Universal Design and Local Government

Three children, each a wheelchair user, are enjoying the spinner in the playground: a universal design.
Children enjoying the spinner in the playground

Adam Johnson used Bunbury in Western Australia as a case study for his presentation at the UD2021 Australian Universal Design Conference. Bunbury set itself an aim, and a challenge, to be the “Most Accessible Regional City in Australia”. Adam explained how he used participatory action research (PAR) methods to meet Bunbury’s challenge. Universal design in local government means involving the people who are the subject of the research. In this case, people with disability and older people. 

PAR has three principles: 

    • The people most affected by the research problem should participate in ways that allow them to share control over the research process
    • The research should lead to some tangible action within the immediate context
    • The process should demonstrate rigour and integrity. 

Adam recruited 11 co-researchers to work with him: 6 people with disability, 3 family carers, and 2 support workers.

The research team with the Mayor (standing).
The research team with the Mayor (standing)

Local government is where the ‘rubber hits the road’. Local government is best placed to work with residents and understand the context of where they live, and it means they can be innovative with solutions tailored to local needs. 

The research project had a positive impact:

– Greater alignment between policies and practices at the City of Bunbury with universal design.
– Co design panel created informing many current infrastructure projects.
– Universal design standards adopted.
– Staff and contractors trained in Universal Design.
– $100,000 per annum allocated for auditing and retrofitting

The project was undertaken with a three year industry engagement scholarship with Edith Cowan University. The title of Adam’s presentation is, Universal design in local government: Participatory action research findings. 


What is Easy English and who needs it?

An example of Easy English explanation of COVID-19.
Example of Easy English

Easy English is a good example of how less is more. But conveying messages in fewer words is more difficult than writing more words. Cathy Basterfield’s presentation at the UD2021 Conference gave an overview of Easy English, who needs it and why. 

If I were to write this post in Easy English, I would be using short sentences and everyday words. I’d also be leaving lots of white space on the page. I’d probably be using related images and graphics. I do try to keep the language simple and to the point, but it is not the same as writing Easy English.

Presentation slide explaining that access to information is part of universal design.
One of Cathy Basterfield’s presentation slides.

More than 40% of the population has low literacy skills. In some remote parts of Australia and in institutions it is higher than this. There are several reasons why so many Australians need information in easy to understand formats:

– acquired disabilities
– lifelong disabilities
– poor educational outcomes
– psychiatric or mental illness
– dyslexia
– early school leavers
– older people
– different cultural backgrounds
– hearing impaired and/or people from the Deaf community

Accessibility and universal design needs to be considered at the outset of any project, not as an afterthought. Information formats such as brochures and websites are no exception. Some important government documents include an Easy English or Easy Read version, but this is still rare. This is also a forgotten element of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Proficient readers can use Easy English versions to get the take-home message quickly and easily. That’s also why it’s universal design – it’s for everyone. 

Cathy’s presentation slides are helpful in understanding Easy English and why there should be more of it. The Bumpy Road website is a good example of Cathy’s work for interacting with the justice system. 

Cathy has a blogsite that explains more. She did a lot of work for COVID-19 too. 


Interoception: A universal design approach

Interoception is an internal sensory system where you notice physical and emotional cues. Most people develop this system and gain awareness of their internal cues as they grow up. But not everyone does. Dr Emma Goodall’s workshop, Interoception: A universal design approach, enlightened us and linked it to universal design in learning (UDL).

Emma explained how poor awareness or misinterpretation of our internal body state, like feeling thirsty or hot, makes it difficult to regulate our emotions and behaviour. Then she took us through some interoception activities so that we were all able to notice our own bodies.

One of the slides showing atypical interoception and difficulty noticing body signals, and difficulty interpreting them.
One of Emma Goodall’s slides showing atypical interoception.

After understanding the theory and having a practice, we were able to consider interoception in our own lives and apply it in other settings. It is particularly useful for teachers of school children who have difficulty learning. Emma explained how students and teachers are more engaged at school and there are fewer suspensions and exclusions. 

Emma made the point that when children and young people have not yet developed interoception skills they will struggle with their emotions and with social interactions. Even just being around others may be difficult for them to manage. This will, of course, affect their ability to learn in and out of school.

Presentation slides and paper

The slides from Emma’s presentation give an overview of interoception and how it applies to children and young people. The title of her presentation is, Interoception as a universal design for learning strategy to support well-being and engagement in learning in education for all children and young people.

There is more in Emma’s published paper where she explains how educators, families and other professionals can implement interoception activities. Other contexts where it is useful is the justice system, mental health and aged care. 

Emma has more resources and information on the Positive Partnerships website

Post by Dr Emily Steel

Public Toilets and social and economic participation

Outback dunny in a field of orange grass against a deep blue sky.Public toilets are not dinner party conversation, but they are essential to our wellbeing. They are costly to build and maintain yet we need more of them. They also need to be fit for purpose because they are about social and economic participation. The Changing Places toilet campaign is a case in point. There wouldn’t be many people passionate about public toilets, but Katherine Webber had plenty to say at the UD2021 Conference. 

Katherine’s presentation was titled, Access and Inclusion in Public Toilets: Impacts on social and economic participation. The presentation slides show lots of different examples. Toilet design is often dismissed as just needing to be functional and designs vary little. But public toilets are “difficult to get right. And no wonder. They are mired in cultural baggage, struck in the fixedness of fixtures and bound by massive, often ancient infrastructure (Lowe 2018:49). 

Public toilets also support tourism and economic development, night-time economy, and access to public spaces and public art. 

Katherine describes more in her written paper on this topic. She was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study toilets in other countries. 

Accessibility with help from Standards

The ISO Guide 71 eleven goals of accessibility.
Slide showing the 11 accessibility goals.

Who wants to refer to the instruction manual if they can avoid it?  In the same way, standards documents get overlooked unless it’s mandatory to comply. But there is one standards document that is worth looking at. It can help us progress accessibility and universal design. On day two of UD2021 Conference, Emily Steel explained how the international accessibility standard works. 

Emily Steel pointing to the 11 Goals of the Guide on the presentation slide.
Emily Steel with the 11 Goals of the Guide.

The international standard has done all the thinking for us. The document guides standards committees as they write and update standards for their specific industry or profession. It is also useful for any committee developing guides or standards for accessibility and universal design. So, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel. 

The Guide’s use of the the term “accessibility” relates closely to universal design. “The extent to which products, systems, services, environments and facilities can be used by people from a population with the widest range of characteristics and capabilities to achieve a specified goal in a specified context of use”. 

The Guide has two main parts. The first describes user needs and 11 accessibility goals. These are similar to the 8 Goals of Universal Design. The second describes human characteristics and abilities, and design considerations. 

Guide 71 was adapted by the European standards authority and is titled, CEN-CENLEC Guide 6. It is basically the same information. You can see a previous post about this document. 

There is also an Accessibility Masterlist by Gregg Vanderheiden. It’s a collaborative resource for understanding access features in digital applications. Also worth a look.

All standards should ensure they meet the goals of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Guide 71 shows how to do this.


Ageism, Attitudes and Stereotypes

Two men are working on a construction site. One is holding a circular saw which has just cut through a large timber board. Are they a stereotype? Probably not.
Working at any age – no need for stereotypes

Do we deploy so-called positive stereotypes of older people as a means to combat ageism and ageist attitudes? If we say older people make more loyal and reliable employees, what does that say about younger people? But are these stereotypes valid? Philip Taylor discussed these important issues about ageism, attitudes, stereotypes and work.

Professor Taylor’s keynote presentation at UD2021 was thought provoking. It challenged almost everyone in the room to re-think their concepts about ageism and work. It seems there are more complaints related to age by younger people. He asked, is there such a thing as ageism or are there other factors that discriminate?  And how does this work with concepts of equity and diversity?

Then there are the contradictions related to age: The Federal Government wanting everyone to work until age 70, yet National Seniors are proposing older people should make way for younger people and retire early. 

Blue background with white text. Title slide from Taylor's presentation about ageing, attitudes and stereotypes.Here’s a quote from one of the slides, “The very arguments for employing older workers put forward in business cases concerning commitment, loyalty and experience risk confirming broader societal perceptions that they are of the past and thus, less able to meet the demands of modern workplaces (Roberts, 2006).

There is a greater variation in job performance between people of the same age than between people of different ages. 

Professor Taylor’s presentation slides have a good amount of text to get the key points of his presentation. Maybe it is time for a product recall on advocacy for older people. 

Philip Taylor is based at Federation University and is a CUDA board member.

UD2021: Published papers for the conference

Header image for the conference.Griffith University supported the 4th Australian Universal Design Conference held in Melbourne by publishing full papers and extended abstracts. See the links below for access.

Community-based studios for enhancing students’ awareness of universal design principles. Hing-Wah Chau.

Universal design in housing: Reporting on Australia’s obligations to the UNCRPD. Note: The presentation updated delegates on the latest information about the recent change to the National Construction Code. Margaret Ward (ANUHD) and Hugh Bartram (Victorian Government).

From niche to mainstream: local government and the specialist disability housing sector. Linda Martin-Chew and Rosie Beaumont. 

Thriving at School: How interoception is helping children and young people in learning everyday. Emma Goodall (workshop).

Universal Design and Communication Access. Georgia Burn.

Achieving visual contrast in built, transport and information environments for everyone, everywhere, everyday. Penny Galbraith. 

Mobility Scooters in the Wild: Users’ Resilience and Innovation. Theresa Harada.

Understanding the Differences between Universal Design and Inclusive Design implementation: The Case of an Indonesian Public Library. Gunawan Tanuwidjaja (Poster).

Accessible Events: A multi-dimensional Approach to Temporary Universal Design. Tina Merk.

Everyone, everywhere, everyday: A case for expanding universal design to public toilets. Katherine Webber. 

Reframing Universal Design: Creating Short Videos for Inclusion. Janice Rieger (workshop). 

*Designing with the Digital Divide to Design Technology for All. Jenna Mikus. 

Faith is wearing a white shirt. She has a mix of grey and dark hair and is smiling at the camera.

The papers were launched at the CUDA Transportation webinar in October 2020 by Dr Faith Valencia-Forrester, Griffith University. 

*Published May 2021.