Increase sales with inclusive design

logo of Design Council. white lettering on red backgroundWhen a UK theatre embedded inclusive design in their new building they had a 25% rise in ticket sales from people with disability. This is one example in the Design Council a video showing what is possible with some preliminary design thinking. It showcases several organisations and their approach to embedding inclusion into the design of buildings and services – that includes social inclusion. Community engagement was a big part of the design process: “A lot of ordinary people were involved in the design”.

One interviewee explains how people don’t always use buildings the way you think they will. Consequently it is important to understand the diversity of users with lived experience of the built environment. The video shows several examples – a playground for children and adults alike, transport systems, information systems and devices. It’s down to the details that matter – Barclays bank has a teller machine that includes a spot to hang your walking stick. The theatre mentioned above is also featured. The video is 8 minutes and is captioned.

Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games: A legacy

Arial view of the park at twilight that highlights the green grass of the three main stadia. This year marks the 20th anniversary of what was considered the “most accessible games ever”. That means both events – Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games. It set the standard for others to follow. The London Paralympic Games claimed the “most accessible” title in 2012.  But what of the legacies of these Games?

Several research papers have looked at the legacies of Olympic and Paralympic Games. Simon Darcy charts the whole process and the disability politics of the Sydney Games. Raju Mahto connects tourism with Olympic Games to show how accessibility supports both the event, the legacy and tourism for all. His paper, “Games Events, Accessible Tourism – A Mile to Go with Special Reference of Paralympics”, has some key findings that apply to any major event. By taking a universal design approach Mahto recommends:

    • Tourism operators must understand the needs of customers who have a disability
    • Accommodation establishments should have several accessible rooms
    • Public transportations systems should consider parallel services and ensure easy access to transport hubs
    • Tourism operators need to partner with Games organisers, the community and the private sector.
Other findings, that many of us are aware of, were that
    • Paralympic Games show how people with disability can participate as athletes not just spectators.
    • Post Games, Olympians can act as brand ambassadors for legacy in the long term and help raise awareness of the capabilities of people with disability.
    • Universal design should include all possible assistive devices where individual assistance is needed.
    • Events cannot be declared successful without a planned legacy in terms of ongoing strategic vision for the site and venue to remain accessible.
    • Paralympic Games bring social and practical improvements for accessibility and for personal and professional development.

      The Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) continues the legacy to this day. The Access Committee formed during the lead up to the Games continues on and is now called the Access and Inclusion Leadership Committee. It has overseen many improvements in inclusive sport and other events as well as the built environment. 

Editor’s Comment: I was fortunate to be involved with the accessibility of many Games venues during my time with the Independent Living Centre NSW. I have followed the fortunes of this site since. As a member of the SOPA Access and Inclusion Leadership Committee I contribute to the continuous improvement process of doing more than compliance and applying universal design principles. 

 

Why home buyers don’t get UD

A banner advertising home and land packages. It says, "for people who want more".“We will build it if they ask for it” say the builders. But do they want home buyers to ask for it? And would they build it? The new home selling process relies on capturing the client’s personal and emotional commitment to the home before they sign the contract. And how do they do that? By getting them to choose the colours and styles of fixtures and fittings first. Once that happens the client becomes emotionally committed. The sale is made. Too late to consider universal design features – even if customers knew what they were.

This insight comes from an article in Sourceable by Darren Love. The opening paragraph says it all. 

“Builders seek innovative ways to market their products to clients. One method is to commit the client to a process that invests time and most importantly “emotional commitment” in the process. Focus the client on an ideal that the builder can make a reality.  The client’s “dream” of owning a house becomes real with the “help” of the builder.”

The title of the article is, Responsibility before Profit. It critiques the selling methods that builders use in this highly competitive market where cost cutting is part of the process. The article clearly explains why we cannot rely on the mass market housing industry to offer anything more than a choice of colour and upgrades to fixtures and fittings. 

Easy English and Bumpy Road

Home Page of Bumpy Road website showing nine coloured sections, each with a separate document.Everything seems more difficult when life is spiralling out of control. And when you can’t understand the forms and documents people are asking you to read, it gets so much harder. Going to court to sort things out is very stressful and even more so if you don’t understand what’s going on. 

A new website called The Bumpy Road was developed with and for parents with intellectual disability. There are 32 fact sheets on interacting with NSW Community Services and the court system. They cover child protection, going to court, meeting with a lawyer, the role of an advocate and tips from other parents. Information is in Easy English and video format. Child Protection is a companion document. Much of the content will apply to other states. 

Women With Disability Australia website hosts many Easy English publications.  If you scroll down you will find Auslan videos among others. Scroll further and there are documents in Kriol, Torres Straight Islander Creole, and Warumungu.

Your Human Rights Toolkit is a bundle of four documents in Easy English.

Easy Read UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is also a good resource for getting a grasp of this long complicated document.

Editor’s comment: I’d like to see Easy Read and Easy English standard for all organisations . Universally designed documents make so much sense for everyone. It gives an opportunity to get the key points and before looking at a more complex document.

Accessible holiday accommodation

A view of the cabin showing the ramped entry and the accessible parking space.Lake Macquarie City Council is taking accessible holiday accommodation seriously. Last year they began a project to install four accessible cabins in their holiday parks. Council tested the market for the new design and the feedback was integrated into the design. Some of the elements that were considered important, especially for wheelchair users and their families were: 

    • Swipe card access
    • Wheelchair access to both bedrooms
    • Larger switches
    • Swing top bins
    • Fridge above the freezer
    • Variable height clothesline 
    • Larger decks and accessible barbeque area. 

Garry Ellem from Lake Macquarie City Council is one of the speakers at the next Universal Design Conference in May next year.  His abstract gives more information about the project. More work on making the whole Park more accessible means that these cabins won’t be islands of accessibility. The cabins were completed this year and the pictures on the Council website show the result. This is also a good example of how information should be presented for wheelchair users to know just what is, and what is not, included. Saying something is “fully accessible” is of little use – it might only have a ramp and nothing else.

It should be noted that these are bespoke designs specifically for wheelchair users. However, there is no reason why non-wheelchair users can’t use them. 

A view of the deck with a barbeque and outdoor seating. The deck overlooks the Lake.

 

Universally designed emergency management

With the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, the need to have inclusive emergency systems is paramount. While there is some awareness of people with disability within emergency management, there are few tools that embrace universal design principles. Research in this area has focused on the general public, but not on stakeholders such as first responders, control room personnel and decision makers. The Australian experience last summer meant that many of us turned to our mobile phones and downloaded apps to keep us up to date on our situation. But how inclusive are they?

A research paper from Norway takes the topic of emergency management beyond the physical environment, such as escape routes, to communications technology. Appropriate technology can improve disaster management for everyone.

The paper is a literature review of universal design methods in emergency management. Among the findings was awareness of people with disability was increasing and systems were being adapted accordingly. However, gaps remain. Some of these are:

    • Most of the work on ICT tools and platforms for Emergency Management does not take into account Universal Design nor accessibility.
    • There is a lack of communication support between emergency medical responders and people that are deaf.
    • In use of social networks in emergency situations, the age gap was identified as significantly more severe than the disability gap.
    • Good efforts towards accessible tools and platforms exist, but most of them are on the conceptual or at best on the prototype level.
    • Research on the use of assistive technology by older adults during disasters is a neglected issue.
    • Accessibility is often limited to access to Internet, rather than concerning the diversity of stakeholders and their access to digital solutions in Emergency Management.

They also found that participatory design methods gave best results but were rarely used. Maps for visualising disasters were unlikely to be accessible, but had high value for users. The article is comprehensive and covers every aspect of emergency and disaster management, particularly from the perspective of emergency personnel. 

The title of the article is, Universal Design of ICT for Emergency Management from Stakeholders’ Perspective. It is open source.

Abstract: While Universal Design principles have been adopted in many areas to ensure that products and services are usable for the broadest possible diversity of users, there is still an open area when it comes to the emergency management domain. This article aims at providing a systematic overview of the current state of the emerging research field of Universal Design of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Emergency Management, and to highlight high-impact research opportunities to ensure that the increasing introduction of ICT in Emergency Management can contribute to removing barriers instead of adding more barriers, in particular for the elderly and people with disabilities. A systematic review on relevant literature on Universal Design, ICT and Emergency Management between 2008 and 2020 was employed using predefined frameworks, to answer the following questions: (1) Who are the target audiences (stakeholders) in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management in the different categories of Emergency Management ICT tools, and to what degree is Human-Centred Design and Universal Design taken into account? (2) What are the most important challenges and gaps in research on Universal Design of ICT in Emergency Management? We identify a set of gaps in the literature, indicating that there are some challenges where Universal Design is still limitedly addressed in technology development. We also derive promising future research topics based on areas that are missing in the literature.

Out and about with “new mobility”

A 3D model of urban streets and different forms of transport. Transportation’s latest buzz-word is “new mobility”. The focus of transportation has moved from infrastructure to people getting out and about. That is, a move from what it is to what it does. Our mobility, whether walking or riding, is key to everything else in our lives. Transportation connects us to people and places. The impending changes to the way transport services will be delivered in the future is the topic of a new strategy document.

The Smart Cities Council released a transportation strategy, Mobility Now: Connecting Communities, Smarter, Sooner, Safer. We are on the cusp of major change with electric and automated vehicles. But this change will offer little to our sustainability and inclusion goals if the only thing that changes is the type of car we are likely to buy.  

The strategy outlines steps including redesigning the urban environment, introducing more accessible mobility, and creating an incentive regime. Of particular concern is solving the problem of  “first and last mile” options. 

You can read an overview of the strategy and also download the full document. It is a call to action for a coordinated approach across government, the private sector and the community. 

 

RIDBC is moving to a new home

Artist impression of the main entry to the building showing steps and a corresponding ramp entry to the building.The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children is moving to a new home. The Macquarie University campus is to be the new site for the RIDBC. The design and development application are on public exhibition until 16 December.

WMK Architecture created the design for the school and recreation areas and is featured in ArchitectureAu magazine. The article discusses the building style and materials, but says little about any access or universal design features.

The gallery of pictures of the proposed design shows some good features for everyone. Seating surrounds pillars so that people, blind or sighed, don’t crash into them. Curved outdoor seating enables deaf children to see each other signing. This style is good for everyone and encourages interaction. Patterned floor treatments are questionable though as these can be confusing to people who have marginal sight. Patterns can also be confusing to people with visual perception issues. The main entrance has both steps and a ramp of equal widths indicating choice. 

Have a look at the gallery of pictures and see what you think. The picture above is from the gallery. 

There is nothing in the article to suggest that building users were involved in the design, but it is difficult to imagine that they weren’t.

Universal Design in Housing: Australia’s obligations

A graphic of four housing types: small house, town house, apartment block and multi-unit dwelling.Signing up to a United Nations (UN) convention isn’t just a feel-good affair. It actually brings obligations with it. That means reporting on a regular basis to the relevant UN committee. In Australia, the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department is responsible for the government reports on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But it isn’t all up to the government. People with disability must also be involved. Their reports are known as “Civil Society Shadow Reports”. This is where the story gets interesting when it comes to housing.

Margaret Ward’s paper, Universal design in housing: Reporting on  Australia’s obligations to the UNCRPD, traces the reporting history specifically relating to housing. She writes that the Commonwealth Government has avoided action by doing nothing. Further, it has not adequately reported on this failure to act. But the story does not end here. 

The Australian Building Codes Board is looking at options to include universal design features in the National Construction Code. It’s using a cost-benefit analysis framework. But if we are to meet our UN obligations, we cannot allow cost, if any, to be the barrier. If we argue that rights cannot be afforded we are saying that people with disability cost too much. 

This peer reviewed paper was written for the UD2020 Conference that was to be held May 2020, which is now to be held May 2021. It is published on the Griffith University publications website where you can find other papers for the conference. 

Abstract :The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) obliges Australia, as a State Party, to embrace the concept of universal design as a guide for its activities. The UNCRPD triggered significant changes in the last decade directed by the 2010-2020 National Disability Strategy (the Strategy), with its vision for an inclusive Australian society that enables people with disability to fulfil their potential as equal citizens.
This paper reviews Australia’s national and international reports on these obligations over the last decade focusing on Australia’s response to the Strategy’s commitment in 2011 to support the ‘National Dialogue agreement’, a self-regulatory approach to incorporate universal design in housing. It argues that both the Australian government and the housing industry largely disregarded the National Dialogue agreement, and misrepresented to the United Nations the progress made in achieving accessibility within the housing stock. It evidences the importance of advocacy and a direct line of communication to the United Nations from people with lived experience, something the United Nations relied on to discover that the National Dialogue agreement had failed.
Given this past disregard and willingness to misrepresent the facts, the Australian governments will need to be monitored closely in the consideration of a minimum access standard for all housing in the National Construction Code. The question remains whether a net benefit to society will be found to be of greater priority than the self-interests of the private housing sector and the political vagaries of government. Again, it will take the voice of people with lived experience and those who represent them to make the argument.

Disability: Architecture’s final taboo

The architectural profession has faced issues of race, gender and sexual diversity, but disability is still a taboo. Awareness raising about people with disability officially began with the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 – forty years ago. But “coming out” with disability still seems harder than claiming your race, gender or gender diversity.  

According to an article in the Architects Journal magazine, few architects identify as having a disability. And those that do, face significant challenges in study and professional practice. Not only is it difficult to enter the profession, but the profession misses out on a  pool of life experience that could create better design for everyone. The article relates the professional experiences of four architects with different disabilities. 

Their experiences tell the same story as many others. The difficulty in being accepted as part of the group and being taken seriously. It’s little wonder that architects (or any other professional) will “come out” and get the support they need. Amy has multiple chronic illnesses, Ben is deaf, Poppy has a vision impairment, and Roseanne has dwarfism. You can read their experiences in, Is disability architecture’s final taboo?