Nike meets Universal Design

The Nike shoe is fashioned with pastel coloured sections. The picture shows a person taking their foot out of the shoe.Nike meets universal design again. They’ve improved their original Flyease design with a new shoe concept. They’ve found a totally different way of making the shoe easy to get on and off. So anyone experiencing trouble bending over, difficulty with fastenings, or just needing a speedy on and off will find this design excellent. When they are past their best they would make a great gardening shoe too – slip on and slip off at the door. Like all good designers who take a universal design approach, they’ve improved on their original design.

The secret of the new design is the way the shoe opens up to put on. The weight of the foot closes the shoe. Taking off is easy too. By stepping on the heel of the shoe (don’t we all do that anyway?) the shoe pops open. The Flyease Go shoes are an excellent example of universal design. They are easy, convenient and intuitive to use – for everyone. Well almost. Much will depend on the range of sizing. 

There is more information and two short videos on the FastCompany website that show how they work. Or you can visit the Nike website

There is also a YouTube video where the designer explains how they work and what the design concerns were. A great piece of engineering. 



School and apartment block merge

Aerial view of the proposed development showing the apartment towers and the school precinct at ground level.
Image by Jack Hobhouse/courtesy HawkinsBrown

Most schools have a lot of open space which is generally reserved for students. But these spaces are left empty a lot of the time. By merging a school with an apartment block, some spaces can be shared. This is part of the motivation behind an experimental building in Hackney, London. This is an example of reducing the segregation of generations and being more inclusive. It takes mixed use to another level. 

The 89 apartments are in two tower blocks while the school juts out from the base. There is a clear delineation between the two but the design shows they are meant to be together. For example, the school’s basketball court and the apartment block’s common room are shared spaces.

The architect said, “The interconnected apartments and school suggest that adults and children don’t have to be treated like different species in a zoo. By bringing them together, this space shows that school kids and apartment dwellers can peacefully coexist.” I call that another version of inclusive design.

The title of the article is, In London, an experimental building houses two very different types of tenants. It’s from the FastCompany website.


Defying the stereotypes

Karen Killilea has two young women each side of her and a young man behind. They are all smiling at the camera.Personal stories are a good way of engaging with an issue. When it comes to disability there are many stories such as the one in the Washington Post. It tells the story of a woman who was born with cerebral palsy in 1940 and her life defying the stereotypes. This is at a time when people with disability were hidden away at home or in institutions. 

There are stories that many would consider inspirational just because the person with disability did everyday things. Stella Young calls this out as inspiring porn. Some stories should rightfully inspire, but in the right way. Seeing a black president of the United States, a woman prime minister, or a senator with disability can be important figures for younger people. They see what is possible – “you cannot be what you cannot see”. The story in the Washington Post is titled, Karen Killilea, whose story helped change views on cerebral palsy, dies at 80.

The Mighty Girls Facebook page is promoting a series of books about Karen Killilea written by her mother. They aim to encourage parents and children to defy the stereotypes that still exist today.  

Architecture and tactile ground markers

A band of yellow tactile hazard markers surrounds the outside of a poorly constructed footpath. But there are no markers on the nearby kerb ramp.When it comes to accessibility in the built environment, it’s a common for people to think wheelchairs. Consequently, designers think of adding ramps, wider corridors and elevators. The Australian Standard for access and mobility is focused on wheelchair users and people with vision impairment. So it is little wonder that designers think this is the sum total of disability access – something to be added at the end. When tactile ground markers and ramps are not integral to the design we end up with long ramps and an excess of tactile ground markers. 

An article in Archdaily discusses the integration of tactile surfaces into design. The article gives a brief history, discusses the different types of tactile ground markers and how they are used. The main point of the article is that added thoughtfully, tactile makers can “improve the lives of all their occupants”. The article has many pictures to illustrate points made. 

A blind person will use their white cane to follow the directional markers, not their feet. People with low vision or partial sight can also use these markers effectively if there is sufficient colour contrast. 

The title of the article is, Why we should integrate tactile surfaces into architecture. It has pictures and drawings to illustrate points. 

The picture above shows a row of hazard markers (round dots) surrounding a poorly constructed forecourt to a building. Thoughtful construction would have eliminated the need for this. Ironically, the kerb ramp at the left of the picture has no markers contrary to standards. 

Three steps into doorway are tiled with grey hazard tactile markers edged with yellow markers. Editor’s comment: I have a large file of pictures of poorly and wrongly placed tactile ground surface indicators (tgsi). Some are placed as if to prevent slips. For example, on the treads of stairs. 


Accessible: more than step-free

A woman is pushing a man in a wheelchair up a ramp into the train. The train guard looks on. Another woman in a wheelchair waits for her turn. A man with a stroller is also in the picture.What’s it like for wheelchair users to navigate cities? Sandwich boards on footpaths, ramps too long or steep to use, and the housekeeping trolley left in the lift are just three examples. Free tickets to museum are useless if you can’t access the building or exhibits. Likewise a step-free entry does not make everything accessible. Neither is a bell at the door of an inaccessible building so that a staff member can offer to carry you in. After reporting on the most accessible city, Chester in UK, The Guardian asked readers across the globe share their experiences of accessing cities. Their stories make for interesting reading.

Inconsistency of access is a key issue for one wheelchair user. While one or two shops might make an effort, others don’t and some buses are accessible and others aren’t. Accessible toilets have such heavy door springs they are impossible to open. Another wheelchair user reported that some cafes and shops are accessible, but his choices are limited. It always means thinking ahead before leaving home. 

Having poor mobility and muscle strength means help is needed to carry things, but when the disability is invisible people are rarely willing to help. Similarly, standing on public transport can be painful, but at busy times no-one is willing to give up their seat. People with autism find public transport very stressful. Autism is another invisible disability that gets very little consideration.

Taking an adult child out for the day is impossible without a suitable toilet facility. Consequently it means staying home. Holidays are just a dream. 

Damaged or non-existent kerb cuts, potholes, out of order lifts, shops with narrow entrances are all barriers to getting out and about for a wheelchair user and anyone with limited mobility. 

The title of The Guardian article is, ‘I feel like a second-class citizen’: readers on navigating cities with a disability.  


Why home buyers don’t get UD

A banner advertising home and land packages. It says, "for people who want more".“We will build it if they ask for it” say the builders. But do they want home buyers to ask for it? And would they build it? The new home selling process relies on capturing the client’s personal and emotional commitment to the home before they sign the contract. And how do they do that? By getting them to choose the colours and styles of fixtures and fittings first. Once that happens the client becomes emotionally committed. The sale is made. Too late to consider universal design features – even if customers knew what they were.

This insight comes from an article in Sourceable by Darren Love. The opening paragraph says it all. 

“Builders seek innovative ways to market their products to clients. One method is to commit the client to a process that invests time and most importantly “emotional commitment” in the process. Focus the client on an ideal that the builder can make a reality.  The client’s “dream” of owning a house becomes real with the “help” of the builder.”

The title of the article is, Responsibility before Profit. It critiques the selling methods that builders use in this highly competitive market where cost cutting is part of the process. The article clearly explains why we cannot rely on the mass market housing industry to offer anything more than a choice of colour and upgrades to fixtures and fittings. 

RIDBC is moving to a new home

Artist impression of the main entry to the building showing steps and a corresponding ramp entry to the building.The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children is moving to a new home. The Macquarie University campus is to be the new site for the RIDBC. The design and development application are on public exhibition until 16 December.

WMK Architecture created the design for the school and recreation areas and is featured in ArchitectureAu magazine. The article discusses the building style and materials, but says little about any access or universal design features.

The gallery of pictures of the proposed design shows some good features for everyone. Seating surrounds pillars so that people, blind or sighed, don’t crash into them. Curved outdoor seating enables deaf children to see each other signing. This style is good for everyone and encourages interaction. Patterned floor treatments are questionable though as these can be confusing to people who have marginal sight. Patterns can also be confusing to people with visual perception issues. The main entrance has both steps and a ramp of equal widths indicating choice. 

Have a look at the gallery of pictures and see what you think. The picture above is from the gallery. 

There is nothing in the article to suggest that building users were involved in the design, but it is difficult to imagine that they weren’t.

Disability: Architecture’s final taboo

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?  

Defensive architecture, hostile design

A concrete bench with spike barriers to prevent people from sleeping and even sitting.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.  

There is a similar article in The Guardian, Anti-homeless spikes: ‘Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty

Unpleasant Design is a podcast on the same topic. 

Image courtesy UNSW newsroom.

Accessible train carriage upgrades

Looking along the track to an oncoming train entering a station.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. Register with Interpoint Events.  CUDA members are automatically signed up.

Banner for People and Transport Webinar 13 October showing a street scene.