Home designs for living

Designs 4 Living is a magazine by Todd Brickhouse in the US with a focus on home designs for people with disability and older adults. The latest issue covers a wide variety of design solutions. They include home lighting, bathroom and kitchen trends, home workplaces and cognitive and sensory solutions.

Front cover of Designs 4 Living showing a sunset over a lake with birds flying above.

Lighting the home

As we get older our vision degrades and in many instances and higher levels of illumination become more important. However, it’s important to avoid glare and “pooling” of light. Indirect light sources such as recessed lighting under and over cabinets is good. LED lighting uses less power and lasts much longer.

Different scenarios for different rooms in the home are presented in the article along with a useful list of terms used for lighting and illumination. There is a link to a free guidebook to lighting the whole house.

Bathroom trends

Making a bathroom safe and accessible is just the beginning – why not make it look stylish too. That’s the content of the article by Mike Foti. While white tiles are still popular, light wood grains have gained popularity and come as tiles and panels. Flooring can provide the necessary visual contrast to the walls and fittings. Shower and bathroom treatments that don’t involve grout are a bonus. The article has more with links to useful solutions.

Cognitive and sensory solutions

Shelly Rosenberg is an interior designer with ADHD and her article is framed around 8 human senses. We all learned the five senses at school but we need to add Vestibular, Proprioception and Interoception. She begins with vision and the quality of light and level of visual ‘busyness’.

Smell is about air quality, fragrance, memory and mood. Building materials and furnishings can give off toxic gasses. Controlling moisture temperature and using air filters and purifiers are some of the solutions. Rosenberg goes through all 8 senses

Gen X and Baby Boomer needs

This article explores the divergent needs of Generation X and Baby Boomers as they age. Marketing professionals like to label different age groups, but the old labels for older adults don’t gel with Gen X. Indeed, why should older people wear a label at all? And terms such as Silver Tsunami present older people as a burden. An interesting discussion.

The Summer edition 2024 of Designs 4 Living also has items on pets, and workplaces.

Architects have a creative responsibility

A creative workshop scene. A woman is holding a pair of scissors, another is holding a pen over paper.An article in Architecture and Design magazine makes the point that architects have a creative responsibility to ensure designs are not just accessible but also inclusive and future proofed. In most cases renovating a building to be accessible costs significantly more than making the building accessible from new. Consequently, it makes economic sense to make places and spaces inclusive from the beginning.

There are three easy changes architects can make to their design process to make more inclusive places and spaces. First, involve people with disability and other marginalised groups in the design phase. In other words, co-design.

Co-designing with a diversity of building users is an essential element of a universal design approach. Architects get to understand the challenges and barriers as well as the solutions that come from this process. The second change is to look beyond access consultants.

Access consultants typically focus on regulatory compliance to make sure they meet standards. However, if given more scope, they can also provide solutions beyond the standards within a co-design process. The third change is to avoid exaggerating the design challenges.

The co-design process brings practical solutions to the table that are often outside the usual architectural ideas about universal design. For example, the cost of a ramp can be saved if it can be designed out.

The article concludes, “Ultimately, the true measure of architectural excellence lies not just in the beauty of the structures we create but the lives changed by making accessibility non-negotiable”. 

The title of the magazine article is, How architects can help create a more inclusive Australia.

Some background research

a series of black icons on white background depicting people of all shapes and sizes, including a baby in a stroller, a person with a can and a wheelchair user.A research project by Ielegems and Vanrie compared the costs of new-build with renovation. They found that both have costs but they are significantly lower for new-builds. The aim of their study was to find a research method to calculate the cost of universal design. Their paper is necessarily technical and covers different types of public buildings. The findings vary according to the scale of each building. 

However, economic arguments usually favour the users of the building and not the builders and developers. Consequently, going beyond compliance becomes a political and ethical decision rather than an economic one.

The title of the article is, The cost of Universal Design for public buildings: Exploring a realistic, context dependent research approach. It is covered in more detail in a previous post and was cited and downloaded from the CUDA website for the magazine article above.


Ageing in place, ageing and place

A fireside, a hot drink in a mug and slippered feet up on the recliner.Ageing in place and ageing and place are intertwined but distinct. Both place and home need to support people as they age – one is insufficient without the other. Generally, ageing in place means ‘staying put’. That can mean the staying in the same home or staying in the same community or neighbourhood. 

Research with older people suggests that ageing in place is more nuanced than just a home or neighbourhood. It’s also about personal and cultural values, priorities and connections to people and places. It is layered with social, material and symbolic meaning. And it’s about having choices about where and how to age. 

Janine Wiles and Tara Coleman found that older people valued highly the ability to have choices about their living arrangements and access to services. Familiarity and connections brought a sense of belonging and security. 

Meaning of home

Housing is basically an infrastructure concept whereas home is where personal routines and interactions take place. This is what brings meaning. This is why we become attached to places. Wiles and Coleman found that this sense of attachment has positive functional, physical and mental health outcomes all contributing to wellbeing. 

Home maintenance

The ability to carry out maintenance tasks contributes to attachment. However, when these tasks become difficult, either through ability or financial constraints, the sense of home is disrupted. Homes in disrepair are not only hazardous but lessen the attachment to the home. 

‘Home and aging’ by Wiles and Coleman is a chapter in Handbook on Aging and PlaceEditors are Malcolm Cutchin and Graham D Rowles. It is available for purchase from ElgarOnline. 

Chapter Introduction

Home is a concept both underpinning and animated by ideas about ‘aging in place’ and experiences of place and aging. Home is an important resource during older age. At a time when people typically face changes and challenges, having a secure sense of home and strong attachment to place can give a sense of agency, autonomy, and resilience. A sense of home is intricately entwined with our preferred sense of who we are, and with how we build and sustain relationships with others and with places. Conversely, disruption to the sense of home can create instability and accentuate the feeling of being ‘at the end of life’ or of vulnerability and fragility.

Legal documents favour visible disabilities

A man's hand is writing the word regulations in large script style writing.Norway has been following the underlying concepts of universal design for 25 years. This means they have a history of policy and activities to reflect upon. Previous papers have highlighted successes and where there is room for improvement. A new Norwegian study looks at universal design through a legislative lens and finds legal documents favour visible disabilities. 

In more recent years, people with invisible disabilities have raised their voices in the disability rights movement. However, their voices are yet to be incorporated into legislative documents. Historically, people with mobility and vision impairments led the way in disability rights. This means their needs were front of mind when legislation was formed. 

The Norwegian researchers wanted to find out if there is a “disability prestige” at play. This is where some disabilities count more than others. Or is it something as basic as just having your disability visible to others? The researchers concluded that visibility was more important to explain discrimination between groups. 

The Norwegian study can be generalised to many other countries. In Australia the Access to Premises Standard also favours people with mobility and vision impairments. 

The Norwegian researchers carried out their study in the context of transport. They discuss the wording of documents and how terms such as “reduced mobility” are interpreted. It can mean a person with a physical and/or a cognitive impairment. However, it is most often linked to movement of the body. 

Prestige versus visibility

In the Norwegian documents mobility impairments are mentioned more frequently than other disabilities. Vision impairments, also frequently mentioned, come in second. The researchers conclude that discrimination between disability types is mostly explained by the visibility of a disability.  

Why does this matter? Because when provision for other disabilities and long term health conditions are not mentioned in legal documents, businesses and services don’t provide them. 

The title is, How laws of universal design discriminate between different types of disabilities – Lessons learned from Norway.

Mandatory vs non-mandatory

Is there such a thing as non-mandatory when it comes to the Disability Discrimination Act? Access consultant Bryce Tolliday writes a thoughtful piece in Access Insight on this topic. He bemoans the way building certifiers, designers and others who request design changes. This is because, they believe the consultant’s design advice is non-mandatory. They just think it is “nice to have”. However, in the mandatory vs non-mandatory debate, it’s the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) they should be thinking about.

There is a misunderstanding of the laws affecting new building work as well as the value a good access consultant can bring to the project.

Front page of the Access to Premises Standard.

A mandatory requirement is something you must to do and is non-negotiable. Tolliday argues that it’s not possible to have a non-mandatory outcome under the DDA. That’s because the objects of the law are to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination on the grounds of disability.

Which law comes first?

It’s the mix of different laws, standards and regulations that confuse people. Some are enacted at a federal level and some are enacted by states and territories. Federal laws always trump state and territory laws.

People who want to press the non-mandatory argument rely on the NCC being the primary building regulation in Australia. But this is not the case. Each state and territory has to adopt the NCC elements into their respective building codes. Consequently, the Commonwealth law, the DDA together withe Disability Standards, becomes the law to follow.

The problem for designers and certifiers is that the DDA does not specify design standards or outcomes in the same way as the NCC. How can one know whether a design feature will discriminate or disadvantage a person with disability? Tolliday’s response is:

If they cannot provide an evidence-based reason demonstrating that disadvantage will not occur then what the access consultant is proposing is a mandatory requirement under the DDA.

A screenshot of part of the Australian Human Rights Commission's overview of disability discrimination.

The outcomes expected by the DDA are not covered by Australian Standards related to disability access. This is due to the minimal requirements of the Standards that do not cover the full diversity of disability.

Case study confirms what’s mandatory

In the case of Ryan v the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service the mandatory requirements went beyond the NCC, the Premises Standards and AS1428. The late Peter Ryan who was blind brought the action. He argued he was disadvantaged by the design of the Hospital. Shorelines, glare, and luminance contrast were not covered by the NCC but covered by other design guidelines and international standards. Tactile and braille signage for the entire hospital was not covered by the NCC or AS1428 either.

Ryan frequently got lost when he visited as an outpatient. He posthumously won the case and it will cost the Hospital millions to address the 17 breaches of the design.

External view of Sunshine Coast University Hospital.

The Judge found Peter Ryan and been indirectly discriminated against. The Hospital had not considered key features that could impact patients who were blind or had low vision.

The key issue for Tolliday is that the Australian Building Codes Board, which looks after the NCC, has said it will not regulate internal fitouts. Office buildings, for example, are not fitted out at completion, so that is reasonable. However, schools, hotels and hospitals are fitted out at completion.

The title of Bryce Tolliday’s article is Mandatory vs Non-Mandatory published in Access Insight.

Information in an emergency

Getting information in an emergency can mean the different between life and death. Or at least the difference between feeling helpless and knowing what to do. But communication is a complex process and not everyone responds to the same methods. So what is accessible information? It’s information provided in different formats.

Easy Read and Easy English use pictures as well as words. These are good for the 44% of the population with a low level of literacy. Targeting this group means people with higher levels of literacy can also get the message. It’s universal design.

A blackboard with words: learn, language, adjectives, nouns, verbs, adverbs written in chalk

Other formats are braille and Auslan, and captioning for videos. The Disability Discrimination Act lists places and services that must not discriminate, but there is nothing specific about information methods. This is something that needs to be made clearer in the legislation. However, the Commonwealth and state governments have policies to cover the provision of information.

Accessible emergency and crisis information

Researchers found four things to improve crisis information.

  1. Accessible information providers, such as Easy Read professionals, are not experts in the subject at hand. They need support from experts such as doctors or police.
Black and white logo for easy read, has a tick and a open book

2. Accessible information providers need to stay up to date with changing details. Having one direct source is the best way to manage this.

3. Making high quality accessible information takes time and skill. It’s essential to have the capacity and capability ready to act – don’t wait for the crisis to happen.

4. Agencies need to be upskilled. Sometimes crisis information needs to be available immediately such as an evacuation order. Emergency services need more baseline skills to make this information themselves.

The title of the article from The Conversation is, Crisis communication saves lives – but people with disability often aren’t given the message. The call for action is to have accessible crisis information included in a new Disability Rights Act.

Four men with orange lifejackets are standing in a yellow State Emergency Service boat on a swollen river.

Media organisations, businesses and services need to get on board too. The more people who produce accessible information, the better.

Defensive architecture, hostile design

Bleacher seating along the river front is covered with different coloured bean bags.Design can have a dark side, often as a result of unintended consequences. This can happen when designers have just one group of people in mind, or when good design ideas are changed at the last moment. The Fifth Estate article about the Howard Smith Wharves in Brisbane illustrates how good design can morph into bad design.

The wharf development was supposed to be a vibrant playground for ‘lovers of the good life’. The development included restaurants and an active transport corridor along the river. The path required separation with line markings, but all this changed just before opening.

A gravel path was installed with the idea that this would be a “go slow” zone. Of course the community objected. A key city thoroughfare was disrupted and the gravel reduced accessibility. And new safety hazards arose because of no line markings. Who then were the ‘lovers of the good life’? Image above from Facebook. 

The title of the article is, Urban design has a dark side to it’s creativity – two projects in Brisbane show how. Somehow, the Planning Institute of Australia thought this was worthy of an urban design award. 

Defensive architecture – hostile design

A concrete bench with spike barriers to prevent people from sleeping and even sitting.Design is powerful. It can include or exclude. While many designers are doing their best to be inclusive, others are deliberately creating hostile designs. Why do this? It’s under the heading of “defensive architecture” – ways to prevent crime. But should this be solved with design – it’s the opposite of universal design.

An article from UNSW begins, “Spike, bars and barricades are not typically things you would associate with a park. But it turns out they are part of a growing suite of hostile design interventions in public spaces.”

Creating urban discomfort

Spikes are embedded in flat surfaces underneath bridges to deter rough sleepers. Seats and flat surfaces made too uncomfortable to sit on for any length of time. Flat surfaces act as seating for those tired legs. Meanwhile, it goes against all the principles of universal design and encouraging people to get out and about.

The article is titled, Defensive architecture: design at its most hostile. It has examples and pictures and discusses the issues of designing to exclude. 

There is a similar article in The Guardian, Anti-homeless spikes: ‘Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty

Image courtesy UNSW newsroom.

What good is design if not for everyone?

Johan Carey in jeans and black polo shirt is on the stage at a Ted Talk on what good is design if it's not for everyone.“I believe design functions like the soundtrack that we are not fully aware we are playing. It sends subconscious messages about how to feel and what to expect” says John Carey in his Ted Talk. So what good is design if it’s not for everyone?

John Carey calls fellow architects to create places and spaces for people other than themselves – who, for the most part are white males. “Dignity is to design is what justice is to law and health is to medicine”. “The design reflects back to you your value”. “If good design is only for a privileged few, what good is it?” “Good design shapes our idea of who we are in the world and what we deserve.”

Unlike law and medicine, architecture has failed to attract and sustain women and people of colour. This is a passionate talk that does not mention accessibility specifically, but is a call to consider everyone in designs. Check it out.

Ableism in health care

You’d think health care workers would know about disability, but apparently, disabilities are not discussed or taught in a health care context. Questions over quality of life, ability to decide and choose are all issues that affect people with disability when interacting with the health profession.

An article written by two nurses calls out ableism in health care. Ableism occurs when a person with disability experiences discrimination or prejudice from a health care provider.

A man in a turquoise hospital gown, cap and mask is holding a thumbs up sign. He looks like a nurse or a doctor.

They can underestimate the person’s quality of life or competence which affects their level of care. Patients need to feel safe and not to be fearful of being judged or not being heard.

Case study

The article uses a case study of a 60 year old women with Down syndrome to illustrate the issues during the COVID pandemic. This case is not about the care provider being ableist, but being an advocate for the woman. The doctor was pressured by family members to activate the do not resuscitate (DNR) code when the woman entered ICU. The doctor persisted in advocating for the patient and she eventually recovered.

Communication with patients is key. Patients with cognitive disabilities may face attention, memory and comprehension challenges. Nurses must therefore adapt their communication style, learn about the disability and avoid negative language that insults or demeans.

The authors encourage nurses to advocate for people with disability within health care services and in the design of environments.

Entrance to the emergency section of a hospital.. Co-design and ableism in health care.

Ableism isn’t just about patients – it includes family members, and other health care workers. Knowledge can help overcome stereotypes and stigma and improve health and wellbeing for all. Knowledge also helps nurses and other health professionals to feel confident when engaging with people with disability.

This short summary of Ableism in Health Care is open access, and you can access the full paper in the American Journal of Nursing.

Checklists don’t make inclusive culture

Whether it’s digital technology, the built environment, or a tourist destination, checklists don’t make an inclusive culture. When it comes to digital accessibility checklists Sheri Byrne-Haber says, “Just say no”. That’s because general accessibility checklists do more harm than good in establishing a good accessibility program. It doesn’t lead to an inclusive culture.

“… requiring accessibility or guilting or punishing people for failing to provide accessibility is at the bottom half of the accessibility motivation hierarchy.”

Hierarchy pyramid for motivating accessibility change. Starting at the bottom with guilt, then punish, require, reward, enlighten, and at the top, inspire.

According to the Hierarchy, Guilt is about not caring enough. The threat of Punishment is based on, “Do this or you will get sued”. Require focuses on technical requirements – the minimum required by law. Rewards, such as certification statements, awards, and badges can bring about change. However, they are often for the benefit of the maker or designer rather than the user.

Enlightenment comes when people see that accessibility is not just the smart thing to do, or the right thing. When people are motivated for good, that’s enlightenment. This is when they can see the powerful benefits end users gain. A better product emerges and business improves so not being accessible doesn’t make sense.

“Inspiration occurs when you see and experience the distinct impact the accessibility (or lack thereof) of your product can have on the lives of an individual with disabilities.”

A blackboard has the words, It's time to inspire written in white chalk.

Byrne-Haber discusses the issues of checklists from the perspective of digital technology, but her arguments apply across the built environment as well. Indeed, you could also add businesses that are claiming Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) credentials. WebAIM’s effectiveness pyramid, Hierarchy for Motivating Accessibility Change, puts it into perspective.

When are checklists OK?

Once an inclusive culture is established, targeted checklists are appropriate for guiding new people to make sure they don’t “break the system”. In the website world, Byrne-Haber says that people adding material to a website need some do’s and don’ts. But this could also apply in other areas too. Maintaining the inclusive design intent of a building requires all stakeholders to keep to the theme. So, for example, a checklist for interior designers might be appropriate in these circumstances.

Architectural education and gender equality

The Rethinking the Future blog site has an article on architectural education and gender equality. First, it asks if architecture is gender driven both as a profession and in academia. Second, it asks if the diverse experience of students is really fostering and representing diversity. The third point is, how can a more inclusive learning environment be created. The article concludes with a plea for change.

“Analysing the traditional architectural education system, one can observe the persistence of a masculine Paradigm.”

Three men in hard hats stand on a building site looking at architectural design plans.

The word “architect” conjures up an image of a man so that if a woman is an architect she is referred to as a female architect, not just “architect”. However, moves to address this gender imbalance is being addressed as more women are accepted into architectural institutions. But how many female star architects are there?

Fostering student diversity

Analysing enrolment data for gender ratios helps identify any significant disparities amongst different countries. The visibility and experience of LGBTIQ students in architecture schools can be carried out through surveys or interviews. Social, political and psychological aspects can be revealed by identifying unique challenges students with multiple marginalised identities face. These can be race, ethnicity, religion, and gender diversity.

Faculty and curriculum

Faculty members should move beyond traditional teaching methods by adopting methods to cater for diverse learning styles. Creating an equitable education experience will bring more diversity within learner enrollments and future teaching staff. With a diversity of ideas and mentors there is a better chance of including the LGBTI community and women.

The title of the blog article is Architectural education and gender equality: A comparative study.

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