Creating Safe Space for Everyone

A street scene showing a wide footpath and a row of shops in the suburbs. Safe space for everyone?How many urban planners think about accessibility and disability from the outset? Some, no doubt. Urban planners also have to think about personal safety – it’s a core concern. But what about safety for people with disability? Do community norms play a role in design decisions? An article in The Conversation discusses this issue and begins:

“Creating safe and secure urban spaces is a core concern for city managers, urban planners and policy workers. Safety is a slippery concept to pin down, not least because it is a subjective experience. It incorporates our perceptions of places and memories, but also norms in society about who is expected to use spaces in the city, and who is considered to be out of place.”

So it is much more than designing out crime. Different population groups experience safety in different ways – much more nuanced that matching with crime statistics. A study from the University College Cork has looking at this issue in more detail. An overview is in an article in The Conversation by Claire Edwards.

The study looked at three cities in Ireland and some obvious places where people with disability felt unsafe were transport hubs, bars and shopping centres. The Conversation article concludes:

“Urban safety is as much about changing social relations as it is about technical fixes. Disabled people’s experiences show us that it is only by challenging assumptions about who has a right to inhabit urban space that we can create more inclusive, just and safer societies.”

The title of the article is, The experiences of people with disabilities show we need a new understanding of urban safety.  


UD in school buildings AND learning

A female teacher stands smiling in front of a of young students in school uniform. One has her arm raised as if to ask or answer a question.While we talk of inclusive education and designing inclusive learning material, little has changed in the physical design of schools. According to an article in The Conversation, the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design are too vague and abstract to be of any help. However, designers are often directed to them as the way to go. Read more on this discussion about learning from the best that already exists. The authors are Scott Alterator, Benjamin Cleveland and Jocelyn Boys. There are more useful links to other documents in the article.The title of the article is, Students with disabilities need inclusive buildings. We can learn from what’s already working.

Steinfeld and Maisel in 2012 devised the 8 Goals of Universal Design, which are more practical, but they haven’t had the same coverage as the Principles. 

Editor’s note: I agree with the authors that the 7 Principles are only a starter for thinking inclusively. Unfortunately they are so often quoted in academia and guidebooks that it is difficult to shift away from them. Part of the problem is that the term “universal design” is used in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability. That isn’t the problem per se. If people don’t know what universal design is, they Google it or go to Wikipedia. A Google search will almost certainly take you to the 7 Principles. And then perhaps policy makers and designers look no further.

There is no quick fix checklist. Inclusion is more than that – it is a way of thinking. I wrote an article along time ago that is still being read, Universal Design: Is it Accessible?   

Talking to Users: An introvert’s guide

A desk has highlighter pens in different colours, working papers and a smart phone.What if you are a designer and you’re not sure how to engage with your user base? According to a UXDesign blog post, many designers are introverted and don’t know where to start with user interviews. A fear of talking to strangers brings up many thoughts: 

I’m no researcher, what if I don’t ask the right questions?
What if I say something stupid or offend the person?
How do I not contaminate the responses with my own views?

So some tips for stepping outside the comfort zone are helpful. The article has some practical advice such as, don’t jump straight into the questions without some light introductory chat. And fix the things you didn’t like about the interview process for the next time. The title of the article is An introvert’s guide to starting user interviews.

However, it might be the case that the personalities that go into ICT are not the people who are good at user interaction. This might be why higher education programs are not producing graduates who are skilled at this side of the design process. Indeed, according to an article from Norway, the institutions are not training people to even meet basic legal design requirements for accessibility.

Useability of small kitchen appliances

A busy array of small kitchen appliances and cooking utensils.Mealtimes are made easier with a range of small kitchen appliances. But can everyone use them? Meal preparation is something most of us do every day. It’s not until you can’t do it that you realise how much it impacts on wellbeing, independence and quality of life. 

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee worked with General Electric to develop an audit tool they can apply to the design of their small appliances. The tool can be used by engineers, retailers and individuals as well. The title of the tool is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). It includes 7 features: doors, lids, dials, on/off water reservoirs, buttons and “ready” indicators. Both physical and cognitive conditions were considered in the development of the tool.

The title of the article is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT).  

From the abstract  

Over a quarter of Americans have a disability. These affect mobility, self-care, and household activities including meal preparation and housework. Preparing meals at home is a powerful way to reduce the risk of depression, stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis.

Small kitchen appliances play a significant role in meal preparation and have the potential to help increase the independence. Currently, very few guidelines exist to ensure that small kitchen appliances are accessible and usable.

This paper discusses the development of the Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). The tool allows practitioners to score the accessibility and usability of common small kitchen appliance features based on their client’s impairments. It also helps with choosing more usable small kitchen appliances.

The Pain of Design

A work table is filled with paper and folders and a woman is cutting a piece of paper with scissors. It looks like a group of people are working on a design.Arthritis is a common condition and is not often referred to as a disability. However, the pain of arthritis is disabling. So how to design out pain? Design Council ran a workshop with people with arthritis. They found that no-one was interested in special products, which are often stigmatising. So the principle of inclusive design became the top issue.

“Inclusive design is crucial. You have to step away from the idea that it’s “older people” having a problem and start looking at a universal problem and therefore a universal solution.”

They found the most important thing is that people want desirable, stylish, mainstream products that anyone would want to own. People don’t want medicalised, stigmatising equipment. Clearly, including the user-voice is the way to design for all rather than the mythical average. 

The article is titled, Ollie Phelan of Versus Arthritis writes about the importance of the end-user being at the heart of design, and can be accessed on the website where there is more information.


How not to build a library

A long flight of stairs on the left looks out over Manhattan with rows of books tiered up on the right hand side. They are only accessible via the stairs.If ever there was an example of how not to design a public library, this has to be it. All because the architects failed to check with any user groups. The architects still maintain the issues are just “wrinkles” in the design, not flaws. However, bookshelves lay empty, bleacher seating is sealed off for safety reasons, baby strollers block the walkways, and that doesn’t include the issues for people with disability – patrons and staff alike. The building offers wonderful views but it’s not how to build a library. 

The article is from the New York Times, New Library is a $41.5 Million Masterpiece. But About Those Stairs. It explains the issues in more detail and has more pictures. There is also a news video from Spectrum News with the story. A salutary lesson in remembering function as well as form in design. 

An architecture magazine explains more of the back story: Accessibility by the Book: The Case of the Hunters Point Library. It seems the architects heeded the ADA minimum requirements. Treating the tiered section of the library as an “assembly place”  the ADA only requires access to the top and bottom levels. 

Any good examples?

Entrance to the LightHouse building showing a man using a cane and a woman with an assistance dog.Do you know of good examples of universal design in buildings? One or two maybe?  Bess Williamson asks in Metropolis magazine, Why Are There So Few Great Accessible Buildings? Of course, accessibility in its fullest sense is much more than compliance to the building code.

Professor Williamson discusses the LightHouse project, and the Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living. Including people with disability in the design process means these buildings are not a regular type of commission. In some respects they are specialised buildings because people with disability were central to design thinking. It’s puzzling to think that architects can’t apply the same thinking to all their projects. After all, everyone benefits from inclusive design. What’s worrying is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), isn’t being heeded.

Williamson also discusses the recent architectural “triumph” of the new Queens Public Library which revealed major access problems. The architects claimed compliance on the basis that patrons could ask a librarian for help. However, this is not equitable access. It shows scant regard for the ADA and not only people with disability. Families with prams also use libraries, and staff cannot take trolleys to the shelves. Thinking about all users makes a case for universal design. The Queens Library is a case of form over function – the views from the windows, if you can reach them, are fabulous. 

Williamson concludes that access remains an afterthought for designers who look to the minimum. But disability-specific places show that access can be creative beyond the legal minimum. The article is easy to read and has a gallery of illustrations.


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