Who are academics writing for?

Many book with fine text lay open on a table top. Who are academics writing for?A lot of money goes into research, but much of it is inaccessible even to the average reader. This is made worse by payment firewalls. If research is government funded it should be free to read. However, that is not how academic publications work. The question is, who are academics writing for and what do they hope to achieve? Here are my editorial thoughts on the topic published in the October 2021 Design for All India Newsletter

If we take Design for All seriously as a research topic, we should also have regard for what we do with that information. We should also have regard for how we communicate that information.

I therefore challenge the current ways in which some academics use the topic to forge a niche in an academically competitive world without due regard to the people they are reflecting in their research. For example, discussing the so-called differences between universal design and inclusive design is more about a discussion between academics than doing something tangible to benefit marginalised groups.

There is so much more work to be done in overcoming structural barriers to inclusion. So why are we not doing it?

It is true that some co-design and participant action research in the universal design space is being carried out. But these examples are usually one-off projects to solve a particular social problem. Research that turns into guidelines or recommendations is useful but often ends up on a shelf. Why is that?

If we are encouraging designers to include more customers and users in their products and places, why aren’t we encouraging academics to include more readers? Plain language summaries of research articles are still rare. Academics write in ways that make their work inaccessible to the majority. Why would they do that?

The visual presentation matters too

Apart from the academic content of articles, there is the visual presentation to consider. Tightly written text in Times New Roman in small font is not conducive to a long reading session. Likewise, large bolded, Italicised font is overpowering and also difficult to read for people with good eyesight. Digital publications can take advantage of web software that adjusts to the type of device the reader is using. More readable layouts with easy navigation are used in blog pages. So why publishers are still using book layout?

Design for All India Newsletter

With that said, the articles in this edition of the Newsletter deviate from the style of previous contributors and have more of a journalistic flavour. By doing so, they ask the readers to reflect on the purpose of the publication and the way in which it is presented both content-wise and in visual format. For a topic that is based on human rights and inclusion, it is essential that academics consider who they are writing about and who they are really writing for.

You can access this editorial and other articles by CUDA directors on the Design for All Newsletter website. Select October 2021 for the full publication. 

Jane Bringolf, Editor. 

Dementia Friendly Assessment Tool

Front cover of the Dementia Friendly Assessment Tool. It has lime green with text and a man bending down to pet a wallaby.The Dementia Friendly Community Environmental Assessment Tool provides a relatively simple checklist. It takes in many of the regular aspects of accessibility overlaid with design thought for people with dementia. A good place to start your thinking.

The more recent online resource from Dementia Training Australia expands on the 2015 edition and goes into more detail. Sections can be downloaded separately. There are three parts in the handbook:

    • 1 ‘Key Design Principles’ contains a description of key design principles.
    • 2 ‘The Dementia Friendly Community – Environmental Assessment Tool introduces the tool and provides directions for its use.
    • 3 ‘Using the Spreadsheet’ contains a guide to scoring and showing the results graphically.  

This assessment tool is No. 5 in a set of 7 resources within the Environmental Design Resources Handbook.

There is also a free app to guide you through an assessment on the strengths and weaknesses of buildings for people with dementia. The website has more resources covering both community living and residential care. 

Tools that measure the quality of building used by people with dementia identify strengths and weaknesses. We can then make them more supportive of people with dementia. 

Inclusive customer to customer experiences in tourism

Roman Colosseum heritage site. Customer to customer experiences in inclusive tourism. Visits to heritage sites are more than history and the site itself. It’s also about the interactions you have with others. Most inclusive tourism research has focused on the relationship between the operator and customer. But what about the relationship between visitors with and without disability? Shared settings for visitors create value for all customers and therefore the business. So how can operators facilitate inclusive customer to customer experiences?

Chiscano and Darcy used a heritage site for a qualitative study on customer to customer interactions. The aim of the research was to find out how people with and without disability share an experience. They also wanted to know how the interactions created value for the customers. Their paper is very academic with lots of theory and methods. It uses the language of “value outcome” and “social practices”.

Interactions were observed and participants reported on their interactions throughout the experience. The article reports in detail their findings of interactions that include and exclude. The concluding section has a table of quotes by participants which includes participant feedback on how they felt.

The article concludes with advice for heritage and cultural site managers. Operators can facilitate positive outcomes for visitors with and without disability by changing some of their processes. Providing support tools for people with different disability types before the activity is very helpful. People with disability enjoy their experience more if they can share it with other visitors with or without disability.

Everyone wins with inclusion

Bottom line; operators can benefit from customer to customer interactions and shared resources to create value for the business.

Simon Darcy wrote a post on Linked In: “Tourism is as much about the interactions you have with others as it is about the sites you are seeing and quite often people with disability have segregated experiences because of the lack of innovative service development that incorporates co-design and universal design principles within all service and product development.”

The title of the article is, C2C co-creation of inclusive tourism experiences for customers with disability in a shared heritage context experience.

What’s age got to do with it?

Front cover of What's Age Got to do with it?
Front cover of report

Ageism is most often discussed in the context of older adults. However, younger people also experience discrimination based on their age. Four years ago Per Capita published a report with the title, What’s age got to do with it? It challenged the stereotypical statements about older workers. Although these were meant to be positive statements, they were reinforcing stereotyping. Stereotypes gain currency in society and the result is discrimination. 

The Australian Human Rights Commission has re-used the title for their latest report, What’s age got to do with it? A snapshot of ageism across the Australian lifespan.The research for the report sought Australian thoughts about age and ageism.

The research focused on attitudes about age rather than behaviours. It involved an online survey of 2440 Australians and 11 focus groups. Ninety per cent of respondents agreed that ageism exists. However, some respondents weren’t clear what ageism is. 

Making jokes about age was seen as more acceptable than making jokes about race or gender. Many thought the media played a significant role in producing stereotypical portrayals of all age groups. Stereotypes are strongly held by each group and accepted as fact. The report explores this. 

Ageism impacts our human rights. We all have a right to health, education, housing and employment. We have the right to basic freedoms and to make choices. Consciously or subconsciously those in power can infringe these rights based on what they believe to be true . 

The report was led by Kay Patterson, Commissioner for Ageing and consequently, the report is presented within this context. However the findings support the earlier work by Philip Taylor and Warwick Smith in the Per Capita report. Their work challenged the earlier report, Willing to Work, also published by the Human Rights Commission, 

UX design without users?

An empty stage flanked by dark red curtains. UX design without users.
UX Theatre – UX design without users.

How can you have User Experience design, or UX design, without focusing on users? When the big bosses say there isn’t time or money. That’s when designers default to trialling designs on their colleagues and family. UX design without user experience happens when corporates just want a good look without actually focusing on users.

The FastCompany website has a very readable article that punches home an important message for all design fields. It’s titled, UX design has a dirty secret:

“UX Theatre is easy to spot: It’s the application of any sort of design methodology without including a single user in the process, or including users but merely for show.”

The article by Tanya Snook claims there are more projects branding themselves as user-centred design than is the actual case. She explains why. First, UX design is a vague concept and not well defined. Design teams find themselves underfunded and unable to do all the work user experience requires. 

Second, design is touted as something everyone can do. This is only true to a point. Being able to do maths doesn’t make everyone an accountant. Thinking from the user’s perspective isn’t UX design either. 

It’s rare to find designers who are good at both design and facilitating design workshops. And designers don’t always have a say in how projects are structured or run.

A call to action

Snook concludes the article with a call to action for designers. She says they have to do more than design and advocate for users and the funding to do it. 

“We can help our organizations improve if we approach UX Theatre from the perspective of critique instead of criticism. We can call out UX Theatre. We can show how testing and research help us design solutions to customer problems, and even anticipate potential problems with new products and services.”


Sensory gardens: inclusive or segregated?

Bright purple lavendar in a sensory garden.Sensory gardens are usually associated with people who are blind or partially sighted. But this strategy is not inclusive – everyone should be able to enjoy the experience. Gardens that are fragrant, colourful, create sounds, are nice to touch, and good to taste are for everyone. Together with accessible amenities, sensory gardens can be inclusive rather than segregated.

COVID has raised the importance of trees and gardens for the health and wellbeing of city-dwellers. A study in Poland assessed 15 sensory gardens in the context of urban forests. Trees in urban settings: street trees home garden trees, and trees in parks make an urban forest. The aim of the study was to show that sensory gardens are just one element of urban forests that everyone can enjoy.

The study assessed fifteen gardens and one sensory path. The sense of smell was given priority, but other amenities were lacking in these gardens. The authors concluded that a universal design approach would make these gardens more inclusive. 

The title of the article is, Recreation and Therapy in Urban Forests—The Potential Use of Sensory Garden Solutions.

Find out the basics of a sensory garden from Houz website – Please Touch and More: 5 Elements of a Sensory Garden


Accessible tourism organisations

A woman in a yellow jacket is being assisted onto the tour bus by two men up a ramp.Should we call it ‘inclusive tourism’ or ‘accessible tourism?’ Well that depends. If it is a destination or activity specifically designed for people with disability then it’s accessible. If it is a mainstream service AND it is fully accessible for everyone then it’s inclusive. There is a place for both. Here is a list of accessible tourism organisations that are specifically for people with disability. 

Getaboutable is a social enterprise focused on travel and leisure for people with disabilities. It offers a platform to promote inclusive tourism and travel businesses around the world. 

Have Wheelchair Will Travel is a website where a family shares their travel experiences to help others.  They also share day-to-day tips and other activities in between. They produce a magazine titled, Travel Without Limits

Travability was originally set up to provide accessible travel information. Now it is part of a world-wide group with a mission to create equality in accessibility in the hospitality and travel industries. The Destinations section of the website has plenty to offer travellers. There is also a news and resource section for the traveller and the tourism sector. 

Can Go Everywhere has a list of accessible holiday options around Australia and a blog travel page. 

iSCREAM Travel provides tailored travel adventures from booking the holiday, hiring equipment, and connecting with care assistance. They say “you shouldn’t have to travel with the kitchen sink”. 

Push Adventures is based in South Australia and offers services to the tourism sector to improve their accessibility. The blog page has information on various destinations for travellers. They have a showcase of 101 Awesome Accessible Adventures in Australia.

Lonely Planet Accessible Travel Guide is a collection of resources designed to help you experience the joy and benefits of travel.

In New Zealand

Grab Your Wheels Let’s Travel is a blog site for travellers. It has a list of activities and accommodation. The site has a good example of how to describe a wheelchair accessible hotel and room. 

Making Trax is an adventure tourism site for travellers and operators. 

Ability Adventures is a specialist travel company providing tailored itineraries.

More on travel and tourism

There are many research papers and business guides on travel and tourism on this website. The emphasis of the research is on the missed business opportunities for operators. The guides are devised to help operators improve their accessibility. 


Cinema, user experience, and public space

Front cover of the publication showing a long gradual flight of steps in a street with a travellator running beside it. Cinema experience, public space.Three papers from the International Journal of Architecture and Planning address universal design. Once you scroll through the usual context-setting paragraphs on the principles of universal design, the research itself has something to offer. The articles are on cinema experiences, user experience and public space 

Disability and Otherization: Readings on Cinema in The Light of UD Principles. The study explains the relationship between architecture and disability in cinema, and how it is portrayed. Using 6 well-known films that include othering, the researchers apply the 7 principles of universal design to analyse how disability is portrayed. Interesting way of dissecting societal attitudes and how such films might impact on social attitudes perhaps reinforcing prejudices.

User-Involved Universal Design Experience in the Space, Product and Service Development Process, concludes that universal design is about multiple users regardless of the design discipline. The aim was to encourage students to design beyond specialised “disability products” and to integrate a wide spectrum of users.

Public Space and Accessibility examines pedestrian ways including ramps. Specific dimensions make this a guide largely for wheelchair access. Car parking and bus stops are also covered. The article reports on a workshop they ran on universal design. It ends with the note that other disabilities including cognitive diversity now need to be considered. Perhaps of most interest to access consultants to compare with Australian standards.  

Accessibility of public space

A pedestrian zone in a city street. Accessibility of public space.Infrastructure built before disability activists gained legal recognition of their human rights is often inaccessible. Newer buildings have basic access according to the standards imposed by governments. However, standards are no guarantee for full access for everyone. Consequently, urban researchers continue to write in the hope of effecting change for the accessibility of public space. 

A chapter in the book, Future of the City, is yet another offering about universal design and how accessibility is for everyone. This one includes a chart with solutions for typical barriers. These solutions are prescriptive with dimensions and measurements. The chart covers paths of travel, vertical travel, spatial elements and fittings, and transportation infrastructure.

Photographs and good examples illustrate the points made. The information is useful for councils and capital works staff. It fits neatly with the Age Friendly Checklist for Councils.

The title of the open access chapter is Accessibility of pubic space. Although there are some language differences in disability terms, the article is easy to read and makes some clear points. For example,

“For many people leading an independent life may be fully conditional on the accessibility of public spaces. Through accessible places, such people have a chance to participate in the social and economic life of the country or local society.”

“It is estimated that up to 30% of society have permanent or temporary limitations in mobility or perception. Many of these people do not have the status of a disabled person. Therefore, it can be said that accessibility concerns all of us.”

The chapter concludes with a comment about the gradual change in the accessibility of public buildings. However, there is more work to do. 

Universal design as critical design

Four pictures of workshop outcomes explained in the article. Universal design as critical designWhat happens if architecture, interior design, engineering and product design students spend a week together to investigate the design of the built environment by making it impossible to use? By turning design upside down and deliberately creating designs that were impossible or difficult to use, students learned about universal design. This method is known as ‘critical design’.

A paper by Ann Britt Torkildsby describes a week of critical design workshops that provoked reflection, awareness, empathy and action among the next generation of designers involved in the built environment. The paper provides details of the workshops and the processes, and the outcomes for the students and their designs. The picture above shows four of the designs discussed in the article.

The students felt the workshop was a great learning experience. Although the workshop method needs some perfecting, it shows that students approach universal design in a more thoughtful way. 

Editor’s note: I liked the narrow doorway with a sticky floor that made entry difficult. The designs went on exhibition so that others could experience first hand the difficulties and frustration people with different disabilities might have with a design. Critical design is a real challenge to design problem solving. 

The title of the paper isEmpathy Enabled by Critical Design – A New Tool in the Universal Design Toolbox. The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.