Workplace diversity, design and strategy

How do you measure diversity and inclusion in the workplace if people don’t identify as being in a defined or separate category? And why should they? Diverse from what or whom? What is the baseline measure and who is doing the measuring? And is disability or ageing considered part of the diverse workforce population? A research team in Italy had a look at workplace diversity, design and strategy to assess the state of play.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how much the physical environment can affect people’s well-being, mental health, social relationships, customs and habits.”

A brightly coloured graphic representing women from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

In their paper, the researchers discuss examples of workplaces that claim to promote a culture of diversity and reduced discrimination. Many have created positions for “Diversity and Inclusion Managers” to asses the mismatch between company and employee perceptions of inclusion. Details of the research methodology include diversity types, design features, workplace policies and strategies.

Disability, race, gender

Company reports embrace and list diversity features. The most cited diversity feature is disability, followed by ethnicity/race, gender, sexual orientation and age. However, ignoring this listing and focusing on inclusion and accessibility provides other measures of success.

Inclusion is when “an employee feels a sense of community and belonging in a work system, being accepted by others for their unique characteristics and treated as an insider.”

Image from “Turning back time for inclusion, today as well as tomorrow.

Inclusion is one group looking at another group and thinking about "Them".

Physical spaces

Companies focus on HR policies for inclusion but don’t address aspects such as workspace design. This separation neglects the role of architectural and interior design. However, there is research on the physical elements of workplace design. Floor plans, acoustic comfort, choice of materials and green building certifications all have a role to play.

Diversity and inclusion is more than a policy or strategy. Organisations need to join the dots between employment practices and the design of the workplace. For people with disability in particular both are essential. An inclusive corporate culture together with an appropriately designed physical environment is what’s required. That’s universal design in action.

The title of the paper is, Room for diversity: a review of research and industry approaches to inclusive workplaces. (Open access.)

While organisations of all types claim to be implementing diversity strategies in the workplace, it isn’t easy to measure their validity. The video from the UK is a parody on employers who say their organisations are diverse.

From the abstract

This paper explores how scientific literature and company reports address inclusive workplace design and strategies. It asks the following question: To what extent is inclusion present in workplace design and related strategies?

We analysed 27 scientific papers and 25 corporate social responsibility reports of the highest-ranked companies in the Great Place to Work global ranking. We disentangled the main aspects related to workplace design and strategies for promoting inclusion.

This paper reports on four macro-categories of diversity that support the development of inclusive workplace design. These are psychophysical; cultural; socio-economic conditions; and ability, experience and strengths.

Although diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is key in many organizations, it remains unclear how DE&I principles are applied in workspace design and strategies. This scoping review integrates scientific knowledge and practice-based approaches which address this matter independently.

Using digital technology – skill or talent?

Digital technology is here to stay but not everyone has the talent for it. Gregg Vanderheiden says there is a difference between digital skill and digital talent. Skill is something you can learn, but talent, like a sporting or musical talent is inherent. So this might explain why some people find websites, smartphones and computers difficult to master.

Vanderheiden explains that low digital affinity is not the same as intelligence. Some very bright people have trouble using digital interfaces. This is like being tone deaf and being unable to sing in tune. Or unable to be athletic because of poor coordination.

Image: Professor Gregg Vanderheiden

Professor Gregg Vanderheiden is in a dark suit. He has a grey beard and is wearing glasses at the end of his nose. He is smiling.

Consequently, as the digital world expands into all sections of life, some people will face limitations to their independence in everyday activities. People who rely on digital assistive technologies such as screen readers, and read and write programs are likely to be further challenged by technology.

Making it easier to use computers

Computers and technology have transformed the lives of many people with disability. This is largely due to additional technologies loaded onto their computers and smartphones. However, unlike others, unless they take their computer everywhere with them, they cannot access computers in libraries and at school. That is, unless they have a computer dedicated to them which probably means others can’t use it. Vanderheiden has a solution.

Morphic is an extension to Windows and Mac operating systems to make it easier to use a computer. Morphic is open source software with a great add-on. What if the settings for your home computer were able to follow you around in the Cloud? And what if it gave you confidence you wouldn’t “break” the computer?

Assistive Technology on Demand” or AToD, is a companion service to Morphic. It allows users to have the assistive technologies they need on any computer at any place, any time. When you log out of the computer, your settings disappear and the computer goes back to the original settings.

Digital equity for AT users

For the first time

  • AT users can use any computer
  • People who don’t have a computer can be AT users
  • New employees can set up on their first day at work
  • If computer fails or is lost, a new one can be set up in no time
  • IT departments can save time – all computers can have AT when needed without needing to install anything
A young boy leans on the tabletop with his hands under his chin. He is smiling at the screen on a laptop computer.

With one click Morphic retrieves your assistive settings and when you leave the computer your settings completely disappear. That leaves the computer free for others to use in the library, university, or school. It is also good for people who struggle with technology because their device can be set up specifically for their requirements. This could be something as simple as creating one click to join the family Zoom meeting.

A one page review of Vanderheiden’s keynote from 2020 explains in more detail how it works. At the AAATE 2023 conference, Vanderheiden describes the roll-out to 7000 computers in major universities. AT users now have the ability to access computers in the same way as their peers. This gives them a new level of digital equity so they can better compete and succeed in all aspects of life, work and education.

Tech and older adults

The stereotype of grandchildren helping grandparents with their phone or remote controller is often perpetuated by older people themselves. Skill in using phones and websites depends on the motivations for using them. Younger people can have different interests from older adults meaning they use different apps and software. This doesn’t mean tech and older adults don’t belong together.

“Grandma cannot use her phone because it was not designed for her. Ubiquitous mass-market tools should not present obvious and avoidable hurdles to everyday users.” Robert Schumacher.

A smartphone with graphics depicting a design problem being fixed.

The stereotype is not based in evidence, and it might not be the tech that’s the barrier – poor vision or hand dexterity can also cause problems with using phones and computers.

It’s about mental models

According to Schumacher, the main difference between younger and older generations is when their mental models of how things work was formed. He explains how these mental models can widen any gap in understanding in how things work. Every generation has its own mental models of the world.

Schumacher’s article discusses more on this topic and how to remedy the situation. More testing with older adults is essential. Their mental models aren’t the same as the developer’s – what’s intuitive for a seasoned tech user is not intuitive for everyone. However, it doesn’t mean older people are averse to using technology or too “stuck in their ways” to learn.

The title of the article is, Gran Got Tech: Inclusivity and Older Adults, published in the Journal of User Experience.

Mental models and autonomous vehicles

The concept of designing tech from the perspective of mental models is a factor in a research project for autonomous vehicles. As concepts evolve, eventually the need to design in-vehicle interfaces will be minimal with presets for each rider. In the meantime, touchscreens and audio controls will still be needed. These need to be co-designed with users to develop prototypes.

The title of a research paper on this topic is Designing Interaction with Autonomous Vehicles for Older Passengers.

Universally designed dream home

This is not your average home. This one goes beyond even enhanced features in the Livable Housing Design Standard. However, it shows what is possible with creative design thinking. The good news is that the key features will be embedded in all new homes under the new Livable Housing Design Standard.

Contrary to the many myths, introducing universal design features into a home doesn’t compromise aesthetics.

Exterior view of the top part of a two storey home showing a window in the gables of the house.

The video below is from O’Shea and Sons Builders that showcases a high-end of the market home. The additional costs are in the automation, the elevator and some of the fixtures and fittings. However, the key features are possible in mainstream homes at little, if any, additional cost.

As Nick O’Shea says, “… an absolutely amazing home where functionality and style means absolute beauty”. A really great example of universal design in action dispelling the myth that accessibility and functionality are ugly.

Filming by Unveil Media

O’Shea Builders have built other accessible homes so this is not the first. The Independent Builders Network in Queensland has other members doing good work as well. Queensland is also the first state to implement the new Livable Housing Design Standard.

Online learning – Livable Housing Design

CUDA has the licence from the Australian Building Codes Board to run their course on the Livable Housing Design Standard. The course is based on the Handbook and the Standard. This is a technical course for home-building professionals. Find out more about this course.

It covers the various conditions for level entries, doors, circulation spaces, showers and toilets.

Front cover of the Livable Housing Design Standard showing a single storey home with garage.

Engaging people with intellectual disability in research

People with intellectual disability continue to be excluded from research practices. This is often due to social and economic factors such as limited education opportunities and access to services. Exclusion is easily perpetuated when you add systemic bias to the list.

Ethics approval processes often view people with intellectual disability as “vulnerable”. This makes their inclusion more difficult for researchers.

Four people are seated at a table but their faces are obscured. One is writing on a notepad. A coffee mug and laptop are on the table. Including people with intellectual disability.

The design of research methods systemically excludes people with disability and other marginalised groups. Consequently, their voices are unheard in health, employment, education and independent living research.

According to an article from the US, approximately 75% of clinical trials have directly or indirectly excluded adults with intellectual disabilities. Just over 33% of the studies have excluded people based on cognitive impairment or diagnosis of intellectual disability.

New methods needed

In response to the ethics and research design challenges, researchers are finding new ways to adapt their methods. The article discusses three approaches:

1. Adapting research materials and processes into individualised and accessible formats.

2. Adopting inclusive research participation methods.

3. Community participation and co-researcher engagement.

Although inclusion strategies are making progress, researchers are lacking helpful guidance. Consequently, including people with intellectual disability in research in a meaningful way requires more work.

The title of the paper is, Inclusive Methods for Engaging People With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities in Research Practices. This is a short paper and easy to read.

Technology and wellbeing

A related article on co-designing with people with intellectual disabilities looks at developing technologies. Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

Involving people with intellectual disabilities on issues relating to their mental wellbeing is essential for developing relevant tools. This research explores the use of inclusive and participatory co-design techniques and principles.

Individuals with intellectual disabilities participated in a co-design process via a series of
workshops and focus groups. The workshops helped participants explore new technologies, including sensors and feedback mechanisms that can help monitor and potentially improve mental wellbeing. The co-design approach developed various interfaces suited to varying ages.

The title of the article is, In the hands of users with Intellectual Disabilities: Co-Designing Tangible User Interfaces for Mental Wellbeing.

People with intellectual disability and support workers

Abuse of people with intellectual disability focuses on extreme forms of violence at the expense of everyday indignities. Humiliation, degradation, and hurt have a negative effect on identity and makes it more difficult to recruit research participants.

An article by a group of Australian researchers recommends taking action to support both workers and people with disability for improved wellbeing. Here are the key points from their article:

  • Everyday harms are the little things that upset people, such as making unkind jokes about you, being ignored, or disrespected, are not treated as abuse
  • In our project, we called this misrecognition.
  • We looked at when misrecognition happened between young people with disability and their paid support workers.
  • Much of the time, people did not intend to cause harm, but the other person was still hurt by the things they did or said.
  • We can improve the way that people with disability and support workers work together if people understand how their actions affect other people.

The article is titled, Recasting ‘harm’ in support: Misrecognition between people with intellectual disability and paid workers.

Theatre, research and intellectual disability

This study aims to demonstrate how disability theatre contributes to inclusive research practice with people with intellectual disability. The title of the article is Disability Theatre as Critical Participatory Action Research (CPAR). Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

This article describes how self-advocates (individuals with intellectual disability), theatre artists, researchers, and a community living society create social justice disability theatre as critical participatory research. It demonstrates how disability theatre can contribute
to and advance inclusive research practice.

Disability justice-informed theatre as CPAR has direct relevance to people with intellectual disabilities. It also offers a platform where self-advocates’ diverse ways to communicate and be in the world are honoured. Mentorship generates opportunities for self-advocates to learn, practice, and develop research skills.

The theatre creation process (devising, developing, and refining scenes) is research in itself where tensions are recognized as sites of possibility. Future research should explore strategies, and protocols for power sharing and problem solving within disability theatre.

Universal design for inclusion

Professor Ilaria Garofolo writes an interesting essay on the role of universal design and inclusion. Garofolo claims technical handbooks based on regulations related to accessibility have reduced built environmental barriers but they haven’t resulted in inclusiveness. The outdated focus on compliance remains an underpinning feature of design culture.

“Taking into consideration the needs and preferences of persons should be the core of design, and in particular the design for inclusion…”

A narrow pedestrian street with market stalls and shops. A caring city is an inclusive city.

Built environment professionals argue that universal design is a good principle, but difficult to practice. The belief that universal design costs more doesn’t help matters. Providing readymade solutions or schematics are not the answer either. Such schematics contain stereotypes and generalisations referring to disability. While they might guarantee compliance they limit the continuing improvement aspect of universal design.

The term inclusion should define the orientation of society towards people. However, the term is often juxtaposed, and sometimes even confused, with the word integration. Unlike integration, which tends to counter the differences, inclusion entails the acceptance of all diversities and peculiarities of the individual.

Co-design

The understanding of the relationship between people and their built environment is often missing. Participatory co-design methods, particularly with people with disability, are the way to overcome this divide. All the technical knowledge and expertise does not provide knowledge on how design impacts everyday living.

Fostering universal design through education

Diverse and dedicated subjects and master classes have arisen in higher education worldwide.

Although universal is increasingly permeating design education, it remains difficult to interpret as anything more than a set of good intentions.

A long room with a long table with students sitting both sides. They are working on a design project.

Experiential learning is an important part of the universal design curriculum as well as interdisciplinary collaboration. Personal experience and design workshops with users and trained designers provide a practical understanding of universal design.

“To design inclusively means to educate professionals to think inclusively and to work in collaborative teams composed of diverse groups of people.”

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalities

The title of the short essay is, The Role and Implication of UD to Foster Inclusion in Built Environments.

From the abstract

The level of inclusion of all members of society in community activities is a fundamental indicator of a civil society’s progress. There is increasing evidence that diversity and inclusion are linked to positive outcomes.

The universal design approach is increasingly recognized as the one that helps to shape physical and virtual environments. That’s so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their diversity. Thus, making a more inclusive society for all.

This short essay summarizes some reflections resulting from studies, research and field practices reported by literature, and also experienced by the author in her training as a researcher and university professor.

Attention is focused on some critical issues and implications inherent in the practical application of universal design principles. Also, the importance of its multidisciplinary dimension, which also entails a different attitude towards the training of professionals.

Brisbane 2032: Legacy Strategy

Large scale events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games are contentious because of the cost of preparation. However, with careful planning, these events can leave a legacy of lasting benefits for communities. That’s the aim of the Brisbane 2032 Legacy Strategy.

Vision: “By 2042, we will live in an inclusive, sustainable and connected society, with more opportunities in life for everyone.”  

A green background with the text for the vision for Elevate 2042 in white.

Universal design is mentioned throughout the document as an underpinning principle for inclusion and accessibility as if they are inherently the same thing. Consequently, the language defaults to “universal accessibility”. This term is often interpreted as meeting disability access standards in the built environment, which do not guarantee inclusive outcomes.

Similar to other policy documents, universal design is explained at the very end. If universal design is an underpinning principle of all aspects of the Games, it should be at the front of the document. Nevertheless, “universal design” is found under each of the focus areas.

Focus of the strategy

The strategy focuses on society, economy, connectivity and environment. The strategy, titled Elevate 2042, uses the Paralympic Games as the platform for “advancing accessibility and empowering people with disability”.

“Elevate 2042 is the catalyst to create a truly inclusive society
for all. From universal design underpinning everything we build to providing sport for
every Queensland child with a disability, I cannot wait to see what we have achieved by 2042.” Dr Bridie Kean

A diagrammatic wheel showing how the focus areas link together for the Brisbane 2032 strategy.

Inclusion and accessibility

By definition, the Paralympic Games must be inclusive and accessible. However, the concepts should be considered across all aspects of both Games. Co-design processes are mentioned in relation to people with disability but not other marginalised groups.

The key points listed on the Paralympics Australia website for “Advancing accessibility and empowering people with disability” are:

  • People with disability can participate fully in the community
  • And have a voice on housing, transport, education, employment and sport
  • With accessible, inclusive sports infrastructure and events
  • Queensland’s Disability Plan 2022-2027: Together, a Better Queensland
  • Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031
Members of Paralympics Australia are posing for a group photo.

Image from the Paralympics Australia website

Transport equity: a change of focus

Asking the right questions is the key to getting the right answers. But new questions require a new way of looking at problems. Bridget Doran does that in a white paper on transport equity. She argues that investment in equity will have payoffs for the climate as well as people.

“It is remarkable that in 2023 we do not measure the return on investment in transport by asking who is, and who is not, accessing what they need. However, we are beginning to understand that different people have different needs of transport. An equitable approach is about continuing to learn about who has what needs, and working to meet them.”

Front cover of the A Just Now white paper on transport equity.

New ways to measure progress

Councils spend a lot of money on maintaining streets. Asset management priorities rarely consider who benefits from quality infrastructure. For example, more people who use wheelchairs and mobility devices live in poorer communities. So fixing footpaths in these areas is a good investment in equity. A focused accessibility audit can identify where people can and cannot go depending on their abilities.

Asking people where they are and are not going at a local level is essential. In this way councils can identify priorities for upgraded road crossings and other street improvements. Transport planners use crash data to justify infrastructure investment. Now they should use access data to prioritise investment in equity.

“Strong policy matters. If investment in equity is not made for good reason, it can be delayed, removed or watered-down for political reasons or when other objectives are introduced with stronger rationale.”

Image from the A Just Now white paper.

Image of a pedestrian crossing showing yellow directional and hazard tactile markers on the approach to the crossing which also has a refuge island half way across.

Summary of recommendations

A strong policy vision with equitable participation made an explicit goal of investment is a key recommendation. This is required nationally, regionally and at a local level.

Promoting the needs of people with most to gain from investment, and working to promote low-carbon means of access, will result in the most tangible change. “We have to challenge ourselves to want it.” Image from A Just Now white paper.

A younger woman and an older woman each hold the hand of a small child while walking. An older man is riding a mobility scooter.

The title of the white paper is A Just Now: Equity and transport in a changing climate.

Transport innovation: more of the same?

Front cover of AHURI report on urban transportation.
Front cover of the report

There’s a long gap between new ideas in transportation and when passengers get to experience them. And there are lots of stakeholders within transport systems. Regulators, designers, manufacturers, policy-makers, local and state governments and let’s not forget the travelling public. With so many stakeholders and things to think about, accessibility and inclusion could get missed. So will transport innovation be more of the same?

Apart from interstate trains and buses, public transportation systems are the responsibility of each state and territory. This poses issues of inconsistency, particularly in relation to accessibility. The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) recommends greater coordination and national goals for future transport systems. It’s good to see accessibility and inclusion in the mix. 

Different stakeholders want different things

  • Regulators want to see reduced emissions and congestion, increased efficiency, and greater accessibility and social equity.
  • Transport providers want greater efficiency, capacity and market share. 
  • Passengers was increased usefulness, accessibility, inclusivity, comfort, convenience and safety. Then they want reduced price.
Front view of a Queensland Rail train at a station. It says Ipswich on the LED display

Innovation is in the eye of the beholder. The drivers for innovation were identified as, social and environmental, what passengers want, resource constraints, regulatory gaps and political imperatives.

The AHURI research reviews international practice in the context of Australian conditions. Policy discussion in Australia has not moved on from practices set in the late 1990s. Innovation is about emerging modes of transport. These include trying to lessen car dependency by improving public transport, and integrating transport nodes with activity centres. 

The research paper goes on to discuss policy development options, issues for institutions, policy gaps and opportunities, and the role of the state in transport innovation. 

The title of the report is, “Innovative responses to urban transportation: current practice in Australian cities” There are two documents – the 12 page executive summary and the 130 page full report. 

The research questions

Four research questions guided the approach:

1. How are large-scale processes of technological, economic, social and environmental change affecting travel patterns and transport systems in Australian cities?

2. What strategic approaches to configuring infrastructure, technology, regulation and design are Australian metropolitan transport programs and policies adopting?

3. How do Australian metropolitan transport programs and policies compare to relevant international examples in terms of strategic approaches to technological, economic, social and environmental changes?

4. What forward positions should Australian metropolitan transport programs and policies consider in response to drivers of major transport system change and what further research is needed to inform this positioning?

Housing Adaptations Design Toolkit

The Housing Adaptations Design Toolkit comes from Northern Ireland and is focused on government departments collaborating for good social housing outcomes. The aim is to integrate services to promote independent living. As such it has application to government funded home modification services in Australia an elsewhere.

Housing adaptations are a key element in supporting independent living. The other three are assistive technology, social care, and health and wellbeing.

The diagram shows the links between the four elements required for independent living.

Diagram showing the integration of services: health and wellbeing, housing adaptations, assistive technology and social care leading to independent living.

The Department of Communities and the Department of Health collaborated in the development of the toolkit.

The toolkit covers housing adaptions that range from those not needing a referral to occupational therapy services to more complex projects. It has design formats that help service users to visualise the proposed adaptations. Electronic formats facilitate inter-agency communications for the recommended adaptations and specifications.

The toolkit has seven sections. They include design principles for different rooms, space standards for different users, and helpful specification templates. There are three categories of users: ambulant, independent wheelchair user, and dependent wheelchair user.

The development of the toolkit included collaboration with people with disability. It supports a standardised approach to design principles and space standards. The image shows the front cover of the toolkit.

Front cover of the Housing Adaptations Design Toolkit.

The Housing Adaptations Design Toolkit is a guide for government funded adaptations. As such, the toolkit processes could help inform home modifications under Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme. This is a very comprehensive approach to bureaucratic processes and technical detail.

Accessible autonomous vehicles

What factors should be considered when designing accessible autonomous vehicles? A collaborative effort by academics and policy makers found some answers. They looked at the data on people with disability to come up with some practical information.

Cumulative disadvantage faced by people with disability affects their physical, financial, health and wellbeing. One particular challenge is easy access to transportation.

Image of a blue autonomous vehicle on a roadway. The passenger seats are empty.

Academics from the Queensland University of Technology and staff at the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads have embarked on a long term project. The first phase is a data review and surveys with disability user groups. The second stage will involve detailed benchmarking of vehicle designs. A vehicle prototype will be developed in the third stage.

Numerical data

Articles relating to human participants gave specific recommendations for the physical measures of a person’s size and functional capabilities (anthropometrics). This information is essential for informing the design of vehicles. The information includes:

  • wheeled mobility percentiles
  • clear floor space requirements
  • recommended ramp angles
  • interior layout configurations
  • door dimensions and placement
  • ceiling heights
Image of a blue autonomous vehicle on a roadway. The passenger seats are empty.

The authors note that this particular study focused on mobility users and explored user preferences for interior layout and configurations. Updating Australian standards and design guidelines is another task to undertake.

The blind and low vision community, people with intellectual disability and older people are yet to be considered. These groups are at risk of being excluded from AV technologies. The interaction between vehicles and infrastructure is another area of research that’s needed.

A conference paper reports on the first stages of the research project. It’s titled, On the Road to Enhancing Transportation Access for People with Disabilities: A Data Review of Accessible Autonomous Vehicles Research.

From the abstract

The overall study focuses on improving transportation and mobility access for people with disabilities (PwDs) by developing design principles for accessible autonomous vehicles (AAVs).

PwDs experience cumulative disadvantage including lack of mobility, social inclusion, and violation of human rights due to barriers in transportation. AAVs can potentially provide accessible transport options, leading to improved access to medical care, employment, social inclusion, and safety.

The data review identifies key information for accessible AVs. These include wheeled mobility user anthropometric percentiles, clear floor space requirements, recommended ramp angles, interior layout configurations, and door dimensions. However, there is a need for more co-design prototyping, analysis of standards, and current design best practices.

This review provides a comprehensive set of design principles for a AVs that caters to the diverse needs of PwDs. The review concludes by discussing clusters of information identified, gaps in data and opportunities for further research.

Technology, transportation and inclusion

One fifth of all car journeys in the UK are taken by people with disability, and one third of those are taken as a passenger. So, connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) provide a great opportunity to create independent travel.

While CAVs are good in theory, there are many pitfalls in making them fully accessible. This is where policy and regulations have a strong role to play.

View through a car windscreen to a country road with one car in front.

A 2020 article on the Open Inclusion website has a podcast and a video of two transportation specialists. One works for KPMG and the other for a digital design agency. They discuss the amount of change going on in the transportation industry. This is good in terms of being able to provide real time data on services, and other information such as station platform lifts being out of order. Electrification and automation are the other major changes, and opportunities for the private sector to provide services.

There is more useful information on this website on practical aspects of inclusion for people with disability: smart cities, inclusive travel, and universal design. It includes a link to the autonomous shuttle bus in an aged care village in Canberra. 

Accessible vehicles for all

A paper from the 11th International Congress on Transportation Research addresses the research gaps for accessible autonomous vehicles. The conclusions list the gaps, but in the end a universal design approach (co-design) will solve them all. Indeed, the researchers recommend including people with disability and older people in design processes.

The title of the paper is Accessibility of Persons with Reduced Mobility: the Age of Autonomous Vehicles and Accessible EU.

Cost of universal design in buildings

The cost of implementing universal design in buildings is little, if any, in new buildings. This is not new information for followers of universal design. However, many developers and designers find this difficult to believe. Consequently, this perceived cost becomes a barrier to implementation. New research by Elke Ielegems and Jan Vanrie shines a light on the real costs.

Yes, universal design costs more in building renovations, but a lot less in new builds. That’s why it’s important to think universal design from the outset. It’s not an added extra.

Three shiny blue apartment towers rise into the sky.

The researchers looked at other studies on cost and found they used different ways of measuring it. One used fixed prices to determine cost but without contextual factors. Another combined practitioners’ experience to find optimal solutions to provide a more realistic estimation. However, they both rely on hypothetical cases.

Ielegems and Vanrie’s work combined these methods and used real buildings. In their study they focused on accessibility but claim a similar approach could be applied from a universal design perspective.

Comparing renovations with new build costs

The paper takes readers through the methods and the development of universal design evaluation criteria. This is followed by the selection of building projects. The calculations are detailed in terms of where costs were reduced or increased. Comparisons are made by building type and by building elements.

The study focused on direct costs of construction and used a baseline of “as-is situation” for comparison of renovation and new build scenarios. That is, how much more, or less, did each of the proposed changes cost compared to the current as-is situation.

Costs are lower for new build

The building type and size has an influence on costs. In line with previous studies the results showed the costs for new builds varied between 0.94% of total cost and 3.92% of total cost. Renovations were between 2.24% of total cost and 14.9% of total cost. Circulation space and exterior ramps and stairs were the most expensive for the renovation scenario.

The title of the paper is, The cost of universal design for public buildings: exploring a realistic, context-dependent research approach, published by Emerald Insight.

The other question is whether cost should be the deciding factor, or whether equity and inclusion should be the foremost consideration. This would negate the need for carrying out a comparative evaluation.

From the abstract

Implementing universal design faces the challenge of perceived additional cost, which acts as a barrier to its widespread adoption. Other studies that have examined the cost fail to account for the design context that influences construction costs. This article presents a research methodology to calculate the cost in a realistic, context-dependent manner.

A “Research-by-Design” was applied to twelve cases: secondary schools, town halls and small retail shops. Two scenarios are compared: renovating a building to be 100% inclusive, and building fully inclusive from the outset.

Although the methodology is time-consuming, it allows for a fair, realistic and detailed comparison between costs in different cases. Findings show how financial implications are strongly related to its scale.

Both “renovation” and “new build” scenarios involve costs, but these are considerably lower for the latter. “Circulation” and “Exterior stairs and ramps” are among the most expensive to renovate. However, they have almost no additional cost for the “new build scenario”.

This study provides valuable insights for architects, designers and stakeholders involved in the implementation of universal design. It offers a realistic and context-dependent approach to assess the cost implications. This enables informed decision-making during the design and construction phases.

Using real cases and their unique design contexts, the true costs of implementing universal design in the built environment are revealed.

Barriers and drivers for architects

In a 2019 paper, Ielegems reports on the barriers and drivers for universal design within the architectural community. She found that barriers and drivers were attitudinal, practical and knowledge-based.

Attitudinal aspects related to a mindset about the values of dignity and equality and a genuine lack of understanding about universal design. There is also a misconception that this is about a special group and that aesthetics are compromised.

A floor plan drawing with a black pen

Practical aspects are based on time and budget limitations and perceptions of extra cost. Time restrictions are related to client demands and commercial interests trump social advantages.

Lack of knowledge about universal design is a perceived barrier for practitioners. Available user information is disregarded in favour of designer needs and preferences. Designers are not willing to to adapt their ways of thinking and working. This is largely due to information not being presented in a design-relevant format.

Information about universal design

Ielegems also found that respondents didn’t need more information, but they needed more centralised information in a design-relevant format. More awareness among key stakeholders and clients is crucial to changing perceptions of universal design. In addition, the current accessibility regulations influence the creation of “tunnel vision” regarding universal design. This leads to an accessibility perspective instead of a perspective of inclusion.

The title of the paper is, Drivers and Barriers for Universal Designing: A survey on architects’ perceptions.

In contrast to other studies, this one specifically focuses on factors that affect the decision to implement universal design at the beginning of the design process. Adopting a universal design strategy at the very start of the process is important for accomplishing the goal of inclusion.

Performance codes and universal design

architectural plans on a desk. Universal design needs performance codes.
Performance codes could help

In another study, 700 Danish architectural firms shared their experience of the accessibility requirements in the Danish Building Regulations. Participants thought a performance-based model would be better suited to support accessibility criteria. However, performance codes would be insufficient to promote universal design in architecture. 

The authors of Do Performance-Based Codes Support Universal Design in Architecture, claim professionals’ understanding is client orientated rather than citizen orientated. In addition, architects’ understanding of inclusiveness was relatively limited. Consequently, a performance-based model would not in itself promote inclusive architecture.

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