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 He makes a good point that by the time the ink dries on new access codes they are already out of date.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. 

Website cookie banners: barriers to access?

Some people think that people who are blind can’t use websites or smartphones because they can’t see the screen. This is not true of course because they use screen reader software to read out the content of the webpage. However, even on reasonably accessible websites, cookie banners can prevent access to the very first page.

A black computer background with a red circle around the red words Access Denied! Cookie banners, barriers to access.

Many websites have accessible features, but they are not necessarily linked up. The popup cookie banner can prevent some users from accessing the website entirely.

Clive Loseby’s Tedx talk explains that despite legislation for online accessibility, very few websites meet basic access standards. You can check your easily by doing what people with low vision and people with screen readers do. They use the keyboard and not the mouse. Go to your home page and use the Tab key. Does it progress through the menu or navigation tabs?

It is a legal requirement in most countries to have accessible websites – the guidelines and standards have been around for more than 20 years. What is taking so long? Clive Loseby explains basics and how every organisation or business is missing out on customers.

Some websites use popup banners to advertise something and others use scrolling images as well. These have a similar effect to the cookie banners.

A reminder about attitude

Some of the responses to the talk in the comments section are not positive and in some cases almost abusive. While all YouTube videos get their share of negatives, it is still a reminder that ableism is alive and well.

Does design of parliament buildings affect democracy?

Does the design of parliament buildings affect democracy? An interesting question. It’s often said that the design of our environment affects our behaviours. So would that apply to houses of parliament as well?

Floor plan of seating in Bangladesh Parliament building showing a horseshoe cum circular design.
Floor plan of seating in Bangladesh Parliament House

In US politics we hear talk of ‘reaching across the aisle’. What if there was no aisle and everyone sat in a circle? We know that spatial design affects mood and communication. Hospitals are designed to promote healing and airports to minimise stress. Research by an architecture firm in Amsterdam took a look at the links between architecture and the political process.

Architecture firm XML examined as many of the 193 United Nations member states as they could and visited 15. Classroom style, horseshoes, opposing benches and semi-circles were most typical. The XML website has floor plans and 360 degree views as a preface to the book.  Seems Bangladesh has a good parliament building model (floorplan pictured).

The authors say, “Once built, parliaments are locked in time, whereas political systems can and should adapt to what is changing in the world. It is necessary to rethink our models for collective decision-making but it seems to be incredibly difficult. Architecture can be one of the ways to work and experiment with it.” There is a systematic lack of innovation in the spaces used by our elected leaders.

Some interesting points and 360 degree views of several buildings in the FastCompany article if you have access. The title of the article is, The Subtle Way Government Architecture Shapes Governments Themselves.

Studio units universally designed

It’s often said that universally designed dwellings need extra space. Designing accessible studio units puts that myth to bed. It’s how you design the space that makes the difference. It’s all about being creative.

Artists impression of the four unit complex from the street showing treas and plantings and low set building with an angled roofline.

According to Studio Bright, a project of four units are designed to accommodate Gold Livable Housing standards. The second living or study space can be closed-off to become a second bedroom for a caregiver or visitor.

Each unit is designed to catch natural light and is set in thoughtful landscaping. The four car parking spaces are flexible areas for communal outdoor space. Fruit trees and other plantings help foster a sense of community. The L-shaped units can be arranged in different ways, which means this model can be rolled out on other sites. 

More examples

The 2022 edition of the National Construction Code mandates equivalent of Livable Housing Silver Level. At first it was assumed small studio units couldn’t meet this standard and should be exempt. However, here are four floor plans to show how to do it. In some respects it’s easier to meet the standard because there is no waste space with corridors an there are only two doors. Have a look at the examples below.

53 sqm 1 bed apartment floor pan
53 sqm 1 bed apartment floor pan
50 m studio floor plan
50 m studio floor plan
50 m 1 bed floor plan
50 m 1 bed floor plan
36.3 m studio unit floor plan
36.3 m studio floor plan

Although the equivalent of Livable Housing Silver level features will be in the National Construction Code, each state and territory has yet to implement it in their respective codes.

Netflix has taken captioning to the next level

Subtitling and captioning are often used interchangeably when reproducing the spoken word in written form. Subtitles usually mean a language translation for films and television. However, it is often used to mean closed captioning. Whether it’s captioning or subtitling, it now provides an opportunity to describe the sound effects as well as the words. Sound effects and music are a major part of the movie experience, especially the horror and action genres. So Netflix has taken captioning (or subtitles as they call them) to the next level.

A horror scene in shades of blue with a human figure with wrinkled skin and no proper flesh. From Netflix series, Stranger Things.

Netflix’s subtitling gives deaf and hard of hearing viewers the same immersive experience of tentacles squelching and roiling wetly as hearing audiences.

Photo Netflix

An article in Vulture online blog explains how Netflix are keeping up with the ever-changing rules for subtitlers. The subject of the article is the Netflix series, Stranger Things. Apparently the subtitles “became a sensation among fans”.

People writing captions and subtitles are usually in the background working away quietly. The Netflix subtitling team relies on audio but sometimes gets a shooting script which helps with character and location names. What ends up on screen is often different to the script.

A young man is holding a large box of popcorn and has a frightened look on his face.

I didn’t understand the care and diligence that a good subtitler makes and the difference they make within a whole community.

Photo from Pixabay

The subtitlers try to stick to genre-appropriate language as well. “Squelching” in a horror movie is meant to evoke disgust. The sound would be described differently in a Regency-era picture or comedy. It’s all about creating atmosphere.

The title of the Vulture article is, Wet Writhing and Eldritch Gurgling: A Chat With the Stranger Things Subtitles Team. It has more background information on how the team works and thinks.

Editor’s comment. For hearing people, there is a bonus. It’s like reading the book and viewing the story at the same time. It will be good if all subtitlers and captioners follow suit. Audio describers have the task of matching the vision to those sounds to create the same atmosphere.

A rising tide lifts all the boats:

Inclusive ministries and universal design

Many churches and places of worship are improving the accessibility of their premises. But have they thought of more than just getting in the door? What about faith leaders with disability?

What is good for people living with disabilities is good for all of us, and a rising tide lifts all the boats.

Bill Gaventa
A rising tide lifts all the boats

Traditionally, men have taken all the leadership roles, and in some faiths they still do. But in other faith groups women are gradually being accepted into these roles. Progressive faith-based institutions might also consider gender diverse leaders. So it’s time to push the envelope for broader inclusion and that means embracing leaders with disability.

An article by Bill Gaventa discusses universal design in different forms as a way to be more inclusive. A major role for any faith leader is to pass on knowledge about the faith to followers. That means teaching and learning methods need to go beyond the written word and preaching techniques.

Gaventa writes that ministries are coming of age and that it is time to advocate for inclusion in faith communities.

Four panes of a church stained glass window depict different people needing help.

The primary premise of Universal Design is that those environments, including places like religious education classes and worship services, should be designed, from the beginning, to include a wide variety of people with varied learning styles and needs.

The title of the article is A rising tide lifts all the boats: It is about All of Us. It is nicely written in a conversational style and is wide-ranging. Gaventa also discusses assistive technology, understanding disruptive behaviour and universal design for learning. “A rising tide lifts all boats” is a fitting analogy here as well as for economics.

Whatever way a congregation might get to the point of Universal Design, it puts new meaning on our celebration of the “church universal.”

Homes for life beyond 100

Four older men wearing hats sit at a square table in the park.

Don’t be fooled by the headline. The segregated model of housing lives on in the minds of the housing and construction industry. But when you look at what their new ideas are, their homes for life beyond 100 look remarkably like those in our ordinary neighbourhoods.

The “senior housing industry” in the United States is staying with the notion of segregation as the solution to living in later life. Residents could stay for as long as 40 years and that means their business model has to change. How these places are planned and built need a product recall. That’s what Nate Berg writes in a FastCompany article.

Health and fitness, intergenerational housing, and introducing university students into the mix is part of the new way of thinking. The way the designs are described in the article seem like good designs for all ages. Why can’t people of all ages walk from their apartment to the shops and restaurants?

Segregated housing for people in later life perpetuates ageist attitudes and reinforces stereotypes. The notion of walkability and amenity is something everyone can enjoy.

The expansion focuses on improving the walkability of the community, both in terms of the layout and walking paths but also its accessibility to the kinds of amenities and places people want to go.

Staying connected

According to the article senior housing models are changing from insular layouts to one that’s more connected and encouraging of social interaction. Interweaving senior housing with preschool activities is part of this “new” idea.

The title of the article is How to design homes for life well beyond 100. It also covers issues of affordability and being creative with small spaces.

In Australia, research with older adults shows that they don’t want segregation, they just want accessible and welcoming neighbourhoods. If we are to combat ageism inclusive designs have much to offer. A new version of the segregation model might not be the way of the future after all.

However, the senior housing industry both in the US and Australia is expecting to sell more of their products in the future. Building family homes that will last your lifetime is a challenge to their business model.

Access Symbol Competition Winners

In January 2022, the International Union of Architects and Rehabilitation International launched an access symbol design competition.

The competition was open to architects, graphic designers to create a new international symbol of accessibility.

The winning entry by Ukrainian architect Maksym Holovko.

The winning entry features a white square embedded in a black circle. A black rectangle on the right hand side of the white square resembles an open door. The judges said it was easily recognisable, indicating openness using basic shapes.

Second and third prizes are simple and clear.

The second prize went a German graphic designer, Lena Seifert. The design of a black cross with a black dot within the arms of the cross indicated equality and inclusivity.

The third prize went to Czech architecture student Barbora Tucanova. The simple enveloping design of two curved shapes reflects some of the original wheelchair symbol.

The winning designs will be submitted to the ISO/TC 145″Graphical Symbols” working group for consideration.

It’s been said many times that the current international access symbol is misleading. That’s because it makes people think of wheelchair users as the only people needing access considerations. But it’s so well recognised it’s been so difficult to change. So we shall see if this competition works.

You can view the extensive gallery of entries to see how varied the ideas are.

Thanks to Ergonomics in Design for All Newsletter for this information.

TikTok and older adults

Hand holding a smartphone with the TikTok icon.

New research shows older adults are reframing ageing with TikTok.

TikTok has a reputation for being the playground of teenagers and younger adults. However, older adults are having fun with it too.

Compared to Facebook and Twitter, TikTok videos create opportunities for older adults to be influencers across all age groups. A new study from Singapore found that TikTok had both positive and negative aspects for older adults.

In trying to show that “oldies” can be “with it” they make fun of their conditions. But joking about one’s limitations brought about by the ageing process does little to dispel negative stereotypes. Negative stereotypes have an impact on how older adults feel about themselves as they grow older. So it’s not just how other people view them.

These feelings impact health and wellbeing and sense of self. However, the study showed such jokes are outnumbered by videos of older people defying stereotypes and embracing their ageing bodies.

An older woman with white hair and dressed in bright yellow and wearing sunglasses is singing into a microphone enthusiatically on TikTok.

Older adults are challenging stereotypes on TikTok.

The title of the article is, Not Too Old for TikTok: How Older Adults are Reframing Aging. The researchers compiled the most viewed videos of users aged 60 years and older with at least 100,000 followers. From a base of 1382 videos, they found 348 that had ageing content and these were used for analysis.

Three themes on ageing

Three themes emerged from the videos. Most fell under the theme of defying age stereotypes (71%). These videos were about embracing their ageing bodies. Making light of age-related vulnerabilities was present in 18% of the uploads. These videos joked about age stereotypes about such things as dementia. Calling out ageism (11%) revolved around older people condemning ageist practices.

The authors recommend encouraging older adults to create their own social media content. This is one way to counter some of the negative stereotypes about older people being technophobes. It will also encourage them to share the experiences of later life and become more active in age-based advocacy.

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