Urban spaces and UD principles

Front cover of TeMA JournalIn spite of any political trouble in Turkey, academics and government staff are working behind the scenes to create universally designed urban environments. Turkey was one of the first signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and this is a likely driver of change. Published in TeMA (Journal of Land Use, Mobility and the Environment), Evaluation of Urban Spaces from the Perspective of Universal Design Principles uses the city of Konya as a case study to evaluate the current situation and pose recommendations for improvements in the public domain. 

This is a good resource for situations where urban designers are yet to address physical access and universal design in the built environment, or have addressed only the minimum access compliance requirements. The many photographs help to explain the issues. The seven principles of universal design are applied in a practical way using examples. The introductory section to the article explains why disability access alone is insufficient, and that inclusion of all people is the aim. Here is a section from the introduction stressing the importance of UD over basic access:

“… [I]t would be rather a discriminatory act to construct disabled-only designs. It would also be another discriminatory policy to establish the kind of institutions that were specifically catered to the use of disabled individuals alone. Disabled individuals themselves vehemently oppose such types of practices and demand to live under equal terms with the rest of citizens. In lieu of such approaches, it would be smarter to arrange the kind of settings and spaces in which all members of the community were comfortable to live collectively. The truth is that rearrangement of physical environment to suit to the easy-use of elderly and disabled individuals would translate to the structuring of physical spaces favorable for all users. In an attempt to generate solutions to the problems met in urban life by elderly and disabled individuals, it would be a reasonable practice to conduct all-inclusive arrangements to reunite urban spaces with the entire community rather than discriminate such individuals. Accordingly, during the stage of planning physical environment spaces, it is advocated to accentuate and employ universal design concept and principles recognized as an all-inclusive design approach integrating the entire community.”

The slippery case of slip resistance

A graph showing slip resistance gradingsRichard Bowman’s recent publication challenges conventional methods of testing tiles for slip resistance. Testing is mostly done in laboratories and the results are used for setting Standards for slip resistance. In real environments, speed of walking, inclines, changes in weather, and cleaning materials among other factors can all have an effect on the slip resistance of tiled surfaces. He argues that these are not always taken into consideration. While his paper is very technical, it is essential reading for anyone involved in access compliance and all round safety for everyone. The title of his paper is, Can we develop slip resistance metrics that ensure appropriate tile selection?  Read to the end to see what he has to say about two popular Australian access guides that cover slip resistance.

Richard Bowman is a ceramic engineer, who spent 30 years working as a principal research scientist at CSIRO – Australia’s national scientific research organisation. Richard also presented a paper at the 2014 Australian Universal Design Conference. 

Extract from Abstract: This paper reviews several aspects of the state of the art of slip resistance testing in the context of trying to identify an ISO testing procedure that would provide suitable metrics for optimising appropriate tile selection. While existing test methods might be represented as being fit for purpose, there are several areas of test protocols that could and should be significantly improved. …While the existing paradigm of solely assessing the ex-factory slip resistance of tiles is flawed and contrary to sensible regulatory measures, new data is required to establish credible evidence-based practicable standards.


Ups and downs of stairway design

Three steps into a building with tactile markers on every step and a narrow handrail on each side which does not continue to the last stepOne way of examining how architects view the design of stairways is to analyse the photographs used as illustrations in a prominent architectural magazine. The illustrations potentially serve as examples of best practice, but Karen Kim and Ed Steinfeld found that the illustrations left much to be desired. The point is made that if safe and inclusive features are not apparent in major industry journals and magazines, how can we hope to improve practice in the professions?

In their article, An Evaluation of Stairway Designs Featured in Architectural Record between 2000 and 2012, they found the lack of handrails occurred most often. The article includes several photographs and a list of the missing safety features. Also available on ReseachGate

The Australian Human Rights Commission produced a document in 2008, “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”, and it focuses on stairways and the placement of tactiles, handrails, and contrasting nosings – a good reference guide on what not to do.

I took this photograph in Australia and shows tactile ground surface indicators (tgsi) being used wrongly on steps, but ironically nicely contrasted. The owner believed tgsi are for slip resistance. Can you spot the other mistake? People forget the ground level is a step and therefore the handrail should extend to the footpath in this case. The diameter of the handrail is also problematic. Editor.

Community Wayfinding: Pathways to Understanding

picture of the front cover of the book - deep blue background with simple letteringJon Sanford is a well-known architect in the universal design community in the USA and has published widely. His chapter, Design for All Users tackles wayfinding and explains that despite its potential, universal design has not been widely adopted as a strategy in promoting community wayfinding. The book, Community Wayfinding: Pathways to Understanding is published by Springer Link and individual chapters can be purchased. Or go to the ResearchGate site and request free access to the full chapter. 

You can download the table of contents to see what else might be of interest.

Abstract: Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. Whereas this strategy is typically applied to broadly enhance usability of design—including its safety, accessibility, and simplicity—universal design can also be applied in a more focused manner to facilitate specific aspects of usability, such as wayfinding. In this chapter, the author describes not only what universal design is, but also what it is not: specialized designs to compensate for functional limitations. The chapter makes the case that specialized design, as embodied by the technical specifications in the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines, defines a rigid set of prescriptive rules of what to do to promote safety and accessibility for specific individuals; universal design, as articulated by a set of performance guidelines embodied in the principles of universal design, describes how to promote usability and inclusivity—including community wayfinding—for everyone. Despite its potential, universal design has not been widely adopted as a strategy in promoting community wayfinding. The chapter addresses directions in research, policy, and practice necessary to promote universal design implementation.