People, Pandemics and Premises

A group of people, some wearing face masks, are crossing the road. They are walking a safe distance apart.Is the built environment designed for social distancing in a pandemic? The quick retrofitting in buildings and outdoor spaces, indicates pandemics were not envisaged in designs. But the pandemic has revealed many problems experienced by people before it struck. Being stuck at home for a long time is one of them. Not being able to access cafes is another. People with mobility restrictions in particular are saying, “welcome to my world”. 

Being isolated at home because you can’t physically get out is not new to everyone. An article in Sourceable, People, Pandemics and Premises, discusses some of the issues the pandemic has highlighted. Here are some points to consider:

    • Plastic screens at customer service counters make it difficult for people with hearing loss.
    • Face masks make lip-reading impossible and muffles speech.
    • Lack of door automation means touching door handles.
    • Narrow footpaths and internal corridors make social distancing impossible.
    • The height of take-away counters in cafes make ordering difficult from a seated position and difficult to hear each other.
    • Self-serve counters and check-outs are preferred now, but the space is too small to include mobility devices.

The design of housing also gets a mention and the recent “bean counter” approach to universal design in housing doesn’t take account of the pandemic. And this will not be the one and only time we have a pandemic. Our homes are now school rooms, workplaces and refuges. Apart from general accessibility for everyone, the pandemic requires us to re-think the 1950s “ideal” home design. It’s time for some real universal design thinking. 

The Sourceable article is an interesting take on the pandemic by Joe Manton. 

 

Universal Design in Housing: Politics vs Practice

A modern living room showing lots of circulation space between furniture.What is so difficult about including universal design features in all new housing? Is it cost? Is it technical difficulty? The answer to both of those is, no. Perhaps this is more about a regulation ideology. The Housing Industry Association (HIA) has a policy statement that says as much. But do they have a case to continue that position for universal design in housing?

In 2006 when the HIA policy was written (and ratified again in 2018) we hadn’t signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We didn’t have a National Disability Strategy or Livable Housing Design Guidelines either. But other businesses are recognising their ethical obligations for equity and inclusion and that inclusion has a strong business case. And here is the difference – the housing industry is a fragmented system that relies on regulation to hold all the parts together to guarantee consistency and certainty. Consequently, nothing will change without regulation.

So, should we have regulation for all new homes to have universal design features? To answer this question the Australian Building Codes Board commissioned a cost benefit analysis. It concluded that costs outweighed benefits. Even if this is the case, is cost the reason not to have homes fit for purpose today and tomorrow? 

In responding to the cost benefit analysis, two camps emerged. The community and academic sector claimed the cost benefit analysis was skewed in favour of costs. Consequently the cost argument doesn’t hold. The HIA and Property Council of Australia continue to prosecute the cost argument as a basis for the status quo to remain. So who will decide the outcome? It will be a political one made by a sub committee of COAG – the Building Ministers’ Forum

You can check out some of the submissions to the Australian Building Codes Board: 

Australian Network for Universal Design supports mandating the Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and a subsidy system for rental housing. 

Melbourne Disability Institute and Summer Foundation supports Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines, plus a subsidy for rental housing.

COTA NSW  (Council on the Ageing NSW) strongly supports the adoption of Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines.

Rights&Inclusion Australia supports Gold level and Gold level + because they best meet the RIS objective.

Community Housing Industry Association supports Silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. They acknowledge Silver is a partial solution but improvements might be possible over time.

Housing Industry Association supports subsidies and other financial incentives rather than regulation.

Property Council of Australia supports information and education initiatives for consumers. “If the additional costs laid out in this submission were estimated and included, this would reinforce the negative cost/benefit ratio outlined in the RIS.”

CUDA supports Gold level of Livable Housing Design Guidelines and questions whether a cost benefit analysis was the right approach to answer the object of the project, “To ensure that new housing is designed to meet the needs of the community, including older Australians and others with mobility limitations.

Editor’s note: The HIA’s policy statement focuses on wheelchair users and this is common in the industry. It ignores all other disabilities and long term health conditions and that we are talking about families. Consequently they see this as a responsibility for government, not the market. They argue, “The overwhelming majority of private homes will not be used, now or in the future, by people requiring wheel chairs [sic]”. This statement also ignores the human right to visit your friends and family. It should be noted that the HIA has a seat on the Building Codes Board. 

Universally Designed Conferences

People sitting either side of an aisle listening to a speaker. Often forgotten both here and in the USA is the idea that conferences should be universally designed. Most  conference organisers target a workforce audience and they assume people with disability don’t have jobs. This is chicken and egg. If you don’t see someone at a conference with a disability it’s easy to assume they aren’t around. If the conference is not inclusive, they won’t come. 

A new article on universal design and accessible conferences joins the dots between all the aspects of a conference. It needs a holistic approach because it is much more than ensuring there is an accessible toilet. The article applies the principles of universal design as a way of thinking about access and inclusion. It covers:

      • online booking
      • transport and parking
      • registration
      • seating
      • catering
      • wayfinding
      • accommodation
      • communication aids
      • access to the podium. 

The research questions for the literature review were:

    • What strategies can be used to encourage and facilitate access and inclusion for conference participants with a disability?

    • How can the principles of Universal Design be used to support the inclusion of participants with disabilities to conferences?

The title of the article is, Increasing participation: Using the principles of universal design to create accessible conferences. It is an open access article. 

Abstract:  The Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) mandates the inclusion of individuals with disabilities to a broad range of facilities and public buildings. One overlooked area is access to conferences. Conferences are held in a range of buildings, including purpose-built venues, hotels, and stadia. Often, the focus is on access for people with mobility limitations, but access for people with other disabilities, such as vision or hearing loss, or mental ill-health, can be overlooked. This is a significant oversight since around 19% of the population experience a disability (Brault, 2012): it makes sound business sense, as well as a sense of social justice, to ensure more people can access conferences. This article uses a literature review methodology to highlight key considerations to make conferences more accessible to a broad range of people with disabilities. A theoretical framework of Universal Design is proposed to support the ideas. A holistic approach is taken to inclusion, including online booking, transport, and parking, since, without these being accessible, the event becomes inaccessible. Other aspects considered include registration, seating, restrooms, catering, and communication aids. Creating accessible conferences can help promote equity and inclusion and bring people with diverse perspectives together to enrich a conference.

Editor’s Note: Of course, when the topic of the conference involves disability, event organisers are often on a steep learning curve to make sure it is accessible and inclusive. However, they don’t apply these principles to their other conferences.

Consumer inertia about remodelling to stay put

A kitchen in the middle of renovations.Although older people are keen to avoid residential aged care, they seem slow to make any home adaptations to make this possible. The concept of ageing is put down to luck and genes. People aren’t aware of the ways they can control their own destinies and experience of ageing. As much as we might like to put off the inevitable, it will happen sooner or later. 

Western cultures extol the virtues of youth and beauty so it is little wonder that anything related to ageing is viewed negatively. That includes making adaptations to the home when it’s time for renovations. Remodelling or modifications are usually done as a result of a major health event. By then good solutions are lost in favour of the quickest way to solve the problem. This often results in poor outcomes and low-quality construction. And this gives modifications a bad name because they are rarely aesthetically pleasing.

If we placed home modifications in the retirement planning box, perhaps things would change. This topic is discussed in, Overcoming Inertia to Jumpstart Home Modifications for Aging in Place.  Here are some very pertinent snippets:

“Discharge planning is a quick process at the end of treatment. Remodeling takes time. Designing good solutions is iterative, and unless drawings, permitting, procurement, and scheduling are performed in an orderly process, the results may be chaos, poor problem-solving, and low-quality construction. Home modifications are then seen as a health solution, rather than as a proactive, forward-thinking policy.”

“The researchers uncovered deeply rooted skepticism throughout the general population regarding the idea that individuals could control the course of their aging experience. People tend to assume that whatever happens—good or bad—is a matter of luck or genetics. This mindset creates a paradox: the more professionals in the field of aging urge folks to take action, the less likely consumers are to trust such professionals, because they are making recommendations contrary to consumers’ sense of what is possible.”

Abstract: Three quarters of older adults in the United States would prefer to age in place, but our current housing stock is not suited for older adults with mobility issues and chronic disease. Modifying one’s current home, prior to onset of advanced aging, can prevent falls and illnesses common in late life. Confusion on how to motivate older adults to remodel remains, but there are bright spots in policy regarding home modifications. This article details home modification programs and policy going forward to solve this challenge.

Editors’s note: If we built all new homes with universal design principles, eventually, we wouldn’t have to worry about our homes being fit for purpose. However, the housing industry doesn’t want to come to the party on this one. 

Do’s and don’ts of disability language: A guide

front cover of the What Do I Say? booklet.Language etiquette around the topic of disability seems to get some people tongue-tied. Fear of offending often results in just that. But so does using outmoded terms such as “handicapped”. So what are the do’s and don’ts of terminology and language use? People with Disability Australia (PWDA) have a great guide. It gives a context to the importance of language and how it relates to dignity and respect. It is based on the social model of disability. That is, disability is not an individual medical problem. Disablement is the result of an environment filled with physical and social barriers.

Should you say “People with disability” or “disabled person?” It depends on the individual. However, government policies use the person first version – people with disability. The one to avoid is “the disabled” because it dismisses people and puts this diverse group into one category. The same can be said for “the elderly”. 

Adaptations of the word disability, or euphemisms, should not be used either. Terms such as differently-abled, special needs, or handicapable sound clever but are demeaning. Other terms such as “all abilities” suggests the opposite – a special place for people with disability. If it is inclusive it shouldn’t need a “special” title. However, accessible features can be included in any descriptions of the place or service.

The PWDA guide gives an overview of ableist language and its impact, some advice on reporting on disability, and a list of words and recommended alternatives. 

One other important aspect of reporting on disability is what the late Stella Young described as “inspriational porn” in an entertaining TED talk. The portrayal of a person doing everyday things, or achieving a goal, as being inspiring gets the no-go signal. People with disability are often portrayed in the media as being “sufferers” or “heroes”. Rarely is either the case. 

How shall I say that? is a magazine article written from a personal perspective.

There is also a style guide for journalists

 

Universally designed transit systems

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. In those days, people with disability were not considered as part of the working or school populations. Times are changing and “average” must evolve to “inclusive” because there is no such thing as the average user.

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 you way to your destination? How was buying a ticket? If you got confused it is likely new users will be confused at home too. These are good benchmarks for home country design.

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. The article refers readers to the American Public Transportation Association Guideline on using a universal design approach

Australia is due for a third review of the accessible public transport standards. Progress still seems slow and we still have a way to go yet. The standard was published in 2002 and the timeline for compliance allows between 5 and 30 years. 

UD2020 universal design conference has morphed into UD2020: People and Transport. It is a half day online event and we are pleased that Lee Steel, Assistant Secretary, Australian Department of Infrastructure, will bring us up to date with the review. There will also be three speakers on grass roots issues. The event is free to CUDA members and speakers and delegates signed up to the original UD2020. 

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

Intuitive to use: Does it work as a design guide?

Four buttons are lined up one above the other. They are used to open and close the door. There are lots of written instructions.The seven classic principles of universal design were developed in the 1990s and are still applied in many contexts. The concept of universal design continues to evolve. Today, the concept is better understood as a way of thinking about inclusion throughout the design process. Newcomers to the concept of universal design often try to apply the principles literally rather than as a guide for design thinking. Maybe it is time for a product recall?

The classic principles are not themselves intuitive to use. And herein lies the problem. Consequently, Steinfeld and Maisel devised the 8 Goals of Universal Design in 2012. The 8th Goal is about cultural inclusion. These goals are easier to apply and more suited to adaptation to different design disciplines. However, they have yet to receive the same attention as the classic principles.

Not surprisingly, there have been many academic papers critiquing the seven principles. Academics are now arguing nuances between universal design and intuitive design, or applying principles in a tick-box fashion. One such paper is focused on the third principle, simple and intuitive to use.

The author concludes that as a design principle it doesn’t work because it doesn’t say how it is done, but is useful as a reminder to think about a broad range of users. It is worth noting that the researcher did not consult with users during the design. Rather, an example from an existing design was used to critique the principle of intuitive to use. 

The author reports on the application of an automatic locking system on a toilet door on a new train in Norway. The trains were designed with the principles of universal design. This includes an electronic door locking system for the toilet. However, this system has many passengers confused in spite of written instructions and icons. Consequently passengers have found themselves in embarrassing situations due to the door not being locked. Clearly there is something wrong with the design for everyone. It fails the test of intuitive to use. But is this a problem with the principle, or the designers who failed to properly test the design? Did following the principles give unfounded comfort to the designer such that no product testing was used?

The title of the article is, Intuitive use in design guidelines: Can intuitive use be applied to a product?   An article in Medium has picked up the story and concludes it is bad design. It adds the critical point that if you need lots of instructions on how to use something then it is definitely not intuitive.

Abstract: Several design guidelines recommend to design for intuitive use and marketing often advertises products as intuitive in use – but what does it mean for a design to be intuitive? One design guideline that embraces intuitive use is described by the principles of universal design. The third principle says that the design should strive for ‘Simple and intuitive use’ regardless of experience and cognitive abilities. This article will examine the concept of intuitive use and address the case of an automatic toilet door system that, even though universally designed, seems to be confusing to many users. From the literature, the focus will lie on the concepts of affordance and familiarity, due to its relation to intuition. The case is further used to evaluate these concepts and to see if principle three of universal design is possible to fulfill. The article concludes that the principle is a good reminder of an important concept; however, the design process needs supplements from other design literature to fulfill the principle. 

Mobility as a Service

Graphic of three smart phone screens showing various displays of journey planning.Transportation, whether on the footpath, by bus, train or plane, is not an end in itself. It’s what it allows us to do. The whole journey – the daily commute or the overseas flight, usually takes some joined up thinking. Making our journeys seamless is one of the aims of Mobility as a Service or MaaS. 

MaaS is about integrating various forms of transport services into a single mobility service that is accessible on demand. In other words, an App. But for this to work, a few things have to change. Sharing is part of it. The added benefit is that it offers a real chance to lower our carbon emissions.

If we want to move away from privately owned cars the alternatives have to be as good or better. In the context of autonomous vehicles the idea of MaaS is gaining ground. MaaS combines mobility services from public transport, taxis, car rental and car and bicycle sharing under one platform on a smart phone. It also has the capacity for buy tickets and plan journeys. 

A recent article from The University of Sydney Business School discusses whether MaaS will remain a niche service or whether it can grow into something bigger. Having different levels of service at a range of prices is part of the solution. The biggest hurdle to overcome will be built-in prejudices about using this type of service. But will MaaS be accessible and usable by everyone? There is little mentioned about this in any of the articles.

Accessibility is not just about wheelchair access. People who become anxious in crowded places would benefit from knowing when train carriages are full, for example. But all parts of a service with different operators relies on every one of them being inclusive and accessible. AARP in the United States has a comprehensive look at MaaS in their report, Universal Mobility as a Service

While there is much going on in this space, there is still a lot to work out to make sure inclusion and accessibility is seamless for MaaS to work for everyone. 

Medium online magazine provides a very good overview of MaaS. It explains the different steps we need to take to integrate our transport services. 

 

Dementia and urban design

A street scene showing a wide footpath and a row of shops in the suburbsPeople with dementia can continue with their everyday lives for many years in the community. But they need a bit of help in the form of supportive urban design. To help urban planners include people with dementia, the Age’n’dem Toolkit  is a very practical guide. It is designed for:

1. Councils and built environment contractors
2. Planning processes
3. Design of infrastructure and maintenance
4. Use as and auditing tool for assessing compliance with age and dementia friendly design principles

The Toolkit was developed by Moonee Valley City Council as a foundation resource to guide Councils and local authorities toward the goal of creating more age and dementia friendly community. International evidence shows that elements that support people with dementia have good outcomes for others. So it isn’t “special” design – just thoughtful design. The Age’n’dem Toolkit is inclusive, practical, congruent, informative,
Inclusive and evidence-based.

The Toolkit is easily accessible and simple to read for a variety of audiences, from members of the community to people working across all social and built environment disciplines. It incorporates consultation and feedback from a wide range of sources and stakeholders. There are good examples and case studies.

Getting out and about in the community is part of the picture – home design needs to be considered too

The Business of Age-Friendly

A clothes store with jackets hanging and a table with other clothes.Many businesses would like to expand their customer base to include older people and people with disability, but not sure how to do it. Utilising a checklist is one way to start thinking about it. Several organisations have produced checklists and other information to help businesses understand what they can do. Much of it costs little or nothing. Here are just three.

COTA TAS has a checklist that has a rating scale from excellent to needs work. It covers external environments, shop entrances, safety, comfort, and staff training, and much more. It’s nine pages and easy to read.

AgeUK has a more comprehensive document that provides the reasoning behind some of the “Top Tips’. These include telephone interactions, websites, and resolving complaints. Toilets, seating and other physical factors are also included. This is a report based on consumer workshops.

Of course being age-friendly means being friendly to all ages. Many of the suggestions are compatible with the needs of people with disability as well. The NSW Business Chamber has produced a guide for small business based on improving accessibility for everyone. However, this short online guide is not easy to read with small text and lots of graphics. It was based on the original Missed Business? by Marrickville Council and the Australian Human Rights Commission. It is also useful for local government authorities.