Design mobilised by a pandemic?

a row of public toilet handbasins sit in front of a large mirror. There are sensor taps and soap dispensers. Seems a pandemic is causing designers to consider designs from another perspective. An article on the ABC website discusses a re-think of both public toilet design and workplace design. FastCo website has a similar article on public bathroom design. They are both about infection control. But what might any new designs mean for people with disability, older people and people from diverse backgrounds?

Some suggestions have links to a universal design approach. Automatic doors to the bathroom or no door at all, sensor taps and sensor soap dispensers for a start. Women queuing inside and outside toilets has to be re-thought as well. But some immediate makeshift ideas might not work for everyone. The ABC article includes a picture of a large hook so people to use their forearm to open the door. However, the problem needs to be considered as whole, not just a door and a tap.

The article from FastCo looks deeper into the issues and the potential designs of the future. It goes beyond the details of sensor taps and looks at the design of the bathroom space itself. There are more issues than just touching surfaces and washing hands. A door hook is clearly not sufficient to prevent the spread of infection, and doesn’t solve the problem of social distancing.  

The title of the article on the ABC website is, Experts suggest public toilets and offices should be re-engineered to reduce the spread of infection

The title of the article on the FastCo website is, We may have to rethink the toilet seat altogether: How the coronavirus could change bathrooms for the better. 

The pandemic shows that designers can take a front seat for solving public health issues. But it shouldn’t take an emergency to make design changes for inclusion. However, it does show the importance of design and designers in our everyday life. 

Editor’s note: the noise of electric hand dryers make public toilets unusable for some people with autism. They also stir up any bugs lurking in the bathroom. People shaking off excess water before using the dryer isn’t a good idea either. 


Bath Tubs: Fashion vs Function

A bath tub sits in int he middle of the room. It is taller than the standard bathtub and sculpted into a shape with high ends with thin sides.The current bathroom trend is freestanding bathtubs. But the glamour of this kind of tub is washed away when you can’t use it or have an accident doing so. The transcript of a podcast by the Universal Design Project discusses the pros and cons of these bathtubs. Here are a couple of pertinent snippets from the discussion:

“A lot of times when someone is curious about universal design or accessibility, they’ll do a quick Google search to see what they can learn about it. Usually, they’ll search for pictures too so that they can get a better idea of how someone might have implemented universal design features in the past. But we’ve found that many times these pictures aren’t really depicting universal design and it’s very possible that architects and builders will see these pictures assume the design works for everyone, and run with it, and that might not be the best thing to do, especially in bathrooms.

“Most of our design advisors agreed … that they are dangerous and not functional. … [One of]the biggest flaws of this tub is that the sides are way too tall, the edges are way too narrow and it’s way too deep. These three flaws have a huge impact on how someone is able to get in and out of the tub. 

The podcast goes on to recommend some design improvements, but that “we really needed to go with a regular tub set up”.

Freestanding tubs are meant to stand away from walls. There are two problems with this. The tub is usually near a wall but not near enough to put a steadying hand on the wall or access a grab rail if needed, but not far enough away to make cleaning easy. In situations where the shower is over the bath as well, a grab bar is probably essential.

The best part about this fashion is that free standing bath tubs are usually set in larger bathrooms. This has to be a plus for accessibility, bathing children and for helping someone in the bathroom. 

Freestanding tubs, are they safe? is part of The Universal Design Project Good Fit Bad Fit series, and you can access the podcast as well as the transcript.  

Easy English and COVID-19

A page from the guide on retirement money.The coronavirus pandemic has produced a lot of information about the many changes to the way we do things. Many sources of information are available, but are they designed with everyone in mind? This is where Easy English and Easy Read have a very important role to play. Easy English and Easy Read are based on the fact that 44% of the population has low literacy skills. It is not specifically for people with intellectual disability. This requires content designed specifically for this group. So we are talking mainstream.
Cathy Basterfield has developed several free Easy English versions of important information. As well as the obvious stay home messages, Cathy has blog content on schools, money, and jobkeeper rules. Here are some links to the money information that can be downloaded from her site:

      1. A page from the guide on $750.Retirement money
      2. Help for retired people
      3. Help for apprentices and trainees
      4. You get a pension now
      5. You lost your job
      6. Who gets $750? 

This is only a fraction of her offerings. There’s rules for nursing homes, time to clean, lockdown, washing hands and much more. She has a blog page that explains Easy English and Easy Read if you want to know more. 

Editor’s note: Even as a person with good literacy skills, I find Easy English a quick and easy way to understand the key points. I think much of the confusion in the community is due to politicians and others using lots of words when fewer would do, and speaking quickly. When journalists ask questions of politicians they add to the confusion because the politician says the same thing again only using different words. 


No need to “fear the ugly”

A living room showing a staircase to the next level and a neatly fitted elevator.The Washington Post extols the virtues of universal design making the point that it can look beautiful. Regardless of how it looks, many people think it feels beautiful. That’s because it is good design – design that has a focus on comfort and convenience for the whole family. However, as is often the case, the article focuses on wheelchair access. Perhaps with so many injured veterans this is more of a focus in the US. The article discusses interior design in different settings and emphasises the “wellness” aspect of design. 

One key point is that of Boomers watching their parents go to age segregated living and they know they don’t want that themselves. Dallas interior designer Chad Dorsey says, ” “It starts outside with an ease of approach — something gracious,” he says: simple, elegant entrances that accommodate a wheelchair; shallow, illuminated steps with a handsome handrail; or a textured stone that provides traction. There are all sorts of ways to make a front door welcoming. “The more we talk about it, discuss it and show it, the more solutions we’ll find. Accessibility is a lifestyle, and it can be beautiful and natural.” ” There is no need to “fear the ugly”.

The article has lots of pictures, which are worth a look, showing how universal design can create access and comfort for everyone. The title of the article is, Accessible design is growing. But can it be beaurtiful?

Image courtesy of Motionspot. Note that while the lift provides access to the upper floor, the staircase has no hand rail or balustrade. If anyone trips or loses their balance, at least there is a lift if they become immobile! 

Online Meetings: Middle Class Standard Time?

A laptop screen shows several faces of people who are meeting online.Are your online meetings inclusive? Or did you get caught up in a middle class meeting culture? An article from The Commons discusses this and the need to consider the wellbeing of the group while trying to get through every agenda item. The article lists some key phrases that indicate you might be driving the meeting to hard and fast. For example, “As you can see, we’re packing a lot in today”, and ” We’ve got a lot of ground to cover in the time”. Phrases like these indicate you might be on Middle Class Standard Time says Andrew Willis Garcés.

Garcés discusses middle class values in the context of the business meeting. Workaholism, formal relationships, focus on task above all else, hierarchy and conflict avoidance. He goes on to look at the consequences of the Middle Class Standard Time and ways to avoid them. Other resources include, Leading Groups Online

A really insightful piece that can help us to recognise our biases and improve our online meetings. Easy read.


Home and away with bathrooms

A toilet sign with three icons: one indicating female, one male, and one both. The words are we don't care - just wash your hands.The latest access consultants’ newsletter has a focus on bathrooms in different settings as well as continence problems.  Specific designs for aged care settings, and technical information for accessible toilets are covered in this issue.

There’s also a discussion on the best terminology for labelling public toilets. Gender neutral was a term coined a while back, but there are new thoughts. Many people who identify as transgender or intersex feel unsafe in public toilets. A survey in the US found more than half avoided public bathrooms and use strategies like not drinking.

We all have to go at some time, and some more often than others. Bladder problems mean planning trips, short or long, around the availability of public toilets as the first priority. They are essential for getting out and about and staying active.

Bottom line – should we have any toilets designated and signed by gender or should they just be toilets?  As the sign says – Who cares? Just wash your hands.

Other items are World Hearing Day and Autism Awareness Day. The newsletter can be accessed online through issuu, or downloaded in a 9MB PDF file


Autism and Building Design

A young girl is wide-eyed with a drooping mouth as is she is about to be unhappy.If designers are not already thinking about people with autism, they soon will be, or should be. People with autism have the same rights to functional and accessible spaces as everyone else. In his article on Branch Pattern website, Stuart Shell gives an overview of ASD (autism spectrum disorder). He explains why building owners and designers need to include this group, and how it will create great architecture at the same time. 

One in one hundred and fifty children were diagnosed with ASD in 2000. ASD can take the form of extra sensory awareness, and higher levels of anxiety or involuntary responses. However, most autistic people say they have their own way of experiencing the world – it’s not a “disorder”. He concludes with a list of design options and different guidelines. It is a lengthy but very useful article that includes acoustics, lighting, thermal comfort and material finishes and furniture. There is a list of references at the end for further reading. What Autism Teaches Us About Design is an easy and comprehensive read on an important topic. 

There’s also the easy to read FastCo article, How to Design for Autism. As with most thoughtful design that aims to be inclusive, convenient and welcoming, designing interiors for children with autism makes for good interiors for children generally. Close attention was paid to texture, acoustics, and lighting conditions—features just as applicable to the rest of the world when it comes to designing autism-friendly spaces. The architect behind the design of the Center of Autism and the Developing Brain says the key is to be sensitive to light, sight, textures, and sounds. The article can be downloaded from the website.

Autism isn’t a disorder

Books on the subject of autism are  usually written by people who are not neurodiverse. So Siena Castellon, a neurodiverse advocate, has written a book for teenage girls based on her own experiences. She says many people think of the character from the movie Rain Man when the word autism is mentioned. This is similar to thinking about wheelchairs when mentioning the word disability. Neither depicts the broad range of experiences for either group. And it’s not something that needs a cure.

In a New Scientist article Siena relates the common misconception that she should look different in some way. Because she doesn’t, most people think that she can’t be autistic. This is not a compliment. The belief that boys are more likely to have autism than girls is not backed up by evidence, but this idea still prevails. Being neurodiverse poses many challenges – mainly due to the stereotypes others apply to them. 

Siena doesn’t think that community awareness has improved. Regardless, awareness doesn’t mean acceptance and equality. You can see more of Siena’s story in the New Scientist article, Autism isn’t a defect – here’s why we should embrace neurodiversity. There are more links in the article for further reading. 

Use the search facility on the left hand menu to find more posts on autism and neurodiversity

Step this way with no step

A grey tiled porch leads seamlessly into the home without any change in level.There’s lots of myths and worries about universal design features in homes. The no-step entrance is one of them. A covered entrance, which is great in itself, will keep away the rain for the most part. It’s also shade in the summer. A slight grade away from the entrance should deal with the rest. In fact, that is also good for all homes. And it’s easy to do when the home is first built. But people ask why have a no-step entrance when you don’t need it?

It’s based on the assumption that only wheelchair users need it. Think again. A new home means furniture deliveries. Perhaps a new baby on the way – yes, that’s the stroller or pram. Coming home with bags of shopping or a shopping trolley. And let’s not forget the teenager with a broken leg, or grandma who uses a wheelie walker. A no-step entry means everyone can visit and take part in family life. So it’s not just about now – it’s also about the future.

When it comes to cost, if it did cost a bit extra, how much would it be worth to you? The value of not going to institutional care sooner than you need to? The value of having a close family member come to your Christmas dinner? And what about the costly modifications you might need down the track. 

The Universal Design Project based in UK has a podcast and transcript that discusses this subject in more detail with a case study. 

Level entry to the alfresco area of a home showing tables and chairs on the tiled alfresco floor.

It’s also good to consider access to the patio or alfresco so that everyone can enjoy the family gathering. 


Hearing loss makes it harder to remember

Adults seated at tables in a classroom setting looking forward to the instructor at the front of the room Shari Eberts explains in her blog article how people with hearing loss use most of their brain capacity to interpret sounds. Consequently there’s not much left over for remembering.This is particularly the case where there is a lot of background noise. In information situations, such as fire training, this is an important factor. Everyone will need to remember what to do. In learning situations it’s also a significant consideration. 

This finding supports the case for instant captioning of live events and closed captioning in pre-filmed situations. A study on student learning also found that captioning helped learning. Where captioning is not possible, reducing cognitive load is another strategy. That means selecting places where background noise is minimal, speaking clearly and not too fast, using a microphone, and allowing sufficient time for questions. Other studies have found that visual information is more easily remembered by everyone, so pictures and videos would work well in information sessions and instructional situations. The title of the blog article is, Does Hearing Loss Make it Harder to Remember Things