Is citizen science the same as co-design?

People sit around round tables discussing questions. There are four round tables shown in this picture. Is citizen science the same as co-design.Co-design is a term emerging in the field of accessible and inclusive design. But co-design methods have been around for a long time in one form or another. Academics will recognise this as Participatory Action Research. And now we have citizen science in planning. Is citizen science the same as co-design? In this context, yes. The common theme is that the people affected by design decisions help to shape them. 

The Fifth Estate has an article that discusses citizen science as a method of community engagement in planning. It explains citizen science as a type of research that actively involved members of the public in the research process.  Regardless, it makes sense to involve users in the process of the design. This is something the universal design movement has been advocating for some time. 

“Citizen science has a long history in conservation and environmental monitoring, but has grown in momentum in recent years across a range of disciplines, including planning and urban design.

Walkability in Tasmania

A citizen science approach is where residents audit the the local environment for barriers to walking. Residents identify priorities by using a walkability assessment tool taking photos, and participating in workshops. The information gathered is not only useful at a local level, but at state and national levels as well. 

” Our use of citizen science is enabling researchers, policy makers and community members to work together to generate data and establish priorities to support walkability that reflects community needs.”

The article concludes that community engagement in planning is hard to do well. However,  citizen science and customised technology are useful tools to shape urban design based on resident experiences. 

The title of the article is, Using citizen science o bring people backing into planning walkable and healthy places. There is a link to more resources from Communities 4 Walkability. 

The Age Friendly Checklist for Councils was derived from many consultations across NSW in 2012. The process was workshops, photos and resident experiences shared with local government staff. The content is explained further in a short webinar presentation. Reminder – what’s good for older people is good for everyone.


Retire the retirement village

The Longevity by Design banner in pink and purple.Age-friendly communities where people of all ages live, work and play could be the way of the future. That means the desirability of age-segregated living could be on the way out. Many people will live 30 years after the age of 65 years. By 2030 all baby boomers will have turned 65 and Gen X will be joining the older cohort.  It’s time to retire the retirement village concept according to an article in The Conversation. This is based on feedback from older people in a Longevity By Design Challenge. This means we have to re-think the notion of retirement and approaches to urban design.

The Design Challenge asked:

How do we best leverage the extra 30 years of life and unleash the social and economic potential of people 65+ to contribute to Australia’s prosperity?

Sixteen cross-disciplinary creative teams considered longevity in the context of buildings and neighbourhoods. Together the participants concluded that design for older people is inclusive design. No matter how old you are you still want the same things for a good life. That means autonomy and choice, purpose, good health and financial security.

The title of the article is, Retire the retirement village – the wall and what’s behind it is so 2020, and explains how the challenge was run and some of the findings. Key points emerging from the challenge were inclusive infrastructure, people of all ages together, and a mobility “ecosystem” made up of different types of transport options. The underpinning principles turned out to be age-friendly communities, something the World Health Organization has promoted for more than ten years.

Boomers are over them

A scene from the charrette where people are sitting round a table discussing their project.

The ABC also reported on the Design Challenge and how to prepare and adapt Australian cities to capitalise on our longevity bonus. It seems walled and gated age-segregated enclaves might have had their day. Instead, the future might hold more age-inclusive neighbourhoods where older people continue to contribute into late age. So, no more need for doom and gloom about population ageing.

As an urban design challenge the design of homes suited for all ages was not included. The ABC article is titled, Retirement villages have had their day: Baby boomers are rethinking retirement

Banner for the Longevity by Design challenge in 2021.A second Longevity by Design session was held in 2021 with the theme, Feels Like Home. This one was focused on aged care and the key points are in the video below. 

Urban planning for population longevity

A row of two storey houses painted in different pastel colours.Urban designers are potential champions for improvements for population ageing. That is a key theme in an article that proposes ways for helping older people stay put in their home, and if not, in their community. The article discusses current innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive both physically and socially. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing.

The title of the article is, “Improving housing and neighborhoods for the vulnerable: older people, small households, urban design, and planning”. Open access available  from SpringerLink,  or  via ResearchGate.

From the abstract

Currently preferences and policies aim to help older people to stay in their existing homes. However, the majority of homes in the U.S. and many other countries are not designed to support advanced old age. Also, they are not located to easily provide support and services.

The paper examines the existing range of innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive, physically, socially, and in terms of services. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing small scale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations.


Racial segregation by design

Aerial view of a major highway intersection within an urban area. Racial segregation can be caused by design.Is urban planning racist?  We could also ask if urban planning is ableist or sexist. The answer to all three is probably, ‘yes’, but to what degree. Lisa Stafford argues strongly that planning is ableist, and transport planners have been considering gender for a while now. In a FastCo article, one architect believes there is racial segregation by design. 

Segregation by Design in the United States aims to document the destruction of communities through urban renewal and freeway construction.  Australians are familiar with this as ‘gentrification’ where certain groups of people are excluded and their social networks decimated. And it is likely to segregate other groups too.

Segregation by Design highlights 80 American cities destroyed by racist planning. It does this though annotated satellite imagery, historical ‘redlining’ maps, and archival photos. Redlining is a term for race-based exclusionary tactics in real estate in the US. 

The title of the FastCo article is, Segregation by Design: How one architect is vizualising the legacy of America’s racist urbanism. The case studies usefully illustrate the arguments and there are links to other references. 

“Segregation By Design joins the conversation at a time of unprecedented spending on American infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 unlocks over $1 trillion to remake cities with the promise of a better future. While more money is not the only answer to the mechanisms of oppressive public planning, it’s a promising start. For Susaneck and his passion project, understanding urban planning’s racist past is the key to constructing more equitable cities in the future—filled with accessible public transit, pedestrian-friendly roads, and ample public space for all.”


Designing with autism in mind

Floor Plan, Blueprint, House, Home. Designing for autism.Well designed buildings support people with physical impairment, but what about people with sensory issues or cognitive conditions? Shelly Dival argues that designing with autism in mind supports people with autism in education, work and home environments. 

Dival’s Churchill Fellowship report outlines building features requiring further research, including design theories, methods and outcomes. Her findings are also featured in an architecture magazine. Dival’s key recommendation is for best practice guidelines, and updating policies to include neurological access.  

One of her insights was the crossover between autism and other neurological conditions including dementia. Designing for neurodiversity rather than specific conditions may be an effective future-proofing strategy that supports everyone. That’s similar to the approach adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their Guidelines on cognitive accessibility, based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.  

Autism and the social model of disability

A young woman sits on a boardwalk next to water. She has her knees drawn up and is resting her head on her arms and knees. It depicts a level of loneliness or sadness. Autism and the social model of disability. People who are neurodiverse often struggle to shed the the idea that they have some kind of disorder. A medical diagnosis is part of the problem – they become a category, a label. This is particularly the case for people with autism. And there are no two people alike. But what they do share in common is a relatively high suicide rate. Why would this be the case?

Richard Woods explores how the social model of disability can be, and should be, applied to this group. But it might not be enough. Negative language is a major barrier to inclusion based on the medical diagnosis label. Woods argues that the social model fails to explain how any disability is experienced by individuals. Categorisation under a label is limiting and does little to shift community attitudes and improve individuals’ mental health. In conclusion, the paper calls for the “full emancipation of the autistic population”. An interesting read.

The title of the paper is, Exploring how the social model of disability can be reinvigorated: in response to Jonathan Levitt

Autism isn’t a disorder

A graphic and logo for Autism Awareness. Autism and the social model of disability. Neurodiverse advocate Siena Castellon, wrote a book for teenage girls based on her own experiences. In a New Scientist article Siena relates the common misconception that she should look different in some way. Because she doesn’t, most people think that she can’t be autistic. This is not a compliment. You can see more of Siena’s story in the New Scientist article, Autism isn’t a defect – here’s why we should embrace neurodiversity. There are more links in the article for further reading. 

Voices of autism in a book

Front cover of the text book.The autism research field has changed a lot in the last 20 years. We now know the impact the research process itself has on people with autism. With this in mind, a new version of a text book has sections written by autistic contributors from all walks of life. 

There is a separate link to the discussion on how the authors went about including people with the lived experience of autism. This link also gives a short chapter by chapter review of the book’s content.

The title of the book is, Autism: A new introduction to psychological theory and current debate. It’s by Sue Fletcher-Watson and Francesca Happe. 


The benefit of designing for everyone

Front cover of the report the Benefit of Designing for Everyone.The assumption that designing for everyone will cost more often goes unchallenged. Even economic arguments for business benefits rarely cut through because of this. If economic arguments for inclusion worked we wouldn’t still be talking abut it. A Centre for Inclusive Design report analyses inclusive business practice and covers some areas not covered before. The report analyses education, retail and financial services and argues inclusive design can drive financial, economic and social improvements. PwC was commissioned for the report, The Benefit of Designing for Everyone.

Jeremy Thorpe from PwC says, “Inclusive design is a no-regrets process that creates significant benefits which are currently being left on the table. It is an overlooked step in maximising the potential of Australian business and ensuring a more productive Australia.” There is also an infographic with the key information, and a summary report and a Word version

Infographic listing some of the key economic data within the report.The report analyses three key industries in Australia: education, retail and financial services. Each one can benefit from taking a universal design approach to improve their bottom line. 

David Masters, Corporate Affairs Director, Microsoft Australia, said,

“Accessibility is often focused on compliance, and while that is incredibly important, this report clearly shows that inclusion drives economic benefit too. Embedding inclusion in the upfront design phase ensures organisations are delivering products and services for everyone. Inclusive design is driving innovation at Microsoft and is a concept that all organisations should be embracing.”

It is good to see more work being done on the economics of inclusion. However, such arguments over the last ten years have yet to make their mark. The inclusive tourism industry is testament to that as well as the housing industry. Let’s hope someone is listening and willing to act.


How smart is the smart walking cane?

The smart Can Go walking cane shown recharging at a power point.Can a smart walking cane overcome the stigma of using an assistive device? Perhaps. It’s more likely for the tech-savvy generations coming up who might be happy for all the help they can get. This cane for sighted people is still a cane regardless of tech additions. Stigma is a major factor in the lack of take-up of assistive devices in current older generations. 

It remains to be seen whether the features attract users who are not familiar with smart phones. However, it is good to see someone working to make simple technology such as a walking cane more attractive. It’s about time.

People who currently use a smart watch to monitor their every move could be attracted to this cane. The Can Go cane is equipped with a dozen sensors, GPS and activity tracking. It also has a flashlight and cellular data for emergency phone calls. There are three buttons on the handle: one for making a call, another to use the flashlight, and the third to alternate information on the display screen. It also measures how much weight you’re putting on the cane, and your overall gait speed. There’s a built-in sim card, too.

Can Go walking cane showing the flashlight feature.
Can Go cane with the flashlight

Don Norman, a former Apple VP, was part of the design team. He is an advocate for user-friendly design and stripping away the stigma attached to mobility devices. Norman’s 1988 book has an entire chapter on the stigma of mobility devices.

The FastCompany article has no mention of co-designing with users. The title of the article is, “After smart homes and smart rings meet Can Go the world’s smartest cane”. 

This cane is different to the specialised canes for people who are blind. 

Inclusive online conference poster sessions

Screen view of Padlet app for inclusive online conference poster presentations.Looks like hybrid conferences are here to stay. That means conference organisers are finding new ways of working, and maximising digital capabilities. Conferences with a high academic content usually have poster sessions. Posters are a good way for emerging academics to present and discuss their work. But how to make online conference poster sessions inclusive?

Getting the best from digital presentations is based on both process and technology. Using the most suitable digital platform is part of the story. In their article on inclusive and virtual poster sessions, the authors discuss real time and on-demand presentations. Having both options allows for time zone differences especially for international conferences. 

The title of the paper is, A Guide to implementing Inclusive and Accessible Virtual Poster Sessions. There is a separate section in this paper on virtual poster sessions in the undergraduate classroom.

Suggestions for virtual poster sessions

      • Use combined real-time and on-demand options for sessions
      • Use short video or audio introductions
      • Utilise Zoom for breakout rooms for real-time sessions
      • Provide demonstrations on how to use the poster platform and how to view posters and access Zoom rooms
      • Give more time between notification and the presentation date to give more time to prepare and submit before the conference

The advantage of online posters is the amount and depth of feedback received by presenters. The disadvantage is the lack of opportunity to network.

People who feel uncomfortable in crowds or noisy environments will appreciate this mode of delivery. The cost of paper and print are avoided and the poster can be stored digitally.  Virtual sessions allow for captioning, and Auslan interpreters. The authors list several benefits of virtual poster sessions and provide guidance for conference organisers. 

From the abstract

Poster sessions are an integral part of conferences. They facilitate networking opportunities and provide a platform for researchers at every career stage to present and get feedback on their work.

In Spring 2020, we designed and implemented a no-cost and accessible, asynchronous, and synchronous virtual poster session. Here, we outline our goals for hosting an inclusive virtual poster session (VPS). We also demonstrate a “backward design” approach and our rationale for using the Padlet and Zoom platforms. At the 2021 Conference we shared lessons learned to help future poster session organisers to be accessible and inclusive. 

Virtual poster sessions have great potential to improve collaborations and science communication experiences at scientific conferences and in undergraduate classrooms.

Shared spaces as successful places

Artist impression of evening in George Street Sydney showing a shared street.
An artist’s impression showing the QVB stop in the George Street pedestrianised zone

What role do shared spaces play in “successful places”? And what are shared spaces anyway? A report compiled by the Transport Research Centre at UTS for the NSW Government attempts to answer these questions. The focus of the report was to understand how shared spaces can enhance the development of “successful places”, a key strategic priority of Transport. 

Varied terminology on the topic of shared spaces is not helpful and needs a standard definition. Another issue is whose opinion counts most. Is it user perceptions or transport performance measurements? And implementation is difficult even though there are many guidelines and there are few case studies.

What is a shared space?

The report offers the following definition.

“A public street or intersection that is intended and designed to be used by all modes of transport equally in a consistently low-speed environment. Shared space designs aim to reduce vehicle dominance and prioritise active mobility modes. Designs can utilise treatments that remove separation between users in order to create a sense of place and facilitate multi-functions.”


Broadly, high level critical findings include:

      • The shared space design concept is one tool for forming successful places across the community.
      • A spectrum of intervention and design options are available to transport professionals to achieve a shared space within the road network.
      • Defining relationships between design parameters and performance metrics are key to determining the factors leading to implementing successful shared space.
      • Current guidelines, standards and practical processes limit the application of novel shared space solutions.

The title of the Shared Spaces Review is, Evaluation and Implementation of Shared Spaces in NSW: Framework for road infrastructure design and operations to establish placemaking. Examination of existing Shared Space knowledge. The Transport Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney conducted the research for Transport for NSW. 

The report is comprehensive and detailed with some international case studies to illustrate issues and findings. The report provides recommendations and current best practice for Transport for NSW. 

Intergenerational shared spaces 

Front cover of the book Intergenerational Space. Having interaction between generations, particularly older and younger people is beneficial for everyone. Julie Melville and Alan Hatton-Yeo discuss the issues in a book chapter, Intergenerational Shared Sapces in the UK context

The authors discuss how the generations are separated by life activities and dwelling places. The design of the built environment is a major concern because is not conducive to sharing spaces across the generations.

 While this book is not specifically about universal design, it is about inclusive practice and social inclusion.

Google Books has the full book, Intergenerational Space, edited by Robert M Vanderbeck and Nancy Worth.

Historical context of inclusive design

Every type and size of gloves and mittens displayed in rows. Historical context of inclusive design.

The concepts of inclusive design and universal design are often presented from a disability perspective. However, the concepts have evolved in the last 50 years to embrace the breadth of human diversity. For the record, universal design and inclusive design have the same goal – they are not different ideas. Nevertheless, they do have their roots in different places. For those new to the concepts, an historical context is helpful in understanding inclusive design in the 2020s.

A recent paper takes a “design for disability” approach to the history of inclusive design. It also claims there is little written on this topic. This might be the case in academia, but much has been written elsewhere. The authors present a timeline for the evolution of inclusive design, but it’s purpose is not entirely clear. 

The title of the paper is, The Evolution of Inclusive Design; A First Timeline Review of Narratives and Milestones of Design for Disability. Note the assignation of disability throughout the article and the use of a proper noun rather than the verb form. It raises the question of  whether the authors consider inclusive design to be disability design or truly inclusive design. 

This is one of many papers still talking about the concept itself but this will not aid implementation in the real world. While we are looking at history, and arguing over terminology, we are not looking at those who have the power to include. We have to take it from the minds of academics to the minds of practitioners and vice versa.

Key point

The interconnectedness of historical events means there is no one fixed starting point. Instead it is a process still going on today. The idea of co-design is introduced, but whether we need more research is a moot point. But we could do with research into co-design and action-based learning in this context.

Anyone interested in the field of universal design and inclusive practice will find the article interesting. It discusses the evolution of concepts and narratives. The article comes from the UK hence the use of the term “inclusive” design.

Editor’s comment: Do we have to keep talking and mulling intellectually over this word or that, or this narrative or that? We need research into why we don’t have inclusive designs throughout society. Navel-gazing the issue is not spreading the word. We already have enough research on body shapes and sizes and cognitive and sensory conditions, for example.


Diversity and inclusion: Can we co-design our work?

A woman is sitting at a dining table typing on her laptop. When home is the workplace.Employers are experimenting with managing the changing face of work and employee feedback is of course essential. So, will universal design principles and the practice of co-design come to the fore in designing work? Perhaps. Regardless it is the way to sustain and build diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

Most employees currently working in a hybrid model want it retained. A report by McKinsey found this was the case across the board. They also found that marginalised groups wanted it more than others:

    • Employees with disabilities were 11 percent more likely to prefer a hybrid work model than employees without disabilities.
    • More than 70 percent of men and women expressed strong preferences for hybrid work, but nonbinary employees were 14 percent more likely to prefer it.
    • LGBQ+ employees were 13 percent more likely to prefer hybrid work than their heterosexual peers.

However, the McKinsey report highlighted potential pitfalls:

    • Hybrid work has the potential to create an unequal playing field if not done correctly.
    • Companies need to prioritize the most critical inclusion practices: work-life support, team building, and mutual respect.
    • Marginalized groups are more likely to prefer a hybrid work model and would be more likely to leave if it was not available.

Hybrid good for inclusion

In their survey, 75 percent of all respondents said that they prefer a hybrid working model. Only 25 percent said they prefer to be full time on-site. 

“Consider, for example, the employee who may be hiding a disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation to avoid the stigma that can come with declaring it. Research shows that efforts to conceal such identities may take a toll on an employee’s well-being and performance. Ideally, employees would be comfortable sharing these identities with colleagues, and organizations would provide the inclusive environment in which they could. When they do not, however, hybrid work environments can relieve some of the strain.”

As employers navigate their way through new ways of working they shouldn’t mistake hybrid as flexibility. Some organisations were able to manage issues of isolation and mental health during the pandemic. Nevertheless, these issues remain across the business landscape, particularly for some traditionally underrepresented groups.

The title of the report is, How can hybrid work models prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion?

The article was re-published by the World Economic Forum with permission. There are links to other reports and discussion about experimenting with managing the changing face of work. Will universal design principles and the practice of co-design come to the fore in designing work? We shall see. 

The Future of the Office in Australia

Sourceable reports on the changing face of the office – the place where hybrid work is possible. The article has a real-estate focus but includes a nod to access and inclusion:

“… employers are facing rising pressure to address environmental, social, and governance issues in their offices and policies. Buildings that are inclusive and accessible for all workers have become more prominent in the industry, with popular features of new office buildings including prayer rooms and gender-neutral facilities.”