Case studies of universally designed homes

Max and Tricia stand at their doorway which reflects their love of Japanese design.Lifemark in New Zealand has several good case studies of universally designed homes. Some are modest homes and some are more upmarket.

The latest edition of their newsletter features a spacious home with great views. The owners, Max and Tricia have an interesting story to tell. Max is a mechanical engineer who taught environmental and spatial home design to architecture students. He knew about accessibility but not heard of universal design. Turns out that one of Max’s students in 1995 became the designer of their new home. The story of Max and Tricia has some nice detail and pictures in the article. 

Not everyone has money to spend on a “grand design”, but it doesn’t have to be grand to be universally designed and suitable for everyone.  Lifemark has a gallery of homes designed with universal design principles on their website. There’s also some examples of retrofits. 

delete page https://universaldesignaustralia.net.au/case-study-of-a-ud-home/

Adopting universal design: the view of architects

A floor plan drawing with a black penWe rely on designers to make the things we use, and to make them easy and convenient to use. But are users the main consideration or is it a case of impressing fellow designers? Design competitions rarely mention useability, if at all. When it comes to architects, adopting universal design seems to be a big problem according to recent research.

The research paper from Europe takes the case of Flanders to examine the barriers and drivers in architectural practice. While legislation and regulations aim to push for more inclusive designs, reluctance is still apparent. Data were collected from Flemish architects using a survey and seminars. Sceptical attitudes was a common barrier with both architects and their clients. One of the conclusions is that access regulations create tunnel vision regarding UD. Participant responses were generally dominated by the language of accessibility and not inclusion.

This research project has produced a lot of useful content in terms of real and perceived barriers to implementing UD. The title of the paper is, Barriers To And Drivers Of Adopting UD In Current Architectural Practice: The Case Of Flanders.  It is published in the Journal or Architectural and Planning Research

Purpose of the study:

“The current study, which investigated architects’ perceptions of UD barriers and drivers in current architectural practice in Flanders, Belgium, aims to add to the existing body of knowledge of the three main categories of UD barriers and drivers in two distinct ways. First, in contrast to previous research, this study specifically focuses on factors that affect the decision to implement UD at the beginning of the design process. The main reason for this focus is that the initial motivation or commitment to adopt UD as a design strategy at the very start of the process appears to be important in order to accomplish the goal of inclusion (Bringolf, 2011; Ringaert, 2001).”

 

Autonomous vehicles, independence and universal design

Three children stand in front of a small driverless bus.New cars have automated features, but they are not yet driverless, that is, driven by computers. The mining and agriculture industries already use fully autonomous vehicles. So we have the technology. Driverless cars will be about passengers – all passengers. However, we need to solve roadway issues before this technology can be rolled out for everyday use. As we glimpse a future where anyone can utilise a car, we need to make sure the designs work for everyone. Autonomous vehicles (AV) can bring independence with universal design. 

The Australian and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative (ADVI) has produced a short paper explaining the key issues and recommendations. It covers:

      • Existing Barriers to Transportation
      • Benefits of AV Transportation
      • Increased Economic Opportunities
      • Limitations and Concerns of Autonomous Vehicles
      • Gap Analysis for People with A Disability Table
      • Pilots of Autonomous Vehicles with Aging Communities

The title of the paper is, The road to independence: Inclusive design of autonomous vehicles. The scope of transport solutions includes private, shared, business and public transport options.

Recommendations

Roadmap
1. As part of a Roadmap for autonomous vehicles, Australian governments and other stakeholders should ensure that the development of autonomous vehicle technologies consider the needs of the disabled.
Program Pilots
2. Governments at all levels should prioritise facilitating autonomous vehicle pilots for the disabled, including those integrating other allied and emerging technologies.
Testing
3. Australian testing facilities / proving grounds for autonomous vehicles should include testing of technologies to assist the disabled with regards to autonomous vehicles.
Co-Design
4. By successfully adopting the concept of universal design through co-design, it is forecast that there could be a growth in the vehicle market of up to 17% if all people living with a disability could access private transportation.

Summary

In order to ensure that needs of the people with a disability are understood and technology solutions are developed to address these needs, planning, research and pilot programs need to be undertaken, otherwise the advent of AVs could create new obstacles for people with a disability.

Achieving genuine accessibility for the disabled may require the integration of AVs with other emerging technologies, to enable AVs to understand spoken instructions, observe nearby surroundings and communicate with people.

Whether this eventuates however, will largely depend on how early and to what extent key stakeholders such as vehicle manufacturers, autonomous driving systems developers, infrastructure owners and planning guidelines adopt inclusive design processes and work together to provide design solutions that optimize the end-to-end user journey.

This paper explores how Universal Design of AVs should be considered in Australia, including the benefits it will deliver to society, the economic opportunities that it creates for not only industry but for those living with a disability, and the pathway to achieving this. Universal design provides a process for creating an inclusive society and is similar to other approaches such as inclusive design, human-centred design and design for diversity. Co-design is another important aspect, where designs are created with people with disabilities to ensure that designs are usable and appropriately meet user needs.

The scope of transport solutions covered by this paper includes private, shared, business and public transport options.

Playmobile helps with design translation

Playmobile figure in a bed with a doctor figure standing by.Doctors and architects speak different languages. That’s understandable – they’ve been to entirely different schools. We can get by in a foreign country with gestures. But when it comes to communicating detail we need a phrasebook. Similarly, architects and health professionals a similar tool – Playmobile. It helps with design translation. 

Using Playmobile figures and 3D printed beds and hospital equipment designers and medical staff can shape the spaces together. Not everyone can grasp the concept of spaces on a two-dimensional drawing. Likewise, designers do not have an intimate understanding of how clinics work. But everyone has played with toys. 

This is a great example of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The short article on FastCompany doesn’t mention this specifically, but it follows the basic tenets: multiple means of engagement, representation and expression. 

This is not a new idea – Lego has been used in other situations.

Accessible rail systems: A global study

Global map with different coloured dots depicting different levels of accessibility in different cities.If you are a wheelchair user and want to travel by train, the best places are in Asia and Europe. That’s according to a global study on accessible rail systems. The key points of the study are:

    • The lack of accessibility is not only an issue in developing countries.
    • The systems’ accessibility level varies even among cities of the same country.
    • 62% of all systems with good accessibility are located in Asia and Europe.
    • 19% of the systems do not provide any information about their accessibility status.

The title of the article is, Wheelchair accessibility of urban rail systems: Some preliminary findings of a global overview. It is open access from ScienceDirect. 

The article has a graphic showing the level of accessibility by city (shown above). It shows Sydney as “fully accessible”. However, in 2021 Sydney is still retrofitting lifts into urban rail stations. The historical context of accessibility, or lack thereof, in each country is a key factor in the current accessibility status. 

The authors conclude,

“This study aimed to present a preliminary and general overview that can be valuable as a starting point for other studies on this subject. Thus, we encourage future studies to consider the real accessibility at the stations (and the availability of all the required infrastructure), not just the accessibility that is declared by the systems’ operators on their official website, as that information may not be updated nor even realistic.”

The research was carried out by an international team funded by institutions in Taiwan, Brazil and Chile. 

Front door key design: A tweak of difference

A hand is inserting the L shaped key into the lock.
The “L” shaped key head

Improving the design of everyday objects so that more people can use them is not difficult. But when some people can’t use the design, adaptations are required. Thankfully, lever tap handles became the norm and tacked-on tap turners are not needed as much. But there is still a way to go with other everyday items. Take the front door key for example. That design hasn’t changed much at all. Until now. 

FastCompany features a “few brilliant design tweaks” to keys to make them more accessible. It is a great example of design thoughtfulness. The difference with this design is that you can tell which way is up (or down) in the dark. That’s because it is “L” shaped. However, it is still a small key and people with dexterity problems will still need extra size to grip and turn.

A red plastic cover for the head of the key to make grasping easier.
Standard design of a key turner for people with arthritis

People with arthritis will be familiar with the device you can add to your key to make the head larger and easier to turn.

The title of the article is, A few brilliant design tweaks made this common household object way more accessible.  

 

Artificial Intelligence everyone can understand

Front cover of the book with graphics on a bright orange background.We need more things in Easy Read and Easy English. But it’s actually harder to use less words than to use more. And it’s not easy to do simple sentences without patronising readers. But if the words are to the point and in logical order more people can understand the message. Not many experts have presented Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a way everyone can understand. 

Award-winning product designer and ex-Googler Matteo Loglio’s book Many Intelligences”, shows a positive glimpse into a distant future. It has a storyline and great illustrations. He has made this complex subject accessible. It’s a good example of how important information can be communicated in writing.

The article in FastCompany about the book has a few slides of the pages to give you the idea. The title of the article is, This cute book explains AI to children, without scary Terminators.  You can also find a short review on the idlesociety website where it is presented as a book for everyone

The demand for instant information without the effort of reading for too long is here to stay. Hence some social media platforms tell you how many minutes it will take to read an article. And of course Twitter makes you choose your words carefully because of the character limit. 

There are more articles on Easy English and Easy Read on this website. Use the search button on the left hand menu. With 40% of the population unable to read English well, or at all, writing inclusively is a skill more people need.

 

Online hearing and vision simulator

Picture of a coffee machine in a cafeEver wondered what it is like for someone with hearing loss trying to be part of a conversation in a restaurant? Or wondered what it is like to try and read a transit map if you have glaucoma?  Now you can check this out online using simulators to get the idea of the way things sound and look.

The Inclusive Design Group at the University of Cambridge have come up with a simulator that covers mild, moderate and severe hearing loss in five different settings: restaurant, classical music, rock music, a ringing phone, and a station platform announcement. Similarly, the simulator includes the main vision impairments including macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. 

You can also use their Exclusion Calculator for vision, hearing, thinking, dexterity, reach and stretch and locomotion, to see how many people might be excluded if not thought about in the early stages of design. You can set the calculator for multiple capacities, such as sight, hearing, thinking and locomotion – all of which are needed to negotiate public transport, for example. A very useful tool for any designer.

 

Age Friendly Communities Handbook

Front cover of the handbook.From Norway comes an Age Friendly Handbook that presents information in easy to consume formats. Norway has been driving a universal design agenda through national and local government since 1999. Norway’s key document for this is Norway Universally Designed 2025. This Handbook fits nicely within that framework but with an emphasis on an ageing population. The WHO Age-Friendly Cities guide is useful and detailed, but it’s showing its age. So this handbook comes at a good time.

Infographic from the handbook showing the essential element of age friendly.The Handbook for Age-Friendly Communities is 70 pages with many photos and graphics. It covers the key steps in the planning cycle, aspects to consider in built design, transport, housing and social participation. Pre-requisites for age-friendly development are co-creation and communication.

Elements not considered in the WHO guide are plain language, internet use and how to co-create and gather information from older people.  Checklists and examples are included. Fortunately the Handbook is in English so many more people can benefit from Norway’s 20 year’s experience. A great resource, particularly for local government.

Norway has reviewed its policies over time and began to include more than the built environment. They also developed a method for mapping their level of accessibility in 2017.

 

Disasters and emergencies: Leave no-one behind

Road Closed signs and a barrier of a road that reaches down to swollen river.‘Leave no-one behind’ is the tag line for the Sustainable Development Goals. In disaster management this idea takes on a very practical meaning. People with disability are two to four times more likely to die or be injured in a disaster than the general population. So why is our planning and risk reduction failing people with disability?

Being able to attend community meetings to find out what to do in an emergency is one factor. Having more than one person in the household with disability is another. Community education and plans assume everyone can get out of the house with a few belongings, get in the car and drive to safety. But some of the problem is that people with disability don’t make a plan or don’t tell anyone their plan. 

There is no nationally consistent standard for including people with disability in disaster risk reduction. An article in The Conversation explains some of the research into this. It includes the comments made by people with disability when asked about disaster planning. One such comment is very telling,

“But I spoke to three different people who had three different disabilities, and you realise that the communication has to be targeted. Because those three people required completely different things. And the information they got was not in a mode which they could use.”

Four men with orange lifejackets are standing in a yellow State Emergency Service boat on a swollen river.The title of the article in The Conversation is, ‘Nobody checked on us’: what people with disability told us about their experiences of disasters and emergencies

The academic version was published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction. The title of the paper is, Applying a person-centred capability framework to inform targeted action on Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction, and is available from ScienceDirect.  

Key points from the study are:

• Disability Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction requires collaboration with people with disability to remove barriers that increase risk in emergencies.

• The Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness framework directs attention to the choices that people with disability have in emergency situations and factors that enable or limit them.

• Findings can be used to support implementation of Australia’s National Strategy for Disaster Resilience by defining person-centred responsibilities of people with disability and service providers in emergencies.

“Findings from this study enabled deep insight into the diversity and interrelatedness of factors that increase the vulnerability of people with disability and their support networks to disaster; offering new perspectives on why Australian’s with disability are disproportionately affected by disaster. The Capability Approach is used to consider what is required for stakeholders to work together across sectors to increase the safety and resilience of people with disability to disaster.”