Ageing in neighbourhood rather than retirement villages

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundOlder people know what they want in terms of housing and their neighbourhood. But has anyone asked them? Two researchers in Queensland have. This research came about because of serious concerns about congregate living during the COVID-19 pandemic. In their research findings, the researchers challenge the ideas of local planners. They say we need to look at ageing in neighbourhood rather than retirement villages.

The researchers found that local councils can act as a catalyst for the market to change and innovate. They propose infill developments with a mix duplexes and mid rise apartments with easy access to services. This would create age-friendly neighbourhoods. The article in The Conversation has lot of images and diagrams to illustrate their arguments. The title of the article is, Ageing in neighbourhod: what seniors want instead of retirement villages and how to achieve it

It is time to move away from focusing on what older people can no longer do to what they can be encouraged to do. That is the healthy ageing approach. Too often they are treated as a health problem. Older people know what’s best for them. Given the opportunity they can create solutions.

The table below shows the key features that make a home and neighbourhood a good place to live as they age.

The Fifth Estate has an article that extends the discussion on this topic into smart cities. The title of the article isThis is how we create the age-friendly smart city


Spot the Robot Dog senses how building space is used

A robot with four yellow articulated legs stands on a bare concrete floor in a half finished building. Could Spot the robot dog change the way buildings get made? Spot explores and senses spaces and captures the data. This kind of robot is used in places such as oil and gas sites where safety is an issue. But now Spot has become a part-time ‘architect’. Perhaps this robot will be deployed to check out accessibility of buildings too. Who knows?

Architecture firm Forster + Partners Applied Research and Development group used it in the development of Battersea Power Station. By monitoring the construction process each week, architects can see if the physical building is deviating from the plans. The potential for cost savings are obvious.

The robot also monitors completed and occupied buildings to see how space is being used. But humans have to get used to Spot because paying attention to the robot interferes with the scan and data collection. 

The FastCompany article has a lot more information and the videos are fascinating and show how the robot works. Let’s hope that accessibility and universal design are programmed into the next iteration of Spot. 

The title of the article is, This robot dog is changing the way buildings are designed, constructed, and used.


Airbnb without leaving home

The shins and feet of a person in bright joggers standing on a skateboard.Airbnb without leaving home doesn’t make sense. But that is what you can get now – an online activity with a small group. The aim is to make travel more inclusive. Airbnb now has Hosts “with neurodiverse guests in mind”. 

Airbnb has announced twelve online experiences for neurodiverse guests. They range from dance classes that teach coordination to skateboarding lessons. This idea is an extension of their “accessibility-centric” online experiences designed for people with disability. The aim of both these experiences is for friends and family to book an experience and share the activity together. All you need is a phone or computer and access to the internet. Airbnb considers this is “travel from home”.

Obviously this was a great idea during the COVID pandemic. It will be interesting to see if the interest continues. Experiences listed in the Airbnb article are from USA, UK and Australia. Prices are very reasonable.

Forbes online magazine has an overview of the experiences for neurodiverse guests. 


Victorian Government home design winner

An adult and child sit in the alfresco or balcony and a small child sits on the floor of the apartment. The room looks spacious.
Lian winning design courtesy ArchitectureAU

It’s a pity that journalists and others still refer to accessible places in terms such as “wheelchair friendly”. First it reduces disability down to one aspect of disability. Second, not all wheelchair users have the same conditions. Third, it perpetuates the idea that the accessibility is done and dusted. 

An article in ArchitectureAU showcases a winner of the Victorian Government’s Future Homes pilot program. The winning design is a block of 12 apartments – a mix of one, two, and three bedroom units. The article states that some ground level apartments are designed for “full wheel-chair accessibility”. 

It seems the apartment blocks are not designed with a lift. The gallery of pictures indicates that most apartments have the potential to have universal design features such as level entry and reasonable circulation spaces. It means, of course, that anyone living on level one or two will be disadvantaged if they acquire a mobility disability. What do they do then? It also means wheelchair users can’t visit neighbours on another floor. And let’s not forget family and friends who want to visit too. At least accessibility gets a mention.

Terms such as “fully accessible” and “wheelchair accessible” do not convey any useful information because the terms are too broad. These terms do not inspire confidence. The use of such terms indicates a passing reference to accessibility without understanding what is required. The spelling of ‘wheelchair’ is also not helpful. 

Universal design – the design of everything

Head and shoulders of Meaghan Walls wearing a red top.
Meaghan Walls

The term ‘universal design’ has its early roots in the built environment, but it is so much more now. Meaghan Walls talks about how she came to the universal design concept in a podcast. She explains how universal design is now the design of everything.

The podcast is one of series by The Universal Design Project.  Meaghan Walls explains how she was first introduced to the concept during her master’s degree. She came to realize that it covered more than objects;

“universal design could be applied to all aspects of our community from services to programs, to processes and businesses. And that kind of blew my mind. And I realised you could take that common thread through all aspects of our engagement with the community.”

Logo for Good Fit Poor Fit podcast by The Universal Design Project.Some nice points made in this 12 minute podcast that comes with a transcript. Walls discusses showers, invisible hinges, swing-away hinges, language, wayfinding and much more.



Netflix seeks inclusion both sides of the camera

Netflix inclusion report front coverNetflix has worked on getting an inclusive workplace and now they want inclusive content. Their inclusion report shows where they stand on inclusion factors. Now Netflix wants inclusion on both sides of the camera. There is still a lot of work to do.

The Netflix report is based on a study conducted by the University of Southern California. While they have made a lot of progress there is still more to do especially with racial/ethnic groups. The report has some interesting statistics. For example, 52% of all leads/co-leads were women and girls. Female film directors were not as well represented. The biggest area for reform now is the racial/ethnic contributions.

Title of the article on FastCompany is, This is how inclusive Netflix’s original programming really is.  

The Netflix webpage has a video outlining the content of the report, Sowing the Seeds: Inclusion takes root at Netflix.  There’s and audio version too. 

Older people and design

Close up of an older man and woman with their heads together dancing. He is wearing a hat and cravat, and she is wearing a red flower in her hair. They look loving.When it comes to older people they want the same designs as anyone else. And why not? Too often older people are gathered together under the umbrella of “the elderly”. This term assumes everyone is the same. It’s applied to people as young as 60 or 65 and every age after that. We can debate the terms of “older” and “elderly” but in the end, we are talking about people and design.

An article in Design Week challenges assumptions about older people and design. It reports on a study involving older people in design projects. They found older people “want what we want”. The ‘we’ in this context is young designers. A key point is that people can live independently for longer if things are designed around their needs. In the end, age isn’t relevant. But designing inclusively is. That’s why devices designed specifically for older people are bought but often abandoned. 

The title of the article is, Why age is often the “least relevant thing” when co-designing with the elderly.  It’s an easy read magazine article with good points for designers.

Some days don’t have 24 hours

Lots of clock faces piled on top of each other showing different times. Week has seven days and every day has 24 hours. We all know that. But some people don’t have the same amount of time available within 24 hours as others. And it isn’t a case of poor time management. Time gets stolen. So what does it mean when I say, “some days don’t have 24 hours”?

Sheri Byrne-Haber pinpoints the issues in her article in Medium about the disability time thief. Sometimes it’s a few moments here and there, and sometimes it a regular chunk. If you can’t get out of bed, that’s a whole day stolen. Byrne-Haber calls this the Disability Tax. 

People without disability are unaware of those extra moments it takes to do everyday things such as putting on shoes. Other time stealers are searching for websites your device can read, or waiting for someone to open a heavy door. And that is only if you have a disability. If you are a woman or a person of colour with disability you have extra discriminations to deal with.

The title of Byrne-Haber’s article is We don’t all have the same 24 hours. Anyone who thinks that we do lives in a monster privilege bubble.

This article shows why consulting with people with disability is not a matter of setting a date and time and sending out the invitation. The time of day and the place are really important considerations. 

Museum design with equity and dignity

View of exterior of the museum showing a giant box shape cantilevered over the building's ground level glass facade.
Exterior view of the Olympic and Paralympic Museum.

The spiral design concept of Guggenheim Art Museum remains one of the most inclusive design concepts. That’s because everyone experiences the museum in the same way. It delivers equity and dignity, and of course accessibility for everyone. It’s universal design. Designers of the new Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs re-imagined the spiral theme. And they involved Paralympic athletes in the design process. 

Similarly to the Guggenheim, all visitors enter the museum on the ground floor. They take an elevator to the top of the building, and gradually wind their way down the spiral.  In an article by FastCompany, the architects say that connectivity was the biggest architectural idea of the project.

Their initial idea was to have the spiral at the centre. The early design concept evolved after consultation with Paralympians and the spiral moved towards the outer edge of the building. This was so the ramps are more gradual and more circulation space was included. And it’s not just about wheelchair users.

The Museum website has a Plan Your Visit page that gives information about accessible media, audio descriptions, wheelchair access, tactile information, open captioning and American Sign Language. There are more personalised services available. The website has a great video giving an overview of the building design and the museum experience. 

The title of the article in FastCompany is, The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, celebrates all athletes – and was deigned for all visitors.  Perhaps we need more public buildings designed on the spiral theme. And more public buildings involving users at the design concept stage.


Front door key design: A tweak of difference

A hand is inserting the L shaped key into the lock.
The “L” shaped key head

Improving the design of everyday objects so that more people can use them is not difficult. But when some people can’t use the design, adaptations are required. Thankfully, lever tap handles became the norm and tacked-on tap turners are not needed as much. But there is still a way to go with other everyday items. Take the front door key for example. That design hasn’t changed much at all. Until now. 

FastCompany features a “few brilliant design tweaks” to keys to make them more accessible. It is a great example of design thoughtfulness. The difference with this design is that you can tell which way is up (or down) in the dark. That’s because it is “L” shaped. However, it is still a small key and people with dexterity problems will still need extra size to grip and turn.

A red plastic cover for the head of the key to make grasping easier.
Standard design of a key turner for people with arthritis

People with arthritis will be familiar with the device you can add to your key to make the head larger and easier to turn.

The title of the article is, A few brilliant design tweaks made this common household object way more accessible.