Beyond minimum standards

Urban landscape with shade trees and lots of casual seating with people sitting. Going beyond minimum standards.Why does the design of built environment continue to fail people with disability? Many have asked this question since Selwyn Goldsmith raised it in the 1960s. Many have found answers. But these are not enough to make a difference to the results. New buildings continue to pose barriers in spite of regulations and standards. Going beyond minimum standards is therefore a big ask. 

Imogen Howe, an architect with 10 years experience, wants to find the answer. Her proposed research aims to find out why the built environment continues to marginalise people with disability. Her specific PhD research questions are:

    • Why and how does the Australian built environment continue to marginalise people with disabilities, despite the Disability Discrimination Act (1992)?
    • How does building design reproduce exclusion and segregation? How is this underpinned by design assumptions and approaches both contemporary and historic?
    • Do building and design codes in Australia, NZ, Canada and the UK address dignity?
    • How do we educate becoming architects about the need for inclusive design and then how to enact it in their designs?

References are made to key thinkers and writers on the topic such as Amie Hamraie, C.W. Mills, Joss Boys and Michel Foucault. 

These questions are posed in an article framed as a discussion piece in Academia.edu. The key provocations for the discussion are: eugenics and stigma in design, society structures, and how could this be different. Imogen invites comment and ideas from readers. The title of the article is, “The need for inclusive design: going beyond the minimum standards in the built environment”.

This website has more than 100 research papers related to the built environment. Many have sought the same answers.

Universal design approach to transportation

Train station entry hall in China.Much of our transportation infrastructure was designed last century when the focus was on getting people to work and school. People with disability were not considered as part of the working or school populations at that time. But times have changed and “average” must evolve to “inclusive” because there is no such thing as the average user. The time has come for a universal design approach to transportation. That includes footpaths.

A magazine article on inclusive transit systems suggests one way to think about the transit system is to recall an experience in another country. Was it easy to use? Did you feel you could confidently and independently navigate your way to your destination? How was buying a ticket? If you got confused, potentially, new users will be confused at home too. These are good benchmarks for home country design. 

The article discusses the Transit Universal Design Guidelines (TUDG).  It promotes the value of implementing a universal design approach that supports all user groups. And it doesn’t start and end at the station door. The environment leading up to the transit system must be part of the plan. The article picks out three key elements.

Key elements

User Groups: consider who you are ultimately designing for. This section includes accommodations required to satisfy the needs of specific user groups — including individuals with visual, hearing, speech, or mobility disabilities and needs, among others.

Aspects of Accommodation: identify features and techniques that can enhance the end user experience — from handrails, to hearing assistant systems, to tactile pathways, to mobile ticketing apps.

Implementation: understand the process and approach for implementing universal design through advocacy, engagement, and evaluating and finalizing design options. With this approach, transit agencies can attract new and retain existing ridership and provide solutions that are inclusive and universal from the start.

Passengers wheel their baggage on the train station platform. A very fast train is in the backgound.The title of the article is, Designing More Inclusive, Accessible Transit Systems for All

For more information on accessible and inclusive transit systems and transportation, check out the the Transportation section of this website. 

Tactile or 3D?

A metal model showing a town layout in relief with Braille on buildings and streets. There is a church and lots of houses and a town square represented.Which type of map is best – tactile or 3D? Three researchers from Monash University carried out a study to see if 3D printed models offered more information than tactile graphics such as maps. There were some interesting findings that were presented in a conference paper. The abstract gives a good overview:

Abstract

Tactile maps are widely used in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) training for people with blindness and severe vision impairment. Commodity 3D printers now offer an alternative way to present accessible graphics, however it is unclear if 3D models offer advantages over tactile equivalents for 2D graphics such as maps. In a controlled study with 16 touch readers, we found that 3D models were preferred, enabled the use of more easily understood icons, facilitated better short term recall and allowed relative height of map elements to be more easily understood.

Analysis of hand movements revealed the use of novel strategies for systematic scanning of the 3D model and gaining an overview of the map. Finally, we explored how 3D printed maps can be augmented with interactive audio labels, replacing less practical braille labels. Our findings suggest that 3D printed maps do indeed offer advantages for O&M training. 

Paradoxically, the freely available PDF version is in two columns and in Times New Roman font – both aspects that are not recommended for people with low vision or for screen readers. The full title of the paper is, “Accessible Maps for the Blind: Comparing 3D Printed Models with Tactile Graphics“.  

The article is also available on ResearchGate. 

Shared space or contested space?

two cyclists ride into a city square which is a pedestrian precinct. Shared space or contested space?
Pedestrian zone with cyclists

Policy makers are concerned about growing motor vehicle usage, pollution, and poor health outcomes due to lack of exercise. Consequently, transport and planning experts are keen to get people out of their cars an onto bikes and public transport. Creating pedestrian malls is looking like a policy favourite too. But this often means that pedestrians have to mingle with slow moving traffic, light rail, and cyclists. Alright for some, but not for everyone. So is it shared space or contested space?

Older people in particular don’t like to share walkways with cyclists. And for many older people, the car is their mobility device. With poor footpath maintenance, or no footpath at all, people unsteady on their feet will still get around by car. So not an easy problem to solve.

Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has done some research on this topic which is titled, Shared Space, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones from a Universal Design Approach for the Urban Environment in Ireland .

front cover of the report. black background with a collage of pictures and the title in white lettering. Shared space or contested space?
Front cover of the Executive Summary

It comes as two documents, a short executive summary, and the full document.

The study explored “contemporary national and international practices and thinking on Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones and to investigate these concepts from a Universal Design approach in the Irish urban environment. This report sets out key evidence based findings and provides key recommendations in relation to the implementation of Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones in Ireland”.

Manchester and Brussels: A place to grow old

A city square in Belgium showing heritage architecture. People are milling about in the square in Brussels.
Brussels city square

The WHO Age Friendly Cities and Communities framework remains a robust method for creating age-friendly places. We can learn a lot from cities that signed up to the WHO Global Network that began in 2007. A book chapter compares Brussels and Manchester as a place to grow old. It shows that different policy approaches result in quite different outcomes.

The first part of the chapter covers introductory material and detail about the 8 domains of the WHO program. The interesting part, especially for local government, is the comparison of approaches and outcomes for Brussels and Manchester. Brussels, for example, focused on social housing for older people and street safety. Manchester focused on lifetime neighbourhoods and quality of life.

Manchester was more inclusive of different ethnic backgrounds than Brussels which also has a diverse population. In short, Brussels was about keeping people safe, and Manchester was about living life. The paper goes on to discuss the barriers to implementing the programme and developing age-friendly policies. There are some good recommendations at the end of this paper which was published in 2015. 

The chapter title is, Developing Age-Friendly Cities: Case Studies from Brussels and Manchester and Implications for Policy and Practice. It begins on page 277.This chapter is one of several interesting papers in Environmental Gerontology in Europe and Latin America.  

WHO Age Friendly Cities

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of life.Age Friendly Cities has its founding concepts in healthy ageing. Well if it’s healthy for older people it’s healthy for everyone. These cities should be walkable, compact and have infrastructure that supports liveability. But planning laws haven’t this and continue to address ageing in terms of age-segregated living arrangements. 

Canada was at the forefront of the development of the WHO Age Friendly Cities program in 2006. But that hasn’t been enough to overcome entrenched planning and development processes. No Place to Grow Old: How Canadian Suburbs Can Become Age-Friendly, found that although planners and others have concerns about an ageing population, their thinking hasn’t adapted. Consequently, little has changed in the last ten years. 

The survey found that older people were still seen as a special-needs group rather than establishing inclusive policy solutions. The report makes some useful recommendations and the findings are applicable to any urban area in any location.

You can find a list of Australian cities or communities that are members of the WHO Global Network of Age Friendly Cities on the WHO website. You can also find out how your community can become a member of the Global Network.

The graphic above depicts the 8 domains of life that need to be considered in making a community age-friendly: Housing, Transportation, Social Participation, Respect and Social Inclusion, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, Community Support and Health Services, Communication and Information, and Civic Participation and Employment. An argument was made at the International Federation of Ageing Conference in 2016 that housing should be in the centre of the the petals as it is the central part of everyone’s life.

 

Automated driverless vehicles: Where are we?

Graphic of a little red car depicting an automated driverless vehicle.A good question to ask about automated driverless vehicles – where are we? Five years ago there was much talk about how driverless vehicles would change the way we get around. While the promise is still there in terms of technology, we are still a long way from regulation and planning. That means accessible self-driving vehicles are a long way off.

An article in The Conversation explains the six levels of automation from driver assistance to full automation. Many new cars have a level of driver assistance such as keeping the car in lane, and speed control. But they require the driver to take over if necessary.

Regulators are struggling to keep pace. They need to come up with standard tests for safety and benchmarking their algorithms. The public is unsure about automation, but can see advantages especially for those who cannot currently drive. 

What do drivers think?

A yellow automated driverless vehicle is parked by the footpath.What do people really think about autonomous vehicles? A survey found two main types of response: one cognitive and one emotional. Overall there is a general acceptance of autonomous vehicles – the cognitive response. However, concerns were expressed over safety, trust and control – the emotional responses.

Negative views held by a few tended to be based on emotional factors. The key point is that assumed resistance factors, such as those relating to ethics, hacking and liability, are not top of mind in the community. This means education and information can be better tailored with this information in mind. 

The title of the article is, Dimensions of attitudes to autonomous vehicles.  Published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research, it is open access.

It will be about passengers

A small black and white pod shaped automated driverless vehicle.Driverless cars will be about passengers not drivers. Although a subtle difference, it focuses thought on users as passengers rather than drivers. And this is important because there will be more diversity of users than there are currently drivers. But this raises accessibility and other issues which are discussed in two papers.

When it comes to assistance it is usually the driver that helps riders with disabilities with getting in and out, and pointing them in the right direction. A report from Intelligent Transport Systems discusses these issues in a matter of fact way. Policy makers and vehicle designers need to think across all these issues. The title of the report is, Driverless Cars and Accessibility

David Williams in his article alerts us to the size and influence of tech giants and how they can utilise the data they can collect. His concern is for high-tech companies manipulating and controlling our lives further. He provides a table of vehicle enhancements and the time it took or is taking for the market to fully embrace them. The title of the article is, Driverless cars: benefit to humanity or road to an Orwellian dystopia?

 

6 steps for effective wayfinding

A street signpost with multiples signs going in several directions. They need 6 septs to effective wayfinding.
Image by Kim Broomhall from Pixabay

Wayfinding is more than just putting up a sign, but where signs are needed it’s time to call an experiential graphic designer. They have expertise in understanding human behaviour and perception. Knowledge of access codes is also part of their skill-set. The key point is to involve them at the beginning of a project for best effect. A SEDG blog post has 6 steps for effective wayfinding. 

6 Steps for Effective Wayfinding

Think about wayfinding long before the development site and architecture have taken shape. Experiential graphic designers are the go-to people at this point. The following steps are edited from the SEDG blog post. They outline the process for working with designers to integrate wayfinding into new or existing space. 

1. Kick off. A good designer will listen to the problems and challenges that a wayfinding systems needs to solve.

2. Strategize and plan. Designers think about how people move around and interact, anticipate needs and identify obstacles. They should also consider any regulations and restrictions to ensure designs are approved. 

3. Concept and design. A good designer will have skills in type, colour, form, materials, lighting and more and present a variety of designs. They consider sightlines, obstructions, language and culture, physical disabilities and visual impairments.  

4. Review and approve. This is the most important part of the process. A good designer packages the designs for approval and negotiates where necessary. 

5. Bid for pricing. Allow up to three weeks for this step so mistakes aren’t made leading to bigger issues. Proposals should include samples, colours, materials, shop drawings and permits.

6. Fabricate and install. Fabrication and installation takes eight to twelve weeks. A good designer will work with fabricators and installers to ensure design intent is followed, down to the last sign type and location. 

Final thoughts. 

According to the blog post, experiential graphic designers have sound design principles. They understand building materials and manufacturing techniques. These designers understand human behaviour and perception—the way people make decisions and move through a space. In the long run they can save you time and money. 

 

Inclusive design: more than a checklist

A desk with a large sheet of paper and pink post it notes. A person stands with their hand resting on the table. Inclusive design is more than a checklist.Design is powerful. It connects us to the world around us and shapes our lives. Inclusive design shapes products and services in ways that are useable by everyone. It requires a shared understanding of population diversity. Whether it’s a building a webpage, a policy framework or a town park, it ensures we “leave no-one behind“. Inclusive design is more than a checklist.

A blog page from Automattic says, “Truly inclusive designs are never really finished, and becoming fluent in inclusive design takes more than a checklist. We all need a map when we start exploring any new world”. This is the introduction to a “guidance map” aimed at leading individuals and teams through the processes of creating inclusive thinking and practice.

Although focused on technology, some of the principles and processes can be applied in other design situations. For example, “Learn about your audiences; their motivations, needs, behaviors, challenges, pain points and goals”. The key headings in this article on Design.blog are: 

      • Broadening perspectives and building empathy; 
      • Bringing diversity into teams and processes; and 
      • Building inclusion into designs.  

The article explains each of the three steps in more detail. Some concepts such as colour contrast are well-known to designers. Less considered factors are providing cost-accessible options of designs, and designing for low bandwidth. Designs should be adaptable for longer life and empower clients to continue without more designer input. These ideas really show that client needs are at the centre of the design. Designing out “pain points” is essential for all users. 

Design is a powerful tool and inclusive design has the “potential to unite heterogeneous cultures in shared understanding. To make products and experiences globally accessible.” Good design is inclusive design. 

 

Universal design and affordability in housing

Three stacks of coins sit alongside a wooden cut-out of a house shape. Universal design and housing affordability.Housing policy people think you can’t have universal design and affordability in housing. However, the opposite is likely to be true. The national Building Ministers’ Meeting in April this year agreed to include Livable Housing Silver level in all new housing. But not all states agreed to call it up in their jurisdiction. 

Victoria, Queensland, ACT, Tasmania and NT are right behind the changes to the National Construction Code, but NSW is not. Indeed, they informed advocates by letter that they have no intention of including silver level in NSW legislation. Their reasoning is that they believe they are doing enough already. By this, they mention some policies asking for a proportion of accessible dwellings in apartments. However, there is no evidence they are actually built, and if they were, there is no way of knowing where they are. 

Head and shoulders pic of Kay Saville-Smith
Kay Saville-Smith

The other reason for not changing the NSW code is that the politicians believe it costs too much. Accessible housing continues to be perceived as a niche area. A few good points were made by Kay Saville-Smith at a roundtable after the 2014 Australian universal design conference. Sadly, we are still no further forward and her words hold true today. 

Universal design is affordable design

Here are Kay Saville-Smith’s five key points about universal design in housing and affordability: 

“The usual argument is that universal design is consistently unaffordable (by which they mean more costly) than poor design because of the difficulties of retrofitting the existing environment and lack of economies of scale. But the reasons why universal design is seen as costly can add cost. Five points are interesting: 

    1. Most products are not designed but driven off existing tools, processes and organisational  structures. To change these does require some investment (hump costs) but these are one off and should not be seen as an ongoing cost. Indeed, those changes can bring reduced costs in the long term through increased productivity etc.
    2. The costs of poor design are externalised onto households, other sectors or hidden unmet need.
    3. Comes out of an advocacy approach that pitches the needs of one group against another and treats universal design as special design etc.
    4. Win-win solutions need to be built with the industry participants that are hungry for share not dominant players who have incentives to retain the status quo.
    5. Universal design is different from design which is fashion based. The trick is to make universal design fashionable so no one would be seen dead without it.”

Her keynote presentation provides more information about affordability and why it is so hard to get traction with universal design in housing. 

For more history on the Building Ministers’ Meeting and decisions to include Livable Housing Silver level in the NCC, go to the housing design policy section. 

Inclusion in Motion Playspace

Overview of the Inclusion in Motion Playspace.
Inclusion in Motion Playspace

The Inclusion in Motion Playspace is a great example of a local community project. Similarly to the Touched by Olivia founders in Australia, a family decided to do something when they encountered the “don’t stare” moment. Their son’s limited opportunities for play with other children was the driving force behind their decision that this had to change. It all began with a small local committee.

Fundraising efforts made the playspace possible together with volunteer effort to help with the build. According to Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA) the build is about to begin.  

Danise Levine from IDEA played an integral part in this collaboration as a designer. Universal design strategies are built into every aspect of the project. The Inclusion in Motion founders have a short story to tell on their Dream Big website.

The website includes an excellent video (below) of what the playspace will look like. It’s a good example of how a small community can come together for a common purpose and it showcases some of the best universally designed equipment available

The universally designed Everyone Can Play guidelines take a similar approach to designing playspaces. More resources are in the Parks and Playspaces section of this website.