Universally designed mealtimes

A busy array of small kitchen appliances and cooking utensils.Mealtimes are made easier with a range of small kitchen appliances. But can everyone use them? Meal preparation is something most of us do every day. It’s not until you can’t do it that you realise how much it impacts on wellbeing, independence and quality of life. 

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee worked with General Electric to develop an audit tool they can apply to the design of their small appliances. The tool can be used by engineers, retailers and individuals as well. The title of the tool is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). It includes 7 features: doors, lids, dials, on/off water reservoirs, buttons and “ready” indicators. Both physical and cognitive conditions were considered in the development of the tool.

The title of the article is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT).  

Abstract:  Over a quarter of Americans have disabilities. The impacts of these disabilities are pronounced in 3 areas: mobility, self-care, and household activities (including meal preparation and housework). Preparing meals at home is a powerful way to reduce the risk of depression, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Small kitchen appliances play a large role in meal preparation and have the potential to help increase the independence in meal preparation of people with disabilities. Currently, however, almost no guidelines exist to ensure that small kitchen appliances are accessible and usable. This paper discusses the development of the Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). This tool allows practitioners to score the accessibility and usability of common small kitchen appliance features based on their client’s impairments. The SKA AUDIT assists practitioners and their clients (and potentially the general public) in choosing small kitchen appliances that are more accessible and usable, in accordance with the user’s level of ability.

 

The bank knows about your dementia

A Visa credit card sign is hanging in the window of an attractive looking shop..Forget the medical diagnosis, it seems the bank knows before anyone else when you have dementia. The first signs are not in the brain but in the bank account according to an article by Eric Chess in Statnews. It seems that impaired financial decision-making goes beyond the obvious vulnerability to scams. It shows up in things like managing credit cards and unnecessary spending. This is especially the case if spending habits begin to diverge from previous spending behaviour.

The Financial Security and Cognitive Health Initiative is developing a screening test to detect cognitive impairment early. The aim is to increase awareness of it and to enhance both cognitive and financial health. A cross-disciplinary research team has been established with several academics, the financial industry and government. 

The title of the article is, Step aside, biomarkers. Look to the bank account for early signs of dementia

Eric Chess, M.D., is director of the Financial Security and Cognitive Health Initiative at the University of Denver’s Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging.

Consumers, care and ageism

A man sits on a bench in a garden near a building.Are customers the same as citizens? Consumers are part of the market. Citizens are part of society. There are consumer rights and then there are human rights. Older people are treated as consumers of specialised housing products. They are not treated as citizens in their own homes. This is one of the messages to come out if the Royal Commission.

In The Fifth Estate article, Willow Aliento says of the care and retirement living sectors, “…the inquiry found that there had been a shift towards thinking about the aged care sector as an “industry” with “customers”, rather than a social service for older citizens.” This is an important factor because this approach dehumanises residents. Even the retirement living sector is fundamentally ableist because they only advertise “active living”. 

The article discusses how poor design of the physical environments with large, noisy facilities and poor visual layouts contributes to residents’ reduced quality of life and care. it also cover issues of downsizing and pension and assets tests. Complex issues are tackled well in this article titled, How ageist, ableism and inequity are creating “shelter hell’ for older people

 

Brisbane encourages SDA housing

Blue and yellow logo of Brisbane City Council.Developers who deliver homes to Livable Housing Guidelines will receive a 33% reduction in infrastructure charges. The Brisbane City Council incentive scheme is not aimed at the mainstream market. It adds to the funding for Specialist Disabilty Housing (SDA) that is already on offer from the Commonwealth Government. 

The Property Council of Australia who negotiated this outcome welcomed the news in a media release. The Council has a fact sheet explaining the conditions of the incentive which is for Gold and Platinum level of the Livable Housing Guidelines.

Editor’s comment: While this is good for those interested in the SDA sector, it further entrenches the notion that universal design is only about people with disability. The benefits for including UD features in all housing are once again marginalised. With the upcoming Regulation Impact Statement due early next year, such schemes will only confuse the industry. The Disability Royal Commission has no doubt been a driver of the scheme because specialist housing is urgently needed.

 

How not to build a library

A long flight of stairs on the left looks out over Manhattan with rows of books tiered up on the right hand side. They are only accessible via the stairs.An architectural triumph that fails its patrons. If ever there was an example of how not to design a public library, this has to be it. All because the architects failed to check with any user groups. The architects still maintain the issues are just “wrinkles” in the design, not flaws. However, bookshelves lay empty, bleacher seating is sealed off for safety reasons, baby strollers block the walkways, and that doesn’t include the issues for people with disability – patrons and staff alike. Clearly they thought the ADA was nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, the building offers wonderful views. The article is from the New York Times, New Library is a $41.5 Million Masterpiece. But About Those Stairs. It explains the issues in more detail and has more pictures. There is also a news video from Spectrum News with the story. A salutary lesson in remembering function as well as form in design.

 

Liveability plus lovability

Open area with trees and people seated at tables in an outdoor cafe. Liveability usually refers to physical conveniences associated with city life. But how do they make us feel? Are our places lovable as well? A study from 26 neighbourhoods in the United States found that liveablity and lovability are not correlated. Intangible aspects of place aren’t just nice to have – they are critical for improving economic performance. But how do you measure lovability? Lucinda Hartley of University of Melbourne explains more about the research and how socialisation of places also increases economic activity. A place needs to be inclusive with Access-ability to make it lovable by all, of course. The title of the article is, Lovability versus Liveability: What big data tells us about our neighbourhoods. Includes nice pictures and links to other references.

Why wouldn’t you?

Graphic of a purple house shape with green outline for a window and a door.The catch cry “Why wouldn’t you? is the three word tag used in promotional material to promote universal design in housing. A builder, and a building designer are calling their collaboration Project Silver. They are promoting Livable Housing Australia’s Silver Level for improved liveability. The mystery is if it would cost so little in the scheme of things, why aren’t the building designer and builder just doing it automatically? The catch cry should be to the builder – why wouldn’t you just do it? Then no-one would have to label the home as some kind of special design.

The six minute video (below) puts the case very well. It includes contributions from different people, including the mayor of the Sunshine Coast. It’s worth a watch. Another builder in Townsville is telling the same story

Editor’s comment: The builder claims Silver Level costs an additional $3000 to potentially save $60,000. Possibly it is another way to sell an “extra” and therefore the customer pays over and above the actual cost of the features.

Australian Network on Universal Housing Design supports the Gold Level of the guidelines. It considers this level makes homes fit for purpose for the majority of the population across their lifetime. 

 

Hear this! The value of a hearing loop

Two women are on stage. One is lying down and looks dead. The other leans over her with grief.When theatre patrons can’t make out the dialogue they stop going. There’s no point. But a hearing loop can bring them back. A hearing loop works with a special switch on a hearing aid. It sends the sound from the speaker directly to the aid. Yes, there are other types of hearing augmentation. But who wants to go to ask for a special device to hang round your neck? Older people generally shun assistive technology because of the perceived stigma. Hearing loops are far more discrete. See this video of a case study that surprised a theatre manager. 

There are several types of hearing augmentation systems, but hearing loops are preferred by users. Other systems don’t cut out background noise or require a special device to be worn by users. English subtitling is sometimes used for operas so that patrons can follow the story. Captioning is a similar system and could be applied to live performances as well.

The Pain of Design

A work table is filled with paper and folders and a woman is cutting a piece of paper with scissors. It looks like a group of people are working on a design.Arthritis is a common condition and is not often referred to as a disability. However, the pain of arthritis is disabling. So how to design out pain? Design Council ran a workshop with people with arthritis. They found that no-one was interested in special products, which are often stigmatising. So the principle of inclusive design became the top issue.

“Inclusive design is crucial. You have to step away from the idea that it’s “older people” having a problem and start looking at a universal problem and therefore a universal solution.”

They found the most important thing was that people want desirable, stylish, mainstream products that anyone would want to own. People don’t want medicalised, stigmatising equipment. Clearly, including the user-voice is the way to design for all rather than the mythical average. 

The article is titled, Ollie Phelan of Versus Arthritis writes about the importance of the end-user being at the heart of design, and can be accessed on the Medium.com website where there is more information.

Ageing in Place: Not there yet

A suburban house in UK showing before and after the ramp. The ramp makes several zig-zags up the front of the house. It looks ugly.What home modifications are needed most and how much are they needed? Mary Ann Jackson analysed 50 home modification reports in Victoria to get an answer. The homes visited were built before any advocacy for accessible housing began. Consequently they all had a doorsill or step at the front door and tight spaces. This was further complicated with a screen door. Meter boxes also intruded on entry space. Many of the fittings, such as taps and handles were poorly designed to suit ageing in place. Jackson advises that accessibility issues are endemic to Australia’s existing housing stock. This is a big problem when 39.5% of households include a person with disability. If it is too expensive for governments or individuals to finance the required renovations, we will need another approach. Let’s hope the Regulatory Impact Statement due next year supports accessible design in all new homes.

Architect and Planner Jackson says, “Cooperation, collaboration, and a clear recognition of the emotional, physical, and economic cost-benefit of ageing in place will be needed to rebuild Australia’s housing stock to better accommodate all inhabitants throughout life.” The title of the newsletter article is Ageing in place – are we there yet?  

The picture above is famous for its technical compliance, but not usability, and definitely not aesthetics.