Racial segregation by design

Aerial view of a major highway intersection within an urban area. Racial segregation can be caused by design.Is urban planning racist?  We could also ask if urban planning is ableist or sexist. The answer to all three is probably, ‘yes’, but to what degree. Lisa Stafford argues strongly that planning is ableist, and transport planners have been considering gender for a while now. In a FastCo article, one architect believes there is racial segregation by design. 

Segregation by Design in the United States aims to document the destruction of communities through urban renewal and freeway construction.  Australians are familiar with this as ‘gentrification’ where certain groups of people are excluded and their social networks decimated. And it is likely to segregate other groups too.

Segregation by Design highlights 80 American cities destroyed by racist planning. It does this though annotated satellite imagery, historical ‘redlining’ maps, and archival photos. Redlining is a term for race-based exclusionary tactics in real estate in the US. 

The title of the FastCo article is, Segregation by Design: How one architect is vizualising the legacy of America’s racist urbanism. The case studies usefully illustrate the arguments and there are links to other references. 

“Segregation By Design joins the conversation at a time of unprecedented spending on American infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 unlocks over $1 trillion to remake cities with the promise of a better future. While more money is not the only answer to the mechanisms of oppressive public planning, it’s a promising start. For Susaneck and his passion project, understanding urban planning’s racist past is the key to constructing more equitable cities in the future—filled with accessible public transit, pedestrian-friendly roads, and ample public space for all.”


How smart is the smart walking cane?

The smart Can Go walking cane shown recharging at a power point.Can a smart walking cane overcome the stigma of using an assistive device? Perhaps. It’s more likely for the tech-savvy generations coming up who might be happy for all the help they can get. This cane for sighted people is still a cane regardless of tech additions. Stigma is a major factor in the lack of take-up of assistive devices in current older generations. 

It remains to be seen whether the features attract users who are not familiar with smart phones. However, it is good to see someone working to make simple technology such as a walking cane more attractive. It’s about time.

People who currently use a smart watch to monitor their every move could be attracted to this cane. The Can Go cane is equipped with a dozen sensors, GPS and activity tracking. It also has a flashlight and cellular data for emergency phone calls. There are three buttons on the handle: one for making a call, another to use the flashlight, and the third to alternate information on the display screen. It also measures how much weight you’re putting on the cane, and your overall gait speed. There’s a built-in sim card, too.

Can Go walking cane showing the flashlight feature.
Can Go cane with the flashlight

Don Norman, a former Apple VP, was part of the design team. He is an advocate for user-friendly design and stripping away the stigma attached to mobility devices. Norman’s 1988 book has an entire chapter on the stigma of mobility devices.

The FastCompany article has no mention of co-designing with users. The title of the article is, “After smart homes and smart rings meet Can Go the world’s smartest cane”. 

This cane is different to the specialised canes for people who are blind. 

Inclusive Communication Strategies

Two green statues, one a man the other a woman sit facing each other in a gesture of communicating with each other. Inclusive communication strategies.There are many reasons why some people have difficulty communicating. It can arise from a brain injury, a stroke, or a condition such as motor neurone disease. Inability to communicate easily means that often people avoid social situations due to feeling inferior. The Conversation has an article on inclusive communication strategies.

The Conversation article, We can all help to improve communication for people with disabilities, lists some of the simple things that remove the barriers to communication. They range from the type of devices used by Stephen Hawking, to just giving the person time to finish what they are trying to say. Speech is just one aspect of the issue, hearing is the other. There is useful information under each of the headings in the article:

    1. Remove communication barriers
    2. Prepare for communication success
    3. Build a conversation together
    4. Use communication aids and alternative strategies when you talk.  

Around 5% of the population, or 1.2 million Australians have a communication disability. It can affect their speech, language, listening, understanding, reading, writing, or social skills.

Communication disability can be lifelong (as for people with cerebral palsy or intellectual disability) or acquired (as for people with stroke and aphasia, motor neurone disease, or traumatic brain injury).

Do’s and Don’ts of Downsizing

Brightly coloured graphic of little houses clustered together. Do's and Don'ts of Downsizing.COTA NSW ran a webinar on the Do’s and Don’ts of Downsizing. The first speaker talked about downsizing ‘stuff’ and getting organised whether moving or not.  The second speaker (23 minute mark) gives sound advice about choosing a new home or adapting an existing home. The third speaker (36 minute mark) tells her experience of moving house and provides first hand advice.

The webinar concludes with a panel discussion. One important point raised was how to manage conflict when one partner wants to move and the other doesn’t.  Rather than enter a win-lose situation, start a discussion on “what life do you want to have?”

This approach could also apply to discussing living arrangements with an ageing parent, whether it’s adaptations or moving. Many older people don’t want change and then matters are taken out of their hands when a health crisis occurs. Better to have a home that you can go back to rather than go into care. 

The speakers are Peter Walsh, Margaret Ward, and Christy Owen. It’s chaired by COTA NSW President Joan Hughes. The webinar is one and half hours in total. 

You can also find the video on YouTube

Hospital design for healing

A hospital waiting area with just three people.Hospital design is incorporating features that reflect the concept of healing rather than sickness. Older people make up a significant proportion of patients, and that means we need more age-friendly approaches to care. Physical environments are getting slip resistant floors, indirect lighting and large print wall clocks and calendars. Some hospitals are replacing harsh florescent lighting with systems similar to day – night cycles. An article on the AARP website discusses this and how hospital design is about healing.

Other ideas are a piano at registration, walking paths and gardens – making the place feel more hospitable rather than hospital. It’s about customer convenience and comfort. And this must help when people are in pain and feeling stressed. Many visitors feel stressed and anxious in hospitals and they aren’t even sick.

As for coffee bars in waiting areas – the sound of grinding beans in coffee bars adds to noise levels and the smell can be nauseating. Small things can make a difference to comfort and reducing stress levels.

Other changes involve telehealth services which can be delivered to patients at home. For more on this see the AARP article.

Accessible Pedestrian Signals

A street with a pedestrian crossing in a city. Accessible pedestrian signals.Accessible pedestrian signals are evolving. Audible crossing signals devised for people with low vision are a signal for all of us that it’s safe to cross the road.  And now we have the “guiding sound corridor” which gives increased guidance to reach the other side more easily. As soon as a pedestrian activates the signal, the guiding sound corridor emits at both ends of the crossing. Then they just have to follow the sound to cross the street. It gives greater safety and independence because the signal ensures they are going in the right direction.  

An article in the Inclusive City Maker blog explains the system. From a city planner perspective, this kind of device can encourage more walking for people with low vision and their companions.

How does it work?

The blog post explains that a guiding sound corridor needs to have 3 elements to be perfectly efficient:

      1. Poles with the accessible pedestrian signals (APS) need to be located face to face, on the same side of the crossing.
      2. The broadcast emitted by the audible pedestrian signals need to be led towards the crossing,
      3. Activation of the APS needs to be simultaneous –  both sides of the crossing are synchronized and paired.

A pole with a pedestrian signal button and instructions. A video on the blog site illustrates how it works.

Ageless communities win the day

Apartments in shades of grey are linked by a graded pathway to provide accessibility. Ageless communities.
Image courtesy Guy Luscombe

It’s taken a pandemic to realise that for most people aged care isn’t something they choose or want to remain in. And it won’t be in the future. But what can we do differently? A workshop led by University of Queensland and aged care providers came up with a novel idea – ageless communities. This is what older people have been asking for. The upcoming changes to home design in the building code will help people who buy/rent new homes in the future, except in NSW, SA and WA. So it’s time to re-think aged care design. 

A workshop run by The University of Queensland found that people wanted a real home with a real front door. So large institutional models are no longer in favour. Another key theme was staying put and bringing services to the home. 

Micro communities linked to the wider community are a good alternative. Homes with front doors on public streets are good for any age if the homes are designed appropriately.

The University of Queensland project also responds in part to the Royal Commission into Aged Care. Small home models were one of the recommendations.

The article is titled Smaller ageless communities predicted for care design.

Ergonomics in Design for All newsletter

Access symbols: one standard and one with active wheelchair user. From Ergonomics in Design for All Newsletter. The International Union of Architects are inviting submissions for a 21st century symbol of accessibility. The competition is being held jointly with Rehabilitation International who devised the existing symbol many years ago. They are seeking designs that represent values of rights and inclusion, independence and accessibility for all, including people with disability. Note that the context is the built environment. The competition closes 25 March 2022. More information is in the Ergonomics in Design for All newsletter.

The newsletter also has a feature on the role of an access consultant. Once again, the advice is to engage a consultant at the inception of the project. The section on designing inclusively summarises the process as:

      • A brief should be developed which reflects the performance standards agreed and the long-term inclusion goals.
      • Ensure the suitability of the design team, including an Access Consultant from the start.
      • In addition, identify and confirm the sequence and proposed timing of approvals and relevant design criteria.
      • Ensure that inclusion is an item on every Design Team meeting agenda.
      • Design reviews should be undertaken at all stages of any development.
      • Complete close out reports which highlight decisions agreed and outstanding matters for the next stage.
      • A close out report at the end of the project.

Front cover of the Good Practices in Accessible Urban Development guide.The United Nations will soon publish an updated Good Practices of Accessible Urban Development. The publication has case studies of practice and policy in housing and built environment, transportation, public spaces and public services. The 2016 version is available on the UN website. 

Overcoming ableism: challenging values

Small golden stars scattered on a table. Overcoming ableism challenges values.Overcoming ableism takes more than attending a disability awareness workshop. It’s also more than checking out the right words to use when talking about disability. If things are to change for people with disability, we have to challenge values and assumptions. 

Andrew Pulrang writes that the stereotype of people with disability is one of fragility and weakness. Disability is associated with illness. Disability services are ‘care’ services, not just services for practical assistance. Workplaces assume people with disability can’t handle the pressures of work. 

Consequently, we have the opposite stereotype appearing as tough and resilient. But putting people with disability on a pedestal doesn’t help with inclusion and integration. Hardship is not inevitable, so there is no need to be admired in any way. 

Pulrang’s article in Forbes magazine also discusses the issues of intelligence and sanity and how they have changed over time. He asks what are they exactly, and how do we measure them. 

He concludes his article with, “The roots of ableism run deep. Sometimes to get at them we have to dig deeper, and disrupt not just our habits, but some of our most basic ways of thinking.” 

The title of Pulrang’s article is, Fighting Ableism Requires Us To Challenge Some Of Our Most Cherished Values


Ageing is ordinary

An older woman sits in an armchair. She is wearing a purple knitted jacket and is smiling into the camera. Ageing is ordinary.Ageing is ordinary. But somehow it’s thought of as special. Policies, buildings, places, and products have a side-bar for older people. These side-bars are separate and special policies, places to live, places to go and things to use. However, older adults want ordinary designs that work for them as well as others. It’s what gives a sense of inclusion and belonging. This segregation and stereotyping is not good for health. What older adults need is more universal design.

Peter Snyder is an advocate for universal design across products, services and built environment. In his article he explains the impact of “specialness” on the health and well-being of older adults. Stereotyping is particularly damaging. Some stereotypes are obviously not true, such as older people can’t deal with technology. But that doesn’t stop people from perpetuating them and that includes older people themselves. 

When older people complete a memory test after reading that older people have impaired memory function, they perform more poorly than those who didn’t read the material. And the reverse is true. A positive statement brought about an improvement in the memory test. Snyder adds that if cognitive decline was a basic human trait, it would be seen across all cultures. However, this is not the case. 

Snyder’s article argues that our beliefs about the ageing process have a significant impact on our wellbeing in later life.

The role of designers

If and when we need a product to help with a daily task, why does it need to be a special one? And why does it have to be purely functional with no aesthetics considered in the design? Too many functional products are clunky and ugly. It’s why people shun such products such as walking canes and mobility devices. It’s depressing. 

By definition, stereotypes are rarely, if ever, true – even positive ones.  But used as positive feedback it can work. But not by citing such things as “older people are wiser”. It is done by creating services and products that are inclusive so that age becomes irrelevant. This is why older people need universal design. 

A good article showing the unintended consequences of ageist stereotypes on health and wellbeing and what designers can do about it. The title is, Universal Design as a Paradigm for Providing Health Interventions for Older Adults