Online events and Easy English

Ticking the accessibility boxes for conferences and events, online, hybrid and in person, is a good start. But there is another world of accessibility to consider beyond wheelchair access and captioning. And the move to hybrid conferencing has added another layer of complexity to consider. However, online attendance has advantages for people who are unable or unwilling to attend a live event. 

A previous post covers the many parts of planning and inclusive online conferences, but there was one more thing to think about.  First, this only works if the attendee has at least some basic digital literacy. The way that event programs are displayed on conference websites is the first step. Can everyone understand the format and how to follow it? Can they understand the topic titles and what the presentations will be about. Plain language is good, but for some people with low literacy levels, Easy English is a great help. 

2021 Online Program – ASID
A screen shot of an Easy English explanation of the program.

For an example of Easy English, have a look a the Australian Society for Intellectual Disability conference website from 2021. At the top of the page there are six “buttons” for the Easy English versions of information about the conference. 

  1. What time do you start
  2. Steps to join the conference.
  3. How to use the conference website.
  4. Day 1. What is on?
  5. Day 2. What is on?
  6. You can listen to the talks at any time. 


Managing more than one browser or screen is tricky for many people. Concurrent sessions complicate matters further. Then there are plenary rooms, break-out rooms, and hallways. Just knowing how to put something in the chat box can be a challenge. So when planning an online (or live) event, it’s good to check assumptions about both digital and general literacy of attendees.  


Disability Justice and Urban Planning

Disability Justice and Urban Planning is a collection of articles focusing on people with disability and the built environment. Lisa Stafford and Leonor Vanik remind us it is 60 years since the first campaigns for justice began. In their introduction to the articles they argue that despite legislation we still live in an ableist world. People with disability continue to be excluded and subjugated.

In urban planning and design, these prejudices are played out in the built and digital form. … disabled people are constantly reminded that “you don’t belong – the world is not built for you”. Dignity and control are still not realised.

A woman is pushing a man in a wheelchair up a ramp into the train. The train guard looks on. Another woman in a wheelchair waits for her turn. A man with a stroller is also in the picture.

Basic things like using public transport to attend an appointment are taken for granted by many. However, this same activity for disabled people can require exhaustive planning to account for things that might go wrong. Many trips are not make because it’s just too hard.

Then there is the complexity of other social dimensions. Indigenous disabled people, disabled people of colour, queer disabled people and disabled women and girls. However, there is a growing resistance to oppression and exclusion.

The collection of articles brings into view a large and diverse group of people who have been unseen for so long. The aim is to open up conversations about body and mind diversity. The authors are people with disability and so the content is written with heart – it’s not just another academic exercise.

It’s time for planners and designers to not just listen but to act. It could be their future self they are planning and designing for.

Aerial view of a city with tall buildings separated by green open space.

The title of this collection of short articles is, Disability Justice and Urban Planning and is open access. Published in Planning Theory & Practice.

The authors use the language of “disabled people” in line with critical models of disability.

Brescia Declaration for Universal Design

The Brescia Declaration for Universal Design is a working draft until the end of October 2022. Have your say on this international document by using this template.

The Declaration is a statement of the state of play in universal design and the need to progress the concepts further. It is written in the context of the recent pandemic and how this has highlights the gaps in equity and inclusion. The Declaration is on the downloads page of the UD2022 conference website. Organisations that agree with the final Declaration can show their support by providing their logo.

The document was drafted by Ger Craddock, Chief Executive, Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland. It was presented at the latest Universal Design Conference in Italy – UD2022.

Papers from the conference are open access and can be downloaded from the conference website.

Lavender coloured banner for the UD2022 Conference in Brescia.

It’s not about economics. It’s about power

For anyone who doubts the influence the housing industry has on government, an article in The Fifth Estate spells it out clearly. The article is in the context of the dumping a new planning policy that would have delivered many benefits to the people of New South Wales. It also indicates why NSW has refused to adopt the access features in the National Construction Code. It’s not about economic arguments, it’s about who has the last word.

A calculator and a bank statement are sitting on a desk. Economics

An independent economic cost benefit analysis concluded benefits to society would be $1.40 for every dollar spent.

The NSW Greens eventually forced the NSW Government to release documents related to their dumping of their long awaited planning policy. It was during a lunch meeting with developers that the Minister for Planning agreed not to progress the new planning policy. And unlike other ministerial speeches, this speech was kept secret. The eventual release of this speech brought forth many other documents.

…it was apparent that the Benefit Cost analysis concluded benefits derived by the society and community to be $1.40 for every dollar spent by the developer! But the dollar is being spent by the developer!! What benefit do they get for expenditure of this money?”

Urban Taskforce CEO Tom Forrest in The Fifth Estate
Three piles of gold coins at different heights with the tallest having a little gold house on top.

The documents

The Fifth Estate has published the letters and emails between the Minister and developers. It makes for interesting reading. The developers’ argument is that they get nothing for these changes while the community gains. This, of course, is debatable. Regardless, any additional developer costs are passed on to consumers so it is difficult to understand this argument.

The documents reveal the close relationship between industry and NSW Government and help explain other decisions. The NSW Government has flatly refused to adopt recent changes to the National Construction Code for housing. These changes are based on the Silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. They are basic access features that would benefit everyone especially people with reduced mobility. However, other states and territories are ready to adopt these changes. Where will that leave developers in NSW? More importantly, where will it leave householders?

If you are interested in the whole story The Fifth Estate has laid it out in a simple story. The title is, “When people notice what we have done” – documents expose how developers killed the NSW Design and Place SEPP.

Micro-transit and AVs

Will we have truly inclusive automated vehicles (AVs) or will we need specialised vehicles for some people with specific disabilities? According to a research paper, several companies are creating prototypes of AVs for people with disability. These include both micro-transit and paratransit services.

Under the right circumstances, automated vehicles can offer a decrease in social isolation, access to vital services, and personal independence. But it will take more than access standards – it requires a universal design approach.

A yellow autonomous vehicle on the road. It is box shaped with large windows and small wheels. Micro-transit and AVs.

Minimum accessibility standards should be treated as a subset of inclusive design principles. This is what the AV revolution should aim for. In the long run, ensuring access at the beginning is more cost-effective than later retrofits.

Basically there are seven trip-making stages in three categories when thinking about Accessible Automated Vehicles (AAVs).

  • Pre-trip concierge (Information system Design)
    • Trip planning and booking
  • Wayfinding and naviagions (Accessible Infrastructure Design)
    • Navigating to the AAV pick-up point
    • Waiting at the AAV pick-up point
    • Navigating from the AAV drop-off point to the destination
  • Robotics and Utomating (Vehicle Design)
    • Boarding AAV
    • Riding AAV
    • Alighting AAV

In terms of accessibility, there are three distinct but interconnected areas of concern. The pre-trip concierge relates to the design of information systems that will inform the travellers; wayfinding and navigation relate to accessible infrastructure design; and the boarding, riding, and alighting from AAV without any human attendant relates to the design of the vehicles themselves.

The paper discusses all aspects of the design and operation of autonomous vehicles and access for people with a range of disabilities. It references a wide range of existing research on the topic and mobility, sensory and cognitive disabilities.

The case studies

Nine short case studies include five customised models and four paratransit prototypes. Briefly they are:

  1. Wheelchair accessible AV – for a shuttle service
  2. Customised minivans – oversize vehicles are more flexible
  3. Luxury concept car with tall roof and wide doors
  4. Urban robo-taxi – hail using an app
  5. Single occupancy design – best suited for city travel
  6. Detroit medical campus shuttle – fits 15 people
  7. US Army Catapult – for wounded veterans
  8. Jacksonville Transportation Authority – specified full ADA compliance
  9. ELATE project – purpose-built AAV in two sites

The authors conclude that AAVs offer promise of mobility for people with disability through on-demand options. In Stockholm an automated shuttle bus has been sharing the roads alongside cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles. Apps should be compliant with web content accessibility as a minimum. The design simplicity of vehicles must also account for cognitive disabilities. Simple and intuitive layouts and system controls are good for everyone.

The title of the paper is, On-demand Microtransit and Paratransit Service Using Autonomous Vehicles: Gaps and Opportunities in Accessibility Policy.

From the abstract

Autonomous vehicle (AV) technology can help disabled Americans achieve their desired level of mobility. However, vehicle manufacturers, policymakers, and state and municipal agencies have to collaborate to achieve support disabled individuals. It requires collaboration for different stages of trip making through information system design, vehicle design, and infrastructure design.

Integrating accessibility at this stage of the AV revolution would finally allow us to develop a transportation system that treats accessibility as a guiding principle, not as an afterthought.

The review of regulations is followed by a review of nine case studies, five corresponding to the on-demand microtransit service model and four corresponding to the paratransit service model. These case studies are essentially different prototypes currently being deployed on a pilot basis.

Recommendations are based on the review of relevant research, ADA regulations, and case studies. Researchers, private firms, policymakers, and agencies involved in AV development and deployment are covered in the recommendations.

The recommendations include better collaboration and adoption of best practices to address the needs of individuals with different disability types. ADA regulations are one of the tools in addition to universal design principles and assistive technologies.

Are shopping malls ageist?

Older supermarket shoppers need a positive attitude from employees, functional shopping trolleys, and appropriate placement of products on shelves. Retail stores are public space and they should look good and be functional. Therefore a universal design approach can prevent shopping malls from being ageist.

View inside a shopping mall showing shops on each side of a walkway. Are shopping malls ageist?

Key design elements are: seamless outdoor to indoor access, easy to use shopping trolleys, seeing, finding and reaching products, reading product contents and price tags, and a smooth payment process.

Apart from helpful staff and functional equipment, there are other elements to consider.

  • Circulation systems and spaces: ramps, elevators, escalators, hallways and corridors
  • Entering and exiting: identifying and approaching entrances and exits and moving through them easily
  • Wayfinding: Graphical text, pictograms, maps, photos, diagrams, obvious paths of travel, nodes, edges, zones and districts
  • Obtaining products and services: service desks waiting areas and shops
  • Public amenities: toilets and seating
  • Ambient conditions: noise control, non-glare lighting, adequate temperature and humidity

A paper titled, Design Failure in Indoor Shopping Structures: Unconscious
Ageism and Inclusive Interior Design in Istanbul
explains more. The authors use the 7 principles of universal design as a guide and add another 4. The additional four principles are related to aesthetics, social participation, sustainability and equity. They also found that toilets and seating within supermarkets could do much to improve the shopping experience for older people.

overhead picture of the fresh food section of a supermarket.

As older adults’ need for toilets increases, the time spent in the supermarket declines. So they choose medium or small-sized supermarkets within walking distance of home.

From the abstract

People consciously or unconsciously make older adults feel less important than younger citizens. Older people may experience social and economic stress as well as anxiety, hopelessness, isolation, and depression. Almost all industries are disproportionately focused on developing technological innovations for younger people, not for older adults.

Although there is research on aging populations, research on the indoor design problems that older people encounter every day is scarce. Shopping is a good opportunity for older people to get involved in the community and we should aim to prevent architectural barriers.

A questionnaire was administered to 198 participants about their experiences in supermarkets. The results showed that as the need for rest areas and toilets increases, the time spent by older adults in supermarkets declines.

Additionally, checkout counters and product display shelves show design problems that constitute indoor accessibility issues. This study concludes by looking at issues in the design of indoor shopping area that contribute to ageist attitudes. We call for inclusive shopping environments to address spatial justice and to eliminate ageism.

Annual Report 2018-2019

Panel session at the Brisbane UD Conference.CUDA made much progress this year and contributed to many events and community consultations. The website and social media views continued to receive good attention throughout the year.  Key points from the Annual Report 2018-2019 are:

    • Our first online learning course, Introduction to Universal Design, had a 44% completion rate from 440 enrolments.
    • Preparation for and staging of the 3rd Universal Design Conference in Brisbane.
    • Participation in events to promote universal design, including a breakfast event organised in conjunction with Lend Lease.
    • Conference presentations included 4 papers at the UD conference in Dublin, Ireland, and Community Housing Industry Association Conference
    • Invited contributor to two magazines: Inner Sydney Voice and Building Connection.
    • Submissions and contributions to public policy through committee representation, roundtables and written submissions to government inquiries.

The full Annual Report can be downloaded in PDF format. The picture above is from the UD Conference in Brisbane with Lenna Klintworth at the lectern, Emily Steel, Jane Bringolf, Penny Galbraith and Chris Veitch.



Heritage sites

From Spain – people with intellectual

Heritage sites experience design with special needs customers

Download pdf

Online page

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the effect of including customers with special needs in the design of cultural and heritage services before the actual experience takes place.
Design/methodology/approach – Inclusive research through co-creation took place in the city of Barcelona, Spain, in 2017, comparing the effect of including (Route 2) or not including (Route 1) customers with visual and learning difficulties in the service design process of heritage walking routes.
Findings – The results show that the most important encounter in the heritage site context is communication, although the usage and service touchpoints were also significant. In addition, results showed that the ideal encounter or touchpoint should take place before the stay.

conclusion  From the underlying study, it can be concluded that universal accessibility is an area of significant underperformance by heritage site organizations. This study proves that when people with special needs are included in the design process, they become co-producers and co-innovators of their cultural experience, improving the experience and adapting it to their needs it can be concluded that the most influential criteria for co-creation emerges before the stay and in the booking phase, during the communication encounter, when the service has to be adapted to a new segment of people with special needs.  It can also be concluded that by giving a voice to individuals with disabilities and by using communication aids when needed, a mutual and voluntary process of collaboration, learning and dialogue can be generated.

Accessibility of Castles: Reality, Imagination and Good Practices for Memory and Dissemination


The European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH) 2018 indicates the architecture of castles as an element of European culture recognition and guardian. The castle is configured as a privileged custodian of memory and “spirit” in which a community has formed and consolidated over time. In this perspective, access to culture and cultural heritage constitutes the core behaviour of a society which aspires to be inclusive and barrier-free. The example, through some good practices, of multidisciplinary approaches applied to the Italian architectural heritage, can represent a first step for the sharing of solutions to common problems and obstacles. The first example refers to the International Summer School (ISS) held in Brescia starting from 2017 “Universal Design and Sustainable Tourism: Cidneo Hill and Its Castle in Brescia”. The elaboration of different projects of preservation and restoration involved specialisations such as architecture, engineering, linguistics, sociology, communications and marketing. The research was focused on the theme of accessibility to architectural heritage, the mediaeval fortress of the city and its enhancement with an interdisciplinary and holistic approach in the perspective of Universal Design. The second example refers to the permanent exhibition “Signs of Light”, Cemmo, Capo di Ponte (Brescia-Italy), at Palazzo Zitti: the musealisation of a historical architecture that conforms to a castle, closed and inaccessible, through the realisation of an inclusive, multimedia exhibition that respects the artistic patrimony in which it is inserted.


Establishing a UD Centre in Australia

Logo for Centre for Universal Design AustraliaFrom the Ground Up: Establishing a Centre for Universal Design in Australia charts the establishment and development of CUDA. This paper was presented at the UD Conference in Ireland held at the end of 2018. Here is the abstract – the full paper is available online.

Abstract: The universal design movement arrived in Australia well before the turn of the century. A handful of individuals, often working as lone voices, are doing their best to incorporate the concepts into their everyday work and promote the concepts more widely. As is often the case elsewhere, the term “universal design” is misunderstood and confused with special and separate designs for people with disability rather than inclusion for everyone. Compliance to legislated disability access standards has created further confusion and as a consequence many myths about universal design have emerged. Such myths have held back the implementation and understanding of universal design and inclusive practice. Australian governments at all levels have shown little interest in promoting universal design principles, save for a casual mention of the term in policy documents. This is in spite of changes to disability and ageing policies promoting more autonomy and independence for individuals. When political leadership is absent, leadership often defaults to the community, or to be precise, to a handful of people with a passion for the cause. In 2013 a chance meeting of two unrelated individuals set the wheels in motion to establish a centre for universal design in Australia. This paper charts the development and progress of the organisation through volunteer effort, harnessing community support, maintaining international connections, using social media, and establishing a resource-rich website and newsletter. 

Annual Report 2017-2018

The 2017-2018 Annual Report on CUDA’s activities is available for download in Word. Key points are:

  • Website views increased by more than 11,000 to 39,300, and is now averaging between 3000 to 4000 views per month.
  • Newsletter had 360 subscribers at the end of June 2017
  • Online learning course, Introduction to Universal Design attracted 171 students with 78 completing the course
  • Seven conference and seminar presentations were made 
  • Ten sector consultations/roundtables were attended 
  • Social media continues to be a efficient way to promote universal design and inclusive practice

You can also download the member announcements made at the 3rd Australian Universal Design Conference held in Brisbane 4-5 September 2018.  

The 2016-2017 Annual Report is also available for download

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