Going for Gold but Silver will do for now

shows roof tops of a development in a greenfield area. Photo taken from the top of a hill looking down.At last! The national Building Ministers’ Meeting agreed to change the building code to mandate accessible features in all new homes. This represents a major social change in Australia. While evidence showed that Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines was the most cost effective, Silver will do for now.  However, there is still work to do.

The building ministers were not unanimous in their decision. The Communique released after their meeting gives states and territories discretion in applying the changes. It states, “Each state and territory will be free to determine whether and how the new provisions will be applied in their jurisdiction to minimise the regulatory impact on the construction sector.”

WA, NSW and SA did not support the changes. That means they may not call them up in their state based legislation. 

Potentially, the property industry will find it inconvenient to work with differing codes across jurisdictions and decide to conform regardless. But that will mean longer time frames before full implementation.

So, from September 2022, those states that support the changes will have new homes designed to Silver level. A voluntary guide for Gold will be developed to encourage the industry to go beyond minimum. 

The advocates

The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) led the campaign for change for almost 20 years. ANUHD is a national network of committed volunteers who meet via Zoom every month. Dr Margaret Ward’s leadership and determination were instrumental to the campaign’s success. Her many letters over many years to politicians and others in power positions eventually paid off. Make no mistake, this change was not given willingly. And that is the never-ending story of all human rights campaigns. 

The success of the campaign is also due to the recent push by the Summer Foundation and their financial support for extra research and a campaign director. The Building Better Homes social media campaign showed politicians what the community wanted. 

CUDA has actively supported the campaign and congratulates all involved. This issue has been a regular feature across the six years of this website. If you are interested in the history, the section of this website on Housing Design Policy has several posts. Universal Design in Housing in Australia: Getting to Yes, by Dr Ward provides an history of the campaign and the barriers advocates faced.

We are very pleased that Dr Ward will be one of the speakers at the upcoming Universal Design Conference. She will update us on the situation as it is currently unfolding. There’s sure to be a lot of interest in this topic.


Architects and empathy: the key to inclusive design

A man wearing simulation gloves and glasses tries to open a sticky note padLoughborough University has a good track record for inclusive design research. The latest article reports on a study to find out if “empathetic modelling” could influence architects’ design thinking. Impaired vision and manual dexterity are the most common losses as people age. So these factors were used in the study to improve architects’ empathy and understanding of users.

The method involved using glasses and gloves that simulate loss of vision and loss of hand dexterity. Participants were given reading, writing and dexterity tasks while wearing the gloves and glasses.

The results show that the tasks challenged their traditional view of disability, seeing it more as a continuum and effecting a wider population. A summary of the key themes were:

• Inadequacy of the current building standard, Access to and Use of Buildings. It only recommends minimum access standards. Thee is no incentive for developers to go beyond minimum compliance.
• Developers often commission design briefs so the end user is often unknown.
• In the absence of knowing their end user, they tend to design for themselves.
• They feel there is a stigma associated with accessible designs and this reinforces the disability-centric concept of able bodied versus disability designs.
• It challenged their traditional view on disability and capability loss and the current polarised view within design, between ‘able-bodied’ and ‘disabled-users’.
• A lack of inclusive design training within their undergraduate and post graduate training and a desire to include more in their continuing professional development.
• Participants felt strongly that commercial, accessible design decisions, mainly addressed physical impairments.
• All participants reported an increased awareness of the psychological effects of the simulated capability loss, reporting frustration and fatigue.

The title of the article is, How ‘Empathetic modelling’ positively influences Architects’ empathy, informing their Inclusive Design-Thinking.  Arthritis is rarely recorded as a disability but it affects one in seven Australians. Opening packages, lifting the kettle and turning door knobs can be difficult and painful. 


Empathy is described in the literature as being the first stage in the Design-Thinking cycle. Architects and Design professionals should ‘Empathise’ with their users to understand their needs and gain insight into the exclusion barriers that many users face within the Built Environment. This paper presents the results of a study conducted with a cohort of Architects, investigating whether an ‘Empathetic Modelling’ intervention could influence their intrapersonal state empathy levels and inform their inclusive Design-Thinking. A validated empathy scale was used to measure Architects empathy levels, pre and post intervention. Visual acuity and hand dexterity were the two capability losses simulated, with participants performing common Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and two design tasks. Results showed that all participants empathy scores increased, when comparing pre and posttest measures. This was supported with qualitative data, with results suggesting that all participants gained unique and useful insights into how they can incorporate more accessibility, adaptability and inclusivity into future designs, to reduce user exclusion within the built environment. This increased awareness of incorporating an inclusive design philosophy, has positive implications for design professionals understanding the diverse needs of the wider user population and especially for the increasing ageing population, who want to maintain their independence and enjoy barrier-free access to the built environment.

Emergency Design: Designing as you go

A woman is sitting on the ground and is being helped by a person in protective clothing and a hi vis vest. The woman looks distressed.Designing FOR an emergency IN an emergency requires a different design approach to existing tried and true methods. When urgency is the driver of design, processes and methods need a re-think. COVID-19 is a clear case of designing for an emergency during the emergency. So how can “designing-as-you-go” be done?

Designs for emergencies, such as wars or an earthquake, are usually devised before the event. Or they are designed after the event in preparation for future events. The COVID pandemic arrived without notice and few countries were prepared. Hence the need to design for the emergency while it is happening.

A case study from Brazil shows how a totally different design approach was required. Rather than using standard methods the researchers took an organic approach to the problem. It was basically designing on the run. The process encouraged the inclusion of people who are often marginalised. While history tells us that Brazil is has not fared well during the pandemic, the study still has value for future situations.

Their approach is based on qualitative techniques. They relied on the knowledge of local people and processes of working together in a horizontal rather than hierarchical format. This approach also allowed participants to see how they could deal with the current situation as well as improvements for the longer term. 

“As a path, we point out the importance of identifying areas of convergence of interests, the creation of win-win policies and the daily encouragement of a culture of collaboration at the differing levels.”

The title of the paper is Design amid Emergency. It charts what they did, how they did it and what they learned from the process. Identifying areas of common interest and developing win-win policies to encourage a culture of collaboration was key. In summary, they found the co-creation design process the key to success. It can lead to improved quality of life in both the short and longer term. It also helps to embed resilience within the population. 

The government saw the value of co-design with citizens. It remains to be seen if they actually follow through on this networking approach to solving issues.


This article presents the process for the “Design of services under the COVID19 emergency social protection plan”, drawn up by a team of researchers and designers from Porto Alegre in collaboration with the Porto Alegre City Government, and directed at the provision of essential benefits to homeless and other vulnerable people during the pandemic. The process was developed in an unprecedented way for the designers involved: without prior notice, within very short time frames and completely remotely, using only digital platforms. As such, the process was developed to respond to the emergency and amid the emergency. In this regard, the objective of the article is to discuss how to design amid emergency. The experience was guided by the methodological principles of action research and research through design. In addition to presenting the design results: these being solutions aimed at the short, medium and long term, this article highlights the need, even in these circumstances, to aim for the prizing of difference, the suggestion of alternative views, social innovation, the systemic transformation of society and sustainability.

Adapting existing homes to be more accessible

Front cover of the report with blue and green background.From 2022, all new homes will be built to Silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. That was the decision by the state and building ministers last week. But what about existing homes? How will we deal with that? The Human Rights Commission published a study by Monash University on adapting existing homes to be more accessible.

The study concluded that there were two ways to increase the stock of housing that suits people with disability. One is to mandate accessible features in all new housing. That part is almost a done deal. The second way is “through some form of modification or adaptation, which may involve a substantial renovation”.

The focus of the report is on the second point – adaptation of existing stock. Renovations for home offices and multigenerational living are current examples of adaptation. The researchers wanted to see if there ways to design for flexibility and adaptation. The overall aim is to see if there is a way of improving current stock for the benefit of everyone. 

Monash University carried out the scoping study titled, Adaptable housing for people with disability in Australia: A scoping study. It has three parts. The first two cover current approaches to home modifications. The third part looks at the overall housing landscape for people with disability. The authors note that designers and architects are rarely involved in discussions on how best to adapt a home. Rather, it usually requires an occupational therapist to make recommendations. Quality of life and aesthetics are rarely factored into these assessments because of funding constraints.

Ageing in neighbourhood rather than retirement villages

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundOlder people know what they want in terms of housing and their neighbourhood. But has anyone asked them? Two researchers in Queensland have. This research came about because of serious concerns about congregate living during the COVID-19 pandemic. In their research findings, the researchers challenge the ideas of local planners. They say we need to look at ageing in neighbourhood rather than retirement villages.

The researchers found that local councils can act as a catalyst for the market to change and innovate. They propose infill developments with a mix duplexes and mid rise apartments with easy access to services. This would create age-friendly neighbourhoods. The article in The Conversation has lot of images and diagrams to illustrate their arguments. The title of the article is, Ageing in neighbourhod: what seniors want instead of retirement villages and how to achieve it

It is time to move away from focusing on what older people can no longer do to what they can be encouraged to do. That is the healthy ageing approach. Too often they are treated as a health problem. Older people know what’s best for them. Given the opportunity they can create solutions.

The table below shows the key features that make a home and neighbourhood a good place to live as they age.

The Fifth Estate has an article that extends the discussion on this topic into smart cities. The title of the article isThis is how we create the age-friendly smart city


Homes for pandemic and post-pandemic modes

A girl looks longingly out of the window. Outside coronavirus elements float in the air.Green building and universal design have a lot in common. They both aim to improve the lives of building users. When it comes to our homes, the brave new world of working from home will no doubt stay with us post pandemic. But there is more to creating a suitable home than just adapting for work. Our homes also need to protect us in both pandemic and post-pandemic modes. Universal design has a role to play here. 

An article in the Journal of Green Building tackles the issue of designing for a world where we should expect further pandemics. Public buildings, transportation, tourism, open space and events were all affected by COVID-19. Of interest here is the section on designing new homes. 

Author Dirk Spennemann argues for universal design and acknowledges the slow uptake in new homes. However, future proofing requires a universal design approach so that occupants can function in both pandemic and post-pandemic mode. Spennermann goes into detail about the four conceptual spaces a home needs and uses drawings to explain. See Figure 1 below from the article. Existing housing stock is discussed in terms of retrofits. The title of the article is, Residential Architecture in a post-pandemic world. It represents some forward thinking in home design. 

diagram of the four conceptual spaces in a home.


COVID-19 has highlighted the disruptive, cross-sectorial effects a sudden-onset pandemic has on a globally interconnected world. A particularly insidious component is the high percentage of asymptomatic cases allowing the virus to seed undetected. The design of residential architecture will need to adapt to the new reality that COVID19 will not be the last coronavirus epidemic. This paper discusses the implications of COVID-19 for new residential construction. It argues for a containment space, separating the largely uncontrollable external environment from the internal threat reduced residential space, for a separation of visitor entertainment areas and private sleeping areas, as well as the design of a spatially separated master bedroom that can double as a self-isolation space if the need arises. The implications of this new design on existing housing stock are also discussed. The advocated concepts are novel and advance the design considerations for future residential developments.

Editor’s note: This article cites my paper, Barriers to universal design in Australian housing


Hotels slow to provide accessibility

Not surprisingly, relatively wealthy countries have the best adapted hotels for accessibility. The US, Canada, Ireland, Qatar, Australia, Singapore and New Zealand come out top of each region’s list. That’s according to a study of Booking.com’s website of hotels. Despite government and community organisations promoting the need and benefits of inclusive tourism, hotels are slow to provide accessibility.

A study using the international Booking.com data compares continents and countries for the level of hotel accessibility. The researchers worked with a sample of 31,868 hotels in the 100 most popular tourist destinations. They found some type of adaptation in 18,368. Even in the countries with the highest levels, wheelchair accessibility is only provided in 30%. Other features are just 5% or less.

Booking.com is a popular website for booking tourist accommodation. It leads the market by having the greatest distribution of beds worldwide. In the filter search there is a section on accessibility features. However, the information is not always reliable because standards vary across international borders. Although an hotel states it is adapted or accessible there is no guarantees it is.

This is why disability groups and individuals have set up their guides to accessible and inclusive tourism. They use the personal experiences of travellers to provide the access details that matter most. Examples are Travel Without Limits, Getaboutable, Access Advisor, and TravAbility. 

The title of the article is, Accessibility in Inclusive Tourism? Hotels Distributed Through Online Channels.  The authors conclude that the “vast majority of the world’s hotel industry has serious deficiencies in accessibility”. 

The accessible features included in the Booking.com filter search are: wheelchair accessible, toilet with grab rails, higher level toilet, lower bathroom sink, emergency cord in bathroom, Braille, tactile signs, auditory guidance.  The hotels themselves provide the information on Booking.com. So, the information is not always reliable. 


There is a lack of comprehensive international studies on accommodations for people with disabilities; only small, local-level studies exist. This study aims to show the status of the tourist accommodation sector through the online distribution channel in terms of accessibility to offer more inclusive tourism. A descriptive analysis has been carried out with more than 31,000 hotels from the online travel agency Booking.com, in the 100 most touristic cities in the world. For the first time, an accurate picture of adaptation in the hotel sector for people with disabilities is presented. Results show that the adapted hotel infrastructures by countries are uneven. The main adaptations are those that help to avoid mobility barriers, and in contrast, hotels offer very few adaptations for sensory disabilities such as visual disabilities. Moreover, this study shows that, worldwide, countries with the highest income per capita, such as the United States of America, Canada, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, have the highest degree of hotel adaptation.

Spot the Robot Dog senses how building space is used

A robot with four yellow articulated legs stands on a bare concrete floor in a half finished building. Could Spot the robot dog change the way buildings get made? Spot explores and senses spaces and captures the data. This kind of robot is used in places such as oil and gas sites where safety is an issue. But now Spot has become a part-time ‘architect’. Perhaps this robot will be deployed to check out accessibility of buildings too. Who knows?

Architecture firm Forster + Partners Applied Research and Development group used it in the development of Battersea Power Station. By monitoring the construction process each week, architects can see if the physical building is deviating from the plans. The potential for cost savings are obvious.

The robot also monitors completed and occupied buildings to see how space is being used. But humans have to get used to Spot because paying attention to the robot interferes with the scan and data collection. 

The FastCompany article has a lot more information and the videos are fascinating and show how the robot works. Let’s hope that accessibility and universal design are programmed into the next iteration of Spot. 

The title of the article is, This robot dog is changing the way buildings are designed, constructed, and used.


Airbnb without leaving home

The shins and feet of a person in bright joggers standing on a skateboard.Airbnb without leaving home doesn’t make sense. But that is what you can get now – an online activity with a small group. The aim is to make travel more inclusive. Airbnb now has Hosts “with neurodiverse guests in mind”. 

Airbnb has announced twelve online experiences for neurodiverse guests. They range from dance classes that teach coordination to skateboarding lessons. This idea is an extension of their “accessibility-centric” online experiences designed for people with disability. The aim of both these experiences is for friends and family to book an experience and share the activity together. All you need is a phone or computer and access to the internet. Airbnb considers this is “travel from home”.

Obviously this was a great idea during the COVID pandemic. It will be interesting to see if the interest continues. Experiences listed in the Airbnb article are from USA, UK and Australia. Prices are very reasonable.

Forbes online magazine has an overview of the experiences for neurodiverse guests. 


Quick tour of inclusive, creative and adventure play:

Two small children crouch down in a sandy area with large stones.
Slide from Jeavons Landscape Architects presentation.

It’s not often a conference presentation slide deck becomes a mini training course. But Mary and Sally Jeavons achieved this at the inaugural Australian Universal Design Conference. The slides show lots of different examples of inclusive, creative and adventure play.

The title of the Jeavons presentation is, Designing Play Spaces for Inclusion: Devilish details that make a difference. This presentation focused on the design of parks and play spaces and their potential for intergenerational play, social interaction and community building. And, of course, for interaction with the natural world. As Mary Jeavons said, play equipment in a neatly fenced rubber space, cannot meet all of the play needs of today’s children and families. A very useful presentation using images that tell the story.

Two children, one in a wheelchair, enter a cubby area.
Photo courtesy Jeavons Landscape Architecture.

It is not easy to successfully include “un-designed” elements into playspaces. Plantings, sand, and large river pebbles need maintenance and resistance to local residents complaining about “mess”. There are also budget considerations. With increased urban density the need for adventure play becomes more important. All children have a right to use parks and open spaces. Time to move beyond the “plonk down” catalogue swing set and slide. 

The voices of children are rarely heard, but they did some listening in Launcestion. Have a look at their report.

See previous post with more practical information and research on adventure play.