The architectural profession has faced issues of race, gender and sexual diversity, but disability is still a taboo. Awareness raising about people with disability officially began with the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 – forty years ago. But “coming out” with disability still seems harder than claiming your race, gender or gender diversity.
According to an article in the Architects Journal magazine, few architects identify as having a disability. And those that do, face significant challenges in study and professional practice. Not only is it difficult to enter the profession, but the profession misses out on a pool of life experience that could create better design for everyone. The article relates the professional experiences of four architects with different disabilities.
Their experiences tell the same story as many others. The difficulty in being accepted as part of the group and being taken seriously. It’s little wonder that architects (or any other professional) will “come out” and get the support they need. Amy has multiple chronic illnesses, Ben is deaf, Poppy has a vision impairment, and Roseanne has dwarfism. You can read their experiences in, Is disability architecture’s final taboo?
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.” Spikes are embedded in flat surfaces underneath bridges to deter rough sleepers. Seats too uncomfortable to sit on for any length of time. Such designs are at odds with moves to encourage people to get out and about and stay active. Flat surfaces act as seating for those tired legs. Instead of hostile design we should be looking to solve homelessness and other social ills – these aren’t crimes. Meanwhile, it goes against all the principles of universal design.
The article is titled, Defensive architecture: design at its most hostile. It has examples and pictures and discusses the issues of designing to exclude. One picture shows a bench seat with armrests and suggests they are to stop people sleeping on them. However, armrests help people to push up to a standing position.
The Warrnambool train line in Victoria still has old inaccessible carriages. The 2020 Budget promises money for carriage upgrades. However, it could be a long wait. ABC News has an article about the long distance Warrnambool to Melbourne line and the proposed upgrades.
Train station design will be the topic of Michael Walker’s presentation on 13 October 2020 for the CUDA webinar, People and Transport. You can also find out more about the Disability Transport Standard review. Registerwith Interpoint Events. CUDA members are automatically signed up.
Minimum access standards for the built environment do not guarantee accessibility. Unfortunately, we still have designers who aren’t interested in best practice, just ticking the compliance box. It also means that access is a last thought and remedies, such as ramps, are tacked onto the “grand design”. But universal design should be the grand design if we want equitable and dignified use by all.
The Access to Premises Standard of 2011 has improved accessibility to new buildings, but it is not the total answer. They only go part way in creating inclusive environments.An article in Sourceable addresses some of the issues and the myths that remain within the property industry. The myths are explained in detail in the article and are listed below:
Access is the same as universal design.
Universal design in more expensive than access.
The Australian Standard for Access considers all people with disability.
The dimensions in the Australian Standard provide independent access for everyone.
Minimum compliance guarantees all people with disability cannot use everything in a building.
Access consultants know everything about access, disability and universal design.
As the Black Lives Matter movement continues across various industries, it becomes clear that white people still dominate. According to one survey in the US, just 3% of designers identify as Black. Consequently, things we use every day are designed from white experience. And young people don’t see designers who look like them. But just employing more people of colour or from different backgrounds is no guarantee of culture change. It’s culture change that makes the difference – not just workforce diversity.
An article in FastCompany discusses how young people of colour are being offered free courses to develop their design skills. Mo Woods who works for Microsoft explains how design agencies can connect with communities as part of the change process. He runs a not for profit that offers free design courses and workshops. It shows how design can be a viable career. Getting into communities isn’t easy. Mo Woods provides the example of starting a basketball program and then introducing a design element such as sneakers or team logo. This creates an entry point for introducing young people to design. Woods’ project is called the Inneract Project.
While planning Covid-safe processes and procedures it’s easy to forget accessibility. To the rescue comes a handy checklistwith things to watch out for. The higher education advice applies to almost all built environments where people are coming and going. Here are some of the key points:
Remind maintenance staff to sanitise accessible features: tactile and Braille signage, and automatic door openers.
Make floor markers high contrast: one way arrows in hallways, for example.
Ensure floor markings are clear and intuitive. Where to stand should be obvious. Boxes individuals can stand in are clearer than lines or cross-markings.
Eliminate protruding objects and trip hazards: wall mounted sanitisers, A-frame signs, for example.
Is the built environment designed for social distancing in a pandemic? The quick retrofitting in buildings and outdoor spaces, indicates pandemics were not envisaged in designs. But the pandemic has revealed many problems experienced by people before it struck. Being stuck at home for a long time is one of them. Not being able to access cafes is another. People with mobility restrictions in particular are saying, “welcome to my world”.
Being isolated at home because you can’t physically get out is not new to everyone. An article in Sourceable, People, Pandemics and Premises,discusses some of the issues the pandemic has highlighted. Here are some points to consider:
Plastic screens at customer service counters make it difficult for people with hearing loss.
Face masks make lip-reading impossible and muffles speech.
Lack of door automation means touching door handles.
Narrow footpaths and internal corridors make social distancing impossible.
The height of take-away counters in cafes make ordering difficult from a seated position and difficult to hear each other.
Self-serve counters and check-outs are preferred now, but the space is too small to include mobility devices.
The design of housing also gets a mention and the recent “bean counter” approach to universal design in housing doesn’t take account of the pandemic. And this will not be the one and only time we have a pandemic. Our homes are now school rooms, workplaces and refuges. Apart from general accessibility for everyone, the pandemic requires us to re-think the 1950s “ideal” home design. It’s time for some real universal design thinking.
Although older people are keen to avoid residential aged care, they seem slow to make any home adaptations to make this possible. The concept of ageing is put down to luck and genes. People aren’t aware of the ways they can control their own destinies and experience of ageing. As much as we might like to put off the inevitable, it will happen sooner or later.
Western cultures extol the virtues of youth and beauty so it is little wonder that anything related to ageing is viewed negatively. That includes making adaptations to the home when it’s time for renovations. Remodelling or modifications are usually done as a result of a major health event. By then good solutions are lost in favour of the quickest way to solve the problem. This often results in poor outcomes and low-quality construction. And this gives modifications a bad name because they are rarely aesthetically pleasing.
“Discharge planning is a quick process at the end of treatment. Remodeling takes time. Designing good solutions is iterative, and unless drawings, permitting, procurement, and scheduling are performed in an orderly process, the results may be chaos, poor problem-solving, and low-quality construction. Home modifications are then seen as a health solution, rather than as a proactive, forward-thinking policy.”
“The researchers uncovered deeply rooted skepticism throughout the general population regarding the idea that individuals could control the course of their aging experience. People tend to assume that whatever happens—good or bad—is a matter of luck or genetics. This mindset creates a paradox: the more professionals in the field of aging urge folks to take action, the less likely consumers are to trust such professionals, because they are making recommendations contrary to consumers’ sense of what is possible.”
Abstract: Three quarters of older adults in the United States would prefer to age in place, but our current housing stock is not suited for older adults with mobility issues and chronic disease. Modifying one’s current home, prior to onset of advanced aging, can prevent falls and illnesses common in late life. Confusion on how to motivate older adults to remodel remains, but there are bright spots in policy regarding home modifications. This article details home modification programs and policy going forward to solve this challenge.
Smart cities are talked about as a good thing, but can we be sure where they are leading us? This promised land with sustainability, connectivity and optimisation, might have a human rights cost. An interesting point from Amnesty International.
On the one hand we have a model for inclusive urban growth with jobs and green credentials. On the other, community groups say this as a contest between surveillance capitalism and democracy. This is the point ofan article by two tech peopleat Amnesty International.
The authors discuss the growth of smart cities and the Internet of Things. The connectivity of devices and people and the wonders of inventions seems like Utopia. But a lot of data is being collected and this is where the threat to human rights emerges. They argue that human rights must be put at the centre of development plans for smart cities. Otherwise the Big Tech companies will be empowered even more.
Do architects have the skills and attitude we need to create truly inclusive environments? Is it even possible to design architecture for everyone? These two questions were put to Jane Duncan, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects. She says architects are in pole position, but we are still polarising people into people with disability and people without disability. It is time we realised that “we just need to design for people.”
The article in Smart Cities Library is short but to the point. As a person who is just five feet one inch, Jane Duncan finds many things physically out of her reach. So she is in a good position to call for architects to design for diversity. “Removing barriers that create undue effort and separation enables everyone to participate equally, confidently, and independently in everyday activities”.