived currently in Norway and Denmark. Through an example of a cultural heritage (CH) project by the Danish architect Merete Lind Mikkelsen, the article demonstrates how it is possible to interpret UD in CH practice without compromising architectural quality or UD, but rather expand and develop the architectural understanding of the possibilities of UD.”

The full document may be access through the Aalborg University site. If you subscribe to ResearchGate or Academia.edu you may be able to access this chapter without needing the whole book.

Published in: Accessibility As a Key Enabling Knowledge for Enhancement of Cultural Heritage, 2016, p. 115-130. 

Architecture competitions for UD: codes or innovation?

picture of a modern building Norway Opera HouseHow juries assess universal design in architectural school competitions is critical to the level of innovation that can be expected. Norwegian Leif D. Houck gives an excellent analysis of how competitions are run today and how they can be improved for the future.  The following excerpt from the introductory section provides a good overview and direction of the discussion in the article. We would do well to take up the recommendations here in Australia.

“The very reason to organize an architectural competition is to achieve maximum quality in a project. The idea is not to have a competition to see if anyone manages to comply the regulations, building codes and the competition brief. No, the idea is to achieve qualities beyond the regulations. An architectural competition will most likely result in different designs and solutions – with different qualities. Additionally, a project’s development from developing the building program until the building stage contains stages in which the project is in process and will (hopefully) be improved. Lid’s approach to look at Universal Design at different levels from strategic to instrumental, is useful in the discussion of what level Universal Design should be solved in architectural competitions. Which challenges should be solved in the competition stage, and which challenges can be solved in the development of the winner project.”

You can download the full article, How Juries Assess UD in Norwegian Architectural School CompetitionsThe article was published in Universal Design 2016: Learning from the Past, Designing for the Future H. Petrie et al. (Eds.) © 2016  

The picture is of the Oslo Opera House

This article is published online with Open Access by IOS Press and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0). doi:10.3233/978-1-61499-684-2-229

 

Measuring up for luminance contrast

Grand staircase in a heritage building showing a blue carpeted staircase and a mural at the top of the flight. As our populations age we will have more people experiencing low vision. This means that contrasts between objects will become an increasingly important factor in negotiating the built environment. Although standards stipulate a certain luminance contrast and levels of light (lux) for buildings, how are they measured, who measures them, and what are they measured with? This issue was investigated by a team in Norway using staircases for the case studies. They found that the tools used by builders and planners vary, and this results in different contrast and light readings for the same staircase. Other variables were also found to influence the readings, such as reflection or glare from overhead lighting. Sunny or cloudy conditions, the shadow of the measurer when measuring, and different angles and positions of the meter all bring different results.

stairs-red-and-blue-1611679__180The findings and conclusion of the study raise an important question: Are the staircases as bad as they seem in terms of not meeting the legislative requirements? Or are the requirements too difficult to fulfil? The team concluded that the answer lies with a representative group of people with low vision guiding them on understanding usability. Another case of standards being useful but not entirely effective – the users have the answer once again.

The article, Planning and Measuring Luminance Contrast in Staircases contains charts, graphs and pictures that illustrate their methods and results. The article is free to download.

L.D. Houck1 , K. Gundersen, O. Strengen: Universal Design 2016: Learning from the Past, Designing for the Future. H. Petrie et al. (Eds.)

This article is published online with Open Access by IOS Press and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0). doi:10.3233/978-1-61499-684-2-382