Home renovations American style

Home renovations and modifications for ageing in place is big business in the United States. The latest issue of Designs 4 Living is focused on home modifications and the “forever” home. Four contributors provide their design ideas on home renovations American style.

Architect Aaron D Murphy asks, Do you have “Stay at Home” Insurance? He means “can you ensure you can stay longer in your own home?” Fearing loss of independence is no reason to do nothing until it’s too late. Murphy emphasises that universal design is good for everyone and not about “hospital parts”.

Designs for Living front cover showing the Fairmont Hotel in Quebec, Canada covered in a dusting of snow.

The title of Karen Koch’s article is “ADA is HOOEY”. Similarly to the Australian standard for public bathrooms, the ADA is not suited to residential settings. Occupational therapist Koch provides good tips, and uses photos to explain the importance of colour contrast for ageing eyes. However, these photos have lots of grab rails and “hospital parts”. A key tip is not to mount grab bars diagonally because that requires grip strength rather than arm and shoulder strength.

Robert May talks about indoor air quality and how he learned the value of clean air. The pandemic caused him to reconsider his scepticism and learn more about it. He says, “What I learned is that if you are not filtering your air then you yourself are the filter”. May goes on to talk about different products.

Jennifer Rossetti and Todd Brickhouse look at robots and the role they can play in our lives. Some already perform everyday tasks, but the interest is in companion robots. The focus of companion robots is on older people, although there is no reason they should be age specific. However, developers are looking for replacement caregivers in residential aged care.

Read Designs 4 Living on Flipsnack.

Year of Accessible Tourism

With the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games in their sights, the Queensland Government has declared 2023 the Year of Accessible Tourism. And it comes with funding. The fund will support small to medium sized tourism and events businesses to enhance their access for people with disability. The fund includes:

  • $10m Accessible Tourism Queensland Fund.
  • $1m Awareness and Capability Program.
  • $1m Visitor Experience Development Initiative.
A man in a wheelchair makes his way along a paved pathway amongst palm trees. The text says, Year of Accessible Tourism.

The Awareness and Capability Program is about raising awareness of the access requirements of visitors, workers and the community. The fund is also about building the capability of the tourism sector to support workers with disability. That includes making sure operators have the skills to employ people with disability.

The aim of the Visitor Experience Development stream is to promote the accessible tourism experience for everyone. This will include capturing images, videos and stories for marketing campaigns.

The Queensland Government wants to change the perception of what it means to be an accessible business. The aim is to support businesses to develop a wider range of accessible tourism itineraries and promote accessible tourism experiences.

While this is a great initiative, the media release makes it sound as if accessible experiences are separate from other “normal” experiences for everyone. The Queensland Government has links to resources for anyone interested in these projects.

Out and about with dementia

Getting out and about is good for everyone’s physical and mental health. However, the fear of getting lost or confused when outside the home prevents many people with dementia from leaving home. Consequently, they tend to limit their time away from the house. But with good planning and community help, people with dementia can maintain the benefits of walking and taking a holiday.

“I am a person.

Sometimes people like to go for walks, even people with dementia. Sometimes people get lost, even people without dementia”

Taken from Kate Swaffer’s poem, ‘Wandering along the beach’. (2014)

Front cover of Walking with Dementia.

Dementia Australia has two booklets, Walking safely with dementia, and Travelling and holidays with dementia. These booklets are designed for people with dementia and their families. However, the information is good for communities who want to make their places and spaces dementia friendly.


The walking guide features strategies people can take to make sure they stay safe and know what to do if they become lost. They can be as simple as carrying identification and establishing familiar routines and places. The section on safety involves avoiding crowds and disorienting entry and exits. Double entry and exits in shopping centres can cause confusion for people without dementia. Directional signage on the way out of the toilet is useful for everyone.

Dementia Australia has a Dementia-Friendly Communities program where people can learn more about dementia and how they can help. There’s a list of things you can do if you meet someone who may be lost.

“My mother has dementia, but her life continues to be enriched with fulfilment. We went on a cruise last year that provided us with uninterrupted time, gave me some time to relax and just be there for my mum while our needs were taken care of. It was difficult at times, but so rewarding to have shared this time together”

Front cover of Travelling and holidays with dementia.

Travelling and holidays

Similarly to the walking guide, careful planning is key to success. The holiday booklet covers travel by sea, air, car and public transport. There’s a checklist of things to consider and how you can plan to optimise your level of capability. When it comes to accommodation, it’s useful to notify hotel staff. Some hotel accessible rooms might be more comfortable.

There is nothing in this booklet for transportation agencies for people with dementia. However, it gives travel and accommodation providers insights into the lives of people with dementia and their families.

See also the Age and Dementia Friendly Streetscapes Toolkit.

Design for children with disability

Children with disability are the subject of Access Insight, the quarterly magazine from the access consultants association. The focus is on different formal and informal learning environments and how to make them more accessible. The magazine leads with an article on St Lucy’s School in Sydney and the final article is on technical specifications.

Architect Caroline Hart writes about St Lucy’s School which has a history of being a school for the blind. The first stage of the new development was a three-storey building with 16 purpose-built classrooms on two floors. A carpark and drop-off area formed the basement. Hart describes the project in detail, covering acoustics, lighting, communication and accessibility elements.

Designing accessible built environments is the minimum. Facilitating active participation and inclusion of children with different needs, strengths, and abilities informs practitioners’ approach to procurement, design, and delivery of spaces and places.

Image: Stanton Dahl Architects

Outside the new school building showing the multicoloured playground of St Lucy's School.

Designing with children with disability is discussed by Mary Ann Jackson and Illanna Ginnis. Creating a design process with children with disability breaks down traditional communication structures. However, this is not without challenges. But how to make these processes inclusive using mainstream architectural thinking and design processes? Jackson and Ginnis explain their methods in their article.

Lynda Wilem tackles the subject of hearing augmentation and inclusion in the classroom. She discusses the established augmentation systems and their benefits and drawbacks. There is new technology on the way using Bluetooth systems which are already available on smart phones that connect to hearing aids. Wilem adds that augmentation systems are only part of the solution for children with low hearing.

And there’s more…

Indoor play centres is the subject of Vanessa Griffin’s article. She tells the story of advocating for an inclusive play centre in her local government area. Designer, Many Lau, raises the subject of diversity and creating supports for children in early learning centres. Allen Kong gives an overview of “Golden Cubes Awards”, a project run by the International Union of Architects. Technical aspects of handrail design for children is covered by Howard Moutrie.

You can view the magazine on issuu, and there is an option to download the 9MB PDF magazine which you might find easier to read.

An inviting office environment

Office design is at least one factor that will entice people back to the workplace. Legal practice offices have to consider the comfort and accessibility of both staff and visiting clients. An article in the Law Society Journal has design tips for an accessible and inviting office environment. It is based on a conversation with an interior decorator and an architect.

“There is the unquestionable need to provide a habitat for workers that feels inviting, appealing to work within, accessible and safe.”

A modern office meeting room with good lighting and plants. It looks inviting.

Architect Fiona Dunin says that areas to support staff, not just clients is important because it builds culture within the office. It’s important to focus on acoustic and visual separation, and in open plan offices, distinct meeting places and separation between public and private space is required.

Accessible for all

When it comes to accessibility, the architect and the decorator discuss vision impairment. Consequently they advise contrasting colours and textures to delinate doors, stairways and meeting rooms, kitchens and bathrooms.

For people with hearing impairment, good acoustics to avoid reverberation are a must. Sufficient circulation space, or space that can be quickly adjusted to create more space when need is an obvious requirement. Assistance animals also need to be accommodated particularly as there is a trend for anyone to bring their trusted friend to work.

The title of the article is, Throwing light on law office design, but the ideas are good for any office. Legal offices, similarly to others, no longer need to be cluttered with boxes and papers and fax machines. This leaves room for a greater focus on inviting and accessible design features.

The article was written by Cat Woods.

Seeing Things: Haunted by design

Architect and neuroscientist Jan Golembiewski has been researching how psychologically manipulative environments can be. Design can suggest, motivate and support human behaviour – desirable or not. Haunted at Halloween is one thing, but being haunted by design is another.

Public toilet in Kawakawa New Zealand. It has large mosaic tiles all at different angles. The toilet seat is timber

In extreme cases, environments may trigger hallucinations, delusions and confusion. The effect can be even greater for people who are impressionable.

Jan Golembiewski

Golembiewski’s article in the Financial Times discusses how design is used to create feelings. “The way we respond to the environment is mostly determined by the stories they suggest.” Many ghost stories were told about the university student residence at Alanbrook Hall, but it is likely the building was only haunted by bad design.

A darker story is how architecture can be used as a weapon of war with buildings designed to intimidate. Giant bronze statues wielding swords against blood read marble walls wouldn’t make anyone feel welcome.

A tall imposing grey concrete building with four giant columns and a bronze statue to either side of the giant doorway.

In designed environments, the architect’s every decision is made to make us do or feel something.

Jan Golembiewski

The article uses many examples to show how architecture and design affects our psychology. Vulnerable people often react far more than people who feel secure and small changes can make a difference. Good environments can work wonders especially for people who are neurodiverse.

The title of the article is, Haunted by design: how buildings can make us see ghosts. “Our environments can be psychologically manipulative, triggering confusion, delusions – even hallucinations”.

Design Thinking: Everyone is creative

Elise Roy was told at the age of ten that she would lose her hearing. But her feelings of fear turned into feelings of gratitude. That’s because she gets to experience the world in a unique way. Elise firmly believes that what helps people with disability is what will help make and design a better world. Its wrapped up in design thinking.

As a disability rights lawyer, Elise used to spend a lot of time focused on enforcing the law. However, she believes there is a better way to solve the issues other than enforcing the law – design thinking. She explains design thinking as a process for innovation and problem solving.

Elise Roy explains more in her 13 minute TEDx talk. Her explanation mirrors much of what universal design and co-design is about. There is also a transcript on the website.

“I believe that losing my hearing was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received,” says Elise Roy. As a disability rights lawyer and design thinker, she knows that being Deaf gives her a unique way of experiencing and reframing the world — a perspective that could solve some of our largest problems. As she says: “When we design for disability first, you often stumble upon solutions that are better than those when we design for the norm.”

Creative bathroom designs

A long black sink shaped like a shelf hangs longways from the wall. The backwall is full length window and it is difficult to see the tap. It looks very modern.Todd Brickhouse’s Newsletter has some interesting pictures of creative bathroom designs. All are wheelchair accessible and look really good. 

While these designs are great for wheelchair users, there are others who might find these designs tricky to use. A case in point is a cantilevered sink against a glass wall. Maybe in real life it doesn’t trick the eye as much. However, I wouldn’t classify these designs as universal design. The sink might confuse anyone with perception problems. Have a look and see what you think. 

What the pictures clearly show is that accessible and universally designed bathrooms can look good. There is no limit to creative design.  Pale marble tiles line the walls of this bathroom. There is one long shelf with a mirror behind. A bath with a hand held shower is fitted just above the bath rim.Of course, a custom design for your own home should work for you if not others. 

This newsletter also has a picture of a man who got a tattoo of a cochlear implant on his head to make his daughter feel more comfortable with hers. 

Todd also has a magazine. He is based in New York. 


Co-designing bathrooms with older people

Public toilet in Kawakawa New Zealand. It has large mosaic tiles all at different angles. The toilet seat is timberHow do you know what older people want in their bathroom design? Simple. Ask them. And have lots of Post It Notes handy. Having a more flexible and safer bathroom at home is one of the keys to ageing in place. Knowing “what’s best” is not necessarily in the hands of design experts or health professionals. Co-designing bathrooms with older people is a better option.

The Livable Bathrooms for Older People Project investigated and evaluated all aspects of bathroom design, fixtures and fittings. The report details how the project was conducted, the role of participants in the process, and the outcomes of the research. There are many explanatory pictures demonstrating the process. The report is available on ResearchGate, the UNSW Library list, or can be purchased from Google Books.

The Co-Design research was carried out by Associate Professor Oya Demirbilek. The Co-Design Sessions Lead Investigator with assistance from PhD Students Alicia Mintzes, Steve Davey and Peter Sweatman. University of New South Wales. 2015.

Note: The picture is of the renowned public toilet in Kawakawa New Zealand. It would be very confusing for someone with perception issues.  Editor’s photo.

5 ways to improve accessibility of cities

Aerial view of an expanse of a housing estate.Richard Voss reminds us that all of us are ageing all the time. Consequently, we need to think ahead in the design of our cities. He makes a good point that by the time the ink dries on new access codes they are already out of date. His 5 ways to improve accessibility of cities are based on universal design principles.  These don’t date, they evolve.

First, he recommends providing incentives to include universal design features in housing.  As we know, this mitgates major renovations, especially at a time when you can least cope. Lifemark in New Zealand has the answers here.

Second, Voss says we have to wake up to the fact that we all need universal design. He points out that accessibility is not all about wheelchairs.

Third, we should combine common sense with building codes. Here Voss talks about merging universal design with heritage codes. 

Fourth, create a new innovation industry around accessibility. Voss says we should get universal design embedded in the retrofit of buildings. It will make them more sustainable and resilient as well as accessible.

Fifth, set achievable targets for each development sector. Discussions around inclusion affect every sector: workplaces, retail, hospitality, transportation, etc. Links between disciplines are essential.

Voss concludes that universal design has no extra cost if implemented early in the design process. Unfortunately, not many people believe this because from past experience, change usually means extra cost.

The article by Richard Voss was posted on Linked In. 


Social value of good design

A white brick building with blue framed windows. Social value of good design. It’s so much easier to measure outputs than outcomes. Social value is an outcome, but how do you measure it? Well the answer for most is, it’s too hard so don’t bother. The Fifth Estate features an article about why the building industry should measure the social value of good design. 

The Women’s Property Initiatives in Melbourne provide housing for women and children. They have a system where tenants pay no more than 30 per cent of their income in rent. They knew this was working because they could see improved wellbeing. But how do you measure this social value in money terms?

So, what is social value? It is “the quantification of the importance that people place on the changes they experience in their lives”. Using stated preferences methods in research is a similar idea. 

Emma Williams argues for the building industry to broaden the way they measure the success of a project. If we are to address social inequities, we have to give equal weight to social value. Measuring financial and environmental impacts is only part of the job. 

The title of the article is, The difficult task of measuring social value in the built environment

The Women’s Property initiative found that for every dollar invested, $11.07 of social value was created. Architects can work out the economics of green standards, but not social impact. Success of a project is about the people – that means social value. 

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