Speaking about Singapore’s experience at the 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference, Ms GOH Siam Imm said,“Barrier-free accessibility encourages a mindset that you design a building first and then you start removing barriers to comply. That’s no good. We needed people to think accessibility first, not last.” That is when in 2013 they incorporated universal design concepts to think beyond wheelchair users to all users.
Ms Goh explained how their journey began in the 1980s with basic access provisions, but the onset of an ageing population meant a re-think for this Garden City. Twelve storey residential buildings now have lifts to all floors. But the private sector is another matter and their innovative incentive scheme has gained traction. Siam Imm ended question time by saying that in her view Australia needed a central body to help disseminate the concepts of universal design and to form alliances with other countries to share knowledge and best practice. The edited transcript of her presentation (courtesy of live captioning of the event) explains the history and the incentive schemes for the private sector. The full transcript is also available.
Abigail Elliott: STEP Up – Shape your space.The Victorian Government has been proactive in implementing universal design in sport and recreation. This presentation has good information and explanatory graphics that can be applied in other situations.
Cobie Moore: Aesthetics, Design and Disability. Cobie wants to see more thought going into the designs of some basic assistive technologies, such as pen grippers and walking frames. Designers fail to consider the notion that people with disability also appreciate attractive designs. Their designs might be functional, but ugly designs are stigmatising and therefore do not meet with the concept of inclusion. She takes us through the steps of “designing with aesthetic appreciation” and collaborative design. Cobie is a design student and says her study is informed by her disability.
Lee Wilson: Universal Design meets the Exit Sign. Emergency egress is an important factor in building design. No-one wants to get left behind. Lee presented the process of advocating for and designing exit signs that could be understood by the majority of people. Exiting a building during an emergency can be a fraught and frightening process for wheelchair users and people with mobility difficulties particularly when the only way out seems to be a stairway. People who are deaf or hard of hearing, and people who are blind or have low vision were also included in his presentation.
Nicholas Loder and Lisa Stafford: Moving from the margins in design education. Nick and Lisa focused on “spatial justice” in their presentation. They also gave an overview of some research on design students and their approach to universal design. They conclude that most design degrees do not embed universal design in full degree courses, that is, if they introduce the concept of inclusion at all. Usually it is taught as a disability compliance factor.
Simon Darcy: Beyond the Front Gate: Universal mobilities and the travel chain. Simon presented a keynote address focused on tourism and transportation and how the travel chain needs to be seamless. People with disability travel as much as the rest of the population and for the same reasons. The only area where people with disability travel less is to employment. Simon presented some interesting graphs comparing the rates of travel by people with disability and those without, as well as some of his own travel experiences as a wheelchair user. But just being able to go from home to the local tavern is also just as important as global travel.
Di Winkler & Justin Nix: An innovative housing and support project. The Summer Foundation is progressing the concept of inclusion with specialised accommodation and support for people with significant disabilities. While this project is not an example of universal design per se as the dwelling design is a specialised design, it does meet the concept of inclusion in terms of placing this accommodation type throughout a particular neighbourhood or multi-unit development. The presentation provides many photographs of two major projects. The Summer Foundation was set up in response to young people being inappropriately accommodated in aged care facilities.
Evan Wilkinson: Design for Everyone Guide. The Guide is practical, free to use and caters for a range of design skills and backgrounds. The Victorian Government makes universal design principles a key part of their funding requirements. Evan gives several examples with lots of photos of sporting infrastructure. The presentation included a video which is very useful as it shows an architect, Peter Maddison, explaining the reasons for designing universally. It also includes other senior people, including the Government Architect, Jill Garner commenting on the benefits of UD. The six minutevideo, Design For Everyone: A Guide To Sport And Recreation Settings is captioned.
The conference concluded with a panel session discussing the economics of inclusion.
Ro Coroneos from Lendlease explained the process they used for Barangaroo South, a major development on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour. Working with Australian Network on Disability they consulted community representatives to create comfortable, convenient and attractive spaces and places in the development.
Ms Coroneos said that making the place fully accessible was often in the details, such as seats with armrests and lighting in strategic places to read signs. Lendlease has produced a handbook which is being used to help other sections of Lendlease improve their design processes. Ms Coroneos said it makes good business sense to attract and keep as many people as possible in the precinct – it’s not just about people with disability themselves, it is also about the friends and family who accompany them on outings.
Sally Coddington advises businesses on ways to attract and retain customers by being disability friendly. She regularly counters the argument that the number of people with disability is small, “People say that 20% of Australians identifying as having a disability is a small market. I don’t call that small”, she said. By the time you add in the rest of the family, or friends in a group, you are looking at more like 50% to 60% of the population. Strategies based on universal design stimulate business growth, enhance customer loyalty, generate goodwill and improve profit.
The Hon Kelly Vincent expressed her frustration about how others keep saying that inclusion and universal design costs too much. No-one talks about the costs of NOT designing for inclusion. There are knock-on effects to health and well-being, let alone the convenience for everyone of getting out and about. And it is not just about the built environment, inclusive customer service still has a long way to go. Kelly’s aim is to do herself out of a job – she looks forward to the day when having a disability “is not a full time job”.
Paul Nunnari began his presentation with the great UK advertisement promoting the Paralympic Games in Rio; Yes I Can: We are the Superhumans. The full length video clip shows people playing musical instruments, participating in track and field events, swimming, dancing, singing, and generally doing many things most people would be unable to think about, let alone attempt. As the inclusive events manager for the NSW Dept of Premier and Cabinet, Mr Nunnari explained how NSW has improved access and inclusion for everyone in major events such as New Year’s Eve and Vivid Sydney. These events bring money to NSW, and it is essential to capture as many customers, visitors, and revellers as possible. If a wheelchair user or blind person cannot get around easily, the rest of the family will stay home too and watch it on TV.
In summary, panelistsprovided good arguments and evidence that ignoring 20% of the population is poor business practice and poor policy development. However, the biggest drawback is that no-one seems to be listening.
Transcripts of panel discussion
The transcript, with some minor edits, presents four different perspectives: property development, marketing, politics, and event management. There were many questions from delegates and these are also included. The panellists gave great examples and statistics to promote the economic argument and some take-home messages. The session was chaired by Nick Rushworth, and Mandy was the captioner (pictured).
Download the complete transcript in Wordor in PDF.