Resource for architecture students

A long flight of stairs with a handrail leading to a large concrete column. A resource for architecture students.
Note the left hand rail leads into the column

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance created a video of all the access problems at a new student learning centre. The Alliance chair, David Lepofsky narrates the video which has captions. If you are looking for design examples, this is an excellent resource for architecture students and upcoming access consultants. The obstacles that sloping columns create are clearly shown in the video along with other issues.

Some aspects of the video could make a comedy sketch if they weren’t so critical to getting around the building. Elevator controls with three different messages are a case in point. The video shows everything from large scale design issues, such as the sloping columns, to the fine detail – where is the sign? Amazingly, the building won a design award.

Full version of 30 minutes is worth the watch especially if using as a teaching resource. With captions on you can watch at a faster speed. However, there is a shorter version of 12 minutes.

Shorter version of the video at 12 minutes below.


What does Co-design mean? How does it work?

Two men look at a document. One is a doctor the other is a patient. The term co-design is being used more frequently, but what does co-design mean and how does it work? Well, that depends on the context. It could mean a design group working together. Nothing difficult about that concept. Or it could mean involving end users in the design process. This is where it gets more tricky and more questions arise.

At what point do you involve users? Which users do you involve? Will the users have the required knowledge and experience to contribute constructively? Will designers have the skills to be inclusive and listen to users? Participatory action research incorporates both designer and user learning. But these projects are necessarily long and usually have research funding attached. However, they usually produce knowledge and results useful in other settings. 

A related concept is co-design in quality improvement, for example, in a hospital setting. Both staff and patients have a role to play in advancing quality improvement. Differing levels of understanding between staff and patients can lead to tokenism. So how can we equalise knowledge so that everyone’s contribution is constructive? 

A research team in a Brisbane hospital grappled with this issue. Their research report is written in academic language and not easy to read. Nevertheless, they conclude that effective patient-staff partnerships require specific skills. Briefly, it means adapting to change, and generating new knowledge for continuous improvement.

A framework

The researches developed a framework that includes ten capabilities under three key headings. 

Diagram of the Co-design Framework.


    1. Personal attributes:
      • Dedicated to improving healthcare
      • Self-aware and reflective
      • Confident and flexible

2. Relationships and communication attributes:

      • Working and learning as a team
      • Collaborating and communicating
      • Advocating for everyone

3. Philosophies/Models:

      • Organisational systems & policy
      • Patient and public involvement best practice
      • Quality improvement principles.

These nine points are connected with the overarching theme of sharing power and leadership.

Title of the article is, “Co-produced capability framework for successful patient and staff partnerships in healthcare quality improvement: results of a scoping review”.

Other posts on co-design include The right to participate and co-design, and Co-design is another skill set

Example of a plain language summary

What’s the point of academic research if only other academics can understand it? Governments often fund research, so we should all have access to this new knowledge. But if you want to rise in the ranks of academia you need to follow the “rules” for publishing. You also need to show that you know the language and jargon. There is no need to change this. What we need are additional plain language summaries. The picture below shows an example. 

The front page of the academic article showing how the Accessible Summary is presented.

Academic papers begin with an abstract – an outline of what the paper or article is about. It usually says what the problem is, what they researched and what they found. A plain language summary of the abstract gives the same information but in less words. So what does a plain language summary look like? 

A good example is the article, Co-designing the Cabriotraining: A training for transdisciplinary teams. It begins with an “Accessible Summary” followed by the regular abstract.  This is how it reads:

Accessible summary

    • The research was conducted by a team of researchers. Some of the researchers have experience of living with a disability.
    • The researchers created training for other research teams that include experts by experience.
    • The training has six parts. To decide what happened in the training, the researchers read articles and asked the research teams they trained about what problems they had and what they wanted to know about.
    • The article tells why and how the training was made. It also says what training is needed for researchers with and without disabilities to learn and work together in a way that feels safe and useful.
    • In developing and providing the training, it was very crucial to search for a safe and welcome space for all people involved (Figure 8). As we don’t know what is “safe” for the other, this means we have to search together, in respect and with enough time to get to know each other.

Editor’s note: Great to see an academic paper translated into key points that many more people can understand. From my experience, writing succinctly and plainly is a rare skill in academia. I was delighted to see this example. It’s universal design!

See previous post on Plain Language Communication.

Are architecture educators teaching universal design?

Architecture blueprint with rule and pencil. Are architecture educators teaching universal design.Some government funded projects require designers to show how the project will embody the principles of universal design. But what do architects think about universal design? How are they dealing with the implementation? And are architecture educators teaching universal design? 

A survey of architects, educators and technologists were asked those questions. The aim of the survey was to find out:

1. How inherent is Universal Design knowledge to current building design practice?

2. What are the current Universal Design education and training needs of Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland?

3. Which Universal Design themes and topics are of most interest to Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland?

4. To what extent does existing CPD for Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland address Universal Design topics?

5. What can motivate Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland to access Universal Design CPD?

6. What are the most effective means by which to deliver Universal Design CPD to Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland?

There is still work to do with the data, but the initial findings are that face to face works best rather than online sessions for CPD. Respondents wanted to know more about people with mental health conditions and people with hearing impairments. They also wanted to know more about applying universal design to specific building types. 

The title of the article is Universal Design and Continuing Professional Development for Architects: An Irish Case Study. It is an open access article.

Promoting universal design in education

Some design tutors perpetuate negative attitudes towards changes to design thinking or processes. This was one finding in Promoting Universal Design in Architectural Education. Consequently, practices don’t change. The article discusses ways that design schools can include universal design into their courses. For example, working with other disciplines such as occupational therapists who can explain the functionality of designs. The article also discusses the ‘critical eye’ and the ‘appreciative eye’.

Critical Eye and Appreciative Eye

It’s easy to see the barriers and missing design features. These stand out. The ‘critical eye’ tells us what not to do, but doesn’t tell us the remedy. The ‘appreciative eye identifies the positive aspects which provide good examples. 

Good inclusive design, done well, is inconspicuous and needs a trained eye to notice it. A walkway that is flat and barrier free can be taken for granted. But we do not know how much design effort it took to make it so. The trained eye also needs to see what is not there – what is missing. A handrail or contrast stair nosings, for example.

Unfortunately this paper is published in a small Italic font and is difficult to read. 

Also see Students’ Attitudes to Universal Design in Architecture Education, by Helen Larkin, Kelsey Dell, and Danielle Hitch. It was published in the Journal of Social Inclusion, 2016.

See also Hitch, Dell and Larkin from Deakin University, who also review some of the related literature. The title of the article is, Does Universal Design Education Impact on the Attitudes of Architecture Students Towards People with Disability? Published in the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All.

Plain Language Communication

A young woman with long curly hair has her hands to her face and looks stressed. It’s assumed that by the time students leave school they can read and write. However, even with remedial work, some students will leave school without a working level of these skills. More than 40% of Australians do not have the literacy skills for everyday living. Included in this group are people with English as a second language. This is why plain language communication is important – and good for everyone. It is a universal design approach to communication.

Governments now are producing Easy Read documents as adjuncts to their main documents. But other fields of endeavour are not catching up. In particular, academic writing has always been exclusive to those who can read at this level. The bottom line is, if you want your document and information read by as many people as possible, write in plain language. Alternatively, provide a plain language summary. But this is another skillset.

A short study on teaching plain language gives an example of how to go about the task. It is based on health and exercise information. Presented in a poster format, the paper explains how the study was done. The example of writing a participant consent form illustrates the task. After several iterations they reached 8th grade (US grading) reading level. The example is shown in the poster presentation. There is also a link to an explanatory video.

The title of the poster is, “Are Kinesiologists Ready to Communicate? Merits of a Practicum Course on Plain Language Communication”. There are links to the authors other work on the topic.  

Black and white logo for easy read, has a tick and a open bookWe are seeing more accessible formats for people who are blind/low vision and Deaf/hard of hearing. So, we need plain language and Easy Read too. 

Cathy Basterfield presented a paper on this topic at UD2021, and also see a previous post on plain language. 

Libraries need accessibility and universal design

A silhouette of a person between two rows of books on library shelves.While non-disabled designers and librarians do their best to make library experiences accessible, students with disability hold the key to success. The idea of co-design is not new in building design. However, libraries are both a building and a service. This is the issue tackled in a research study where students showed how to implement accessibility and universal design.

The level of accessibility for students with disability has improved, but it is still not enough. Restrictive rules, lack of adapted communications systems and unsuitable signage are part of the problem. Students with disability should be involved from the outset when a new product or system is introduced – it’s a universal design approach.

The article on the research study found three main ideas: communication, service and usage. The researchers said that if they learned one thing, it was the importance of giving a voice to students with disability. Also, mutual learning and knowledge sharing was found to build good relationships between staff and students.

The title of the article is, “Giving a Voice to Students with Disabilities to Design Library Experiences: An Ethnographic Study”, and is available in PDF or in text/html format


Although librarians generally display an inclusive management style, barriers to students with disabilities remain widespread. Against this backdrop, a collaborative research project called Inclusive Library was launched in 2019 in Catalonia, Spain. This study empirically tests how involving students with disabilities in the experience design process can lead to new improvements in users’ library experience. A mix of qualitative techniques, namely focus groups, ethnographic techniques and post-experience surveys, were used to gain insights from the 20 libraries and 20 students with disabilities collaborating in the project. Based on the participants’ voices and follow-up experiences, the study makes several suggestions on how libraries can improve their accessibility. Results indicate that ensuring proper resource allocation for accessibility improves students with disabilities’ library experience. Recommendations for library managers are also provided.


How to make a Universal Design Toolkit

How do you universally design a universal design guide or toolkit? Living the message is a key factor – if designing something to be inclusive, the process and outputs must be inclusive too. If not, key sections of your intended audience could be missing out on your information. After all, learners come in all shapes and sizes and different frames of reference. 

When devising a customer engagement toolkit, the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland also documented their process and lessons learned. The document is focused on tourism, but the method and principles are relevant to any field of practice.

At 100 pages this is a lengthy document. You might want to skip the first part and go directly to the section on Guidelines to Toolkit Authors, which is at the end. Each of the headings and subheadings form a guide to developing and designing instructional toolkits and guidelines for practice.  Here are some of the key points from this section about the structure of the toolkit:

Step 1: ‘Perception’, the ability to understand information regardless of the user’s ability to see, hear or touch
Step 2: ‘Discoverability’, providing flexibility in use so that the user can find the information they want
Step 3: ‘Understanding’, how easy it is for the customer to interpret and understands how to use the content; regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level
Step 4: ‘Use’, the design prevents from accidental or inadvertent actions, forms, controls and navigation are usable and the customer decides on how to use and act on the content presented

The title of the report is Lessons from Good Practices to Guide Universal Design Toolkits

Living the message is an important point in the universal design world. Anyone who writes, educates or speaks about universal design and inclusive practice should live the message. For example, a slideshow presentation about universal design with tiny font is contrary to the message. 

Editor’s note: This document looks to be for an academic or professional audience and perhaps not following their own guidelines. Regardless of the intended audience, applying UD principles helps understanding and retention of information.

An occupational therapist’s view of UDL

A young woman is sitting with piles of books and is frowning. Special arrangements for university students who identify as having a disability is not an inclusive response. Hence many will try to manage without the assistance available to them. But taking a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach can provide both assistance and inclusion. A thoughtful article by Bethan Collins provides an occupational therapist’s view of UDL and the benefits for all. 

Collins writes from her experience as a disability officer with a university.  Students struggle for a variety of reasons such an inaccessibility of classrooms and reading material. The social aspects are essential for group work and discussion sessions but often disregarded. And of course, if one aspect of learning is a struggle it reflects on other aspects. 

Occupational therapists understand the importance of meaningful activity, not just doing the task. Collins makes the point that the three tenets of UDL are a good start, but the importance of the activities around learning are not discussed. 

UDL fits well with occupational therapy philosophy. Each client is treated as an individual with personal goals. Choice in how to do something is key. 

As a disabled student, occupational therapist and lecturer, Collins concludes with,

“… that there is a very important place for an inclusive curriculum (based on UDL) and also that we, occupational therapists, are in an excellent position to promote this approach.

The title of the short article is, Universal design for learning: What occupational therapy can contribute. The article shows how UDL and occupational therapy work hand in hand. The Universal Design for Learning section of this website has more on the topic. 

Plain Language Summaries: Good for everyone

A blank page of a spiral notebook and and fountain pen.What are Plain Language Summaries? These are an invaluable adjunct to abstracts in academic papers. They help more readers understand the content of the article, especially if the topic is unfamiliar. Beth Myers and Teukie Martin provide a good example when explaining why they use these summaries:

What are Plain Language Summaries (PLS)?
• Plain language summaries are short summaries of research articles.
• They communicate the main ideas of the article and are easy to understand.
• PLS are also used by the government, doctors, and places like banks and utility companies. Some research journals use PLS, too.

Why are PLS important?
• Research articles can be hard to read and understand.
• PLS make research accessible to many kinds of people.
• Everyone should have access to information that impacts their lives. PLS help make that possible.

Why are PLS important for the Journal of Inclusive Postsecondary Education?
• We want our work to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible, including students with intellectual disability and all people who care about inclusive education.
• We want to show other journals how to be more accessible.
• We want to make the world a better and more accessible place. 

Plain language writing is clear, succinct, and jargon-free, and is organized in a way that helps understanding. It is a reader-centered way of writing so that readers can access, comprehend, and utilise information. Plain language writing benefits all readers while ensuring crucial access for some. It’s universal design.

The title of the article is, Why Plain Language? Linguistic Accessibility in Inclusive Higher Education. The journal is clearly living the message of inclusion in writing up research. As such, this is a short document with all the key information without jargon. 

Plain Language Summaries are not quite the same as Easy Read or Easy English documents which use simplified language. The wording and pictures in these documents are carefully placed on the page as well. 

Inclusive online meetings: Preparation is key

two laptops are open on a desk and one has several faces of people who are online.There’s been a few articles about working remotely and participating in online meetings. But there are a few nuances, little things, that need attention so that meetings are inclusive. An article from the Commons Library says it is not about the technical details. Rather, it’s about the culture and processes particularly for mixed face to face and online participation.

The article covers:
– Meeting preparation
– Collaboration tools
– Meeting process
– After the meeting

Some of this is basic, but the transitions in and out of lockdowns means more hybrid meetings – some face to face and some online participants. This is not easy for participants. Internet dropouts and other tech problems such as poor sound add to the mix of issues. This is where the chair’s role is very important because body language and facial expression are all helpful in making sure everyone gets to contribute.

Hosting hybrid online meetings is also covered by Blueprints for Change.  It has some Tips and Tricks.

For hybrid meetings, everyone in the room should be on camera. This can mean a rearrangement of the room and careful placement of the camera. 

“In a hybrid meeting environment people who are on screen should be assigned a buddy who is in the physical room. Their buddy regularly checks in with them, talks to them on breaks, makes sure they can see and hear at all times. Buddies might even bring them to break/snack conversations so they don’t miss the in-room side conversations.”