Who do designers design for?

Four women and one man sit casually around a table where there are coloured pens and drawings.Who does the designing and what do they design? If the design works, users don’t think about the designer. But when the design works poorly, or not at all, the designer becomes the focus. “What were they thinking?” is the catch-cry. In spite of much research and literature on designing thoughtfully and inclusively, we still have a long way to go. 

A short paper takes a critical look at five design approaches from last century that remain current. The author discusses “Accessible” in terms of partial inclusion and design afterthoughts. “Inclusive/Universal Design” is discussed from the perspective of eliminating disability rather than embracing diversity. Six degrees of “User-Centred Design” is the focus of this design approach where users get a say in the design. An extension of user-centred design is “Participatory Design” which is also a learning experience for designers. Lastly, “Emancipatory Design” is praised for being empowering for people with disability.

The title of the short paper is, Design Methodologies and Ethos in Disability: Research Snapshot.

Editor’s Note: The Universal Design movement is often accused of wanting to design out disability. Perhaps this view can be tracked back to the mistaken interpretation of universal as “one-size-fits-all”. The concept of universal design in the context of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is very much one of inclusion, equity and acceptance of diversity. 

From the Introduction: The subject of design is one that dominates the disability literature. Throughout the past number of years, there has been a push among researchers and advocates to think critically about the ways in which design is executed and by whom. Design has taken on a central role in the ‘normalization’ of disability. Each of these design methodologies and ethos has had an essential impact on built and design environments; however, there is still a considerable need for progress. Importantly, these design methodologies and ethos bring to light the significance of understanding that in today’s society, it is normative that environments and technologies are designed for people with disabilities, not by people with disabilities. 

 

Universal Design and Planning Policy

Front cover of the book.Are your planning policies universally designed? In 1999 Norway turned the notion of universal design upside down. Gone is the idea that it is just about the design itself and the responsibility of the disability officer. Instead, universal design principles were placed at the heart of the planning process.That means everyone has to take responsibility. Their landmark approach to universal design still holds today.  

Olav Rand Bringa’s story on how this was done in Norway is reported in a 2007 publication. He explains how it worked and what still needs to be done. The title of the book chapter on page 97 is, “Making universal design work in zoning and regional planning: A Scandinavian approach”. The book is, Universal Design and Visitability: From Accessibility To Zoning

Bringa gives an overview of the processes needed to bring about a change in attitude from inclusion being a “social services job” to “everyone’s job”. His work is the forerunner to the landmark document “Norway Universally Designed by 2025“.

Bringa followed up with another update at a UD Conference in 2018 titled, “From Visions to Practical Policy: The Universal Design Journey in Norway. What Did We Learn? What Did We Gain? What Now?”  This is very useful as it is written with almost twenty years of experience and guidance for others. 

To be successful, universal design and inclusion cannot be patched in later. An important point when planners think that access and inclusion is the disability officer’s job or something to worry about as a “detail” for later. 

Other chapters in the book cover different areas. Although it was published in 2007, most topics are still current due to the slow movement on the issues. Included within the 9 chapters are: The Seven Principles of Universal Design in Planning Practice; Universal Design in Transportation; and Inclusive Housing and Neighbourhood Design.

Abstract:  Universal design may turn out to be the most innovative and significant development to reach the planning sphere in the past several decades. The strategy of universal design presents a holistic approach to how to deal with the interaction between humans and the environment. The core of this thinking revolves around the important issue of accessibility for people with reduced functionality based on equal opportunities and equal rights.

The Norwegian Government is currently in the process of integrating universal design perspectives into various aspects of national planning policy. This is a direct result of advances achieved through preliminary policy development and pilot projects over the last years. County and municipal plans comprise the main targets for the new initiatives, which address a number of issues in strategic planning and zoning. The process of integrating universal design into planning policy includes revising the Planning Act, expanding government impact assessment regulations, developing and issuing national policy guidelines, and raising the overall levels of professional competence.

This process brings to light new issues that need be discussed and clarified. What is the relationship between universal design, sustainable development, landscape development, and protection of the cultural heritage? Are the universal design principles consistent with the full scope of the definition of the concept?

Smart City: Dream or Nightmare?

A city skyline at night against a backdrop of a computer circuitry board. 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 of an article by two tech people at 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.

It’s good to see these issues being raised. People who are marginalised could be even further disadvantaged. The title of the article is Smart Cities: dreams capable of become nightmares. There are links to further articles on the topic.

 

Who thought of kerb cuts?

A concrete kerb ramp with yellow tactile markers on the slope.Who thought of footpath kerb cuts? 30 years ago policy makers couldn’t understand why anyone needed kerb cuts in footpaths. “Why would anyone need kerb cuts – we never see people with disability on the streets”. This is part of the history of disability rights that we rarely think about these days. But kerb cuts didn’t happen because of policy – they happened because people took matters into their own hands. And accessibility eventually shaped the streets.

Stories of activists pouring concrete on kerbs have made their way into urban legends. It is sometimes referred to as the “Curb Cut Revolution”. (Note the American spelling. In Australia we call them kerb ramps.) It was the beginning of a turning point for accessibility.

Of course, the injustice is not evident to those who are perhaps inconvenienced but not excluded. And it’s not just about wheelchair users. Anyone using a wheeled device: delivery trolley, pram, bicycle or luggage knows the value of the kerb cut. They’ve also benefited from the other accessibility features in the built environment. That’s how the term “universal design” was coined – good for wheelchair users, good for everyone. 

The Forgotten History of How Accessible Design Reshaped the Streets is a nicely written blog article. It provides an interesting context to what we know now as access standards. But compliance to legislation does not guarantee inclusion. It only provides access. That’s why we still need universal design thinking.

The Universal Design Movement goes back to the 1970s and it’s still going. That’s because every improvement for inclusion is hard won. The article has a great quote:

“When injustice is tied up with the physical spaces of cities and the policies that create them, it becomes difficult to assign responsibility for it – and hence difficult to change.”

The article is from Bloomberg CityLab. 

Home sweet, and safe, home

An older woman sits in a garden. She is holding a glass of beer and smiling. She looks happy.Aged care is in the news and not for good reasons. But what do Australians think of aged care and ageing in general? A good question, and the answer depends on your perspective and your age. Regardless, we need to consider home design seriously. That’s because staying put at home is clearly the favourite place for older age.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety commissioned Roy Morgan to research perceptions of ageing and aged care across all age groups. This report builds on the research by Flinders University about quality of care. Both studies were conducted before the outbreak of COVID-19.

The research confirmed previous studies that older Australians prefer to stay put at home and if needed, receive aged care at home. This desire increases with age. This preference is also expressed in the priority for help in the home rather than health related services. However, younger people rated health services as the highest priority for older age. The implication is that younger people see ageing as a bodily health issue whereas independence and choice are top of mind for older people. That is, their quality of life.

There is much to unpack from this report which also looks at community attitudes and perceptions of aged care. Perhaps the most surprising finding was that few people knew how much the government contributes to aged care costs. Most thought it was around 50% but it is actually 78%. This report is well-written and there are little gems hidden in the data.

The unanswered question remains, “If older people want to receive aged care at home, will the design of their homes support their desire?”

The answer is no in most cases – not if they are to retain their independence. Many older homeowners are in the same home in which they brought up their family. When they bought it there was no thought about whether the design would support them in their older age. Consequently, if we ask younger Australians whether they want access features in their new home they are likely to say no. Few of us can imagine ourselves as being somewhat “lesser” beings – that is, losing capacity over time. That means all our housing stock is unsuited to ageing in place and aged care at home. Time for a change.

The title of the Roy Morgan report is, What Australians think about ageing and aged care.  

UD and Sustainable Development Goals

All 17 icons for the SDGs in an infographic.Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future for all. The SDG are interconnected and the aim is to “leave no one behind”. Universal design is now a key element of the SDG as a means of including people with disability. UN member states are required to report on disability and inclusion within their actions on the SDG. They will need to show measurable actions not just policies.

Sweden’s Ministry of Participation virtual event titled, The principle of universal design as a tool for leaving no-one behind provides a good background in how universal design links with the SDG. The video is an hour. At the five minute mark a UN rep explains the UN position. The second speaker listed was not able to join and the moderator spoke about disability and inclusion being at the heart of the SDG. At the 22-23 minute mark there is an interesting presentation on the convergence of UD and the SDG. Data graphics clearly explain why universal design is needed. The final speaker has a short session on a city project which is at the 51 minute mark.

Tip: The video is captioned so you can select a faster speed in the settings to read and hear. You will note that the closed captioning covers some other subtitling. This was the automatic live captioning that is a Zoom option. The closed captioning added later “tidies up” the auto captions and uses a larger font. 

Infographic of the five SDGs relating to disability.The Australian Disability and Development Consortium explains the concepts simply. It picks out the five key SDGs that relate specifically to disability. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a web page with Australia’s commitments to the SDG. The SDG agenda is not just about government but all sectors of society including business. The UN has an infographic poster that spells out the specific goals relating to disability. 

  • Goal 4 is about education
  • Goal 8 is about employment
  • Goal 10 is about reducing inequality
  • Goal 11 is accessible cities, transport and public spaces
  • Goal 17 is about data and data collection

Aged Care: The city and the bush

Ian Fitzgerald rides his horse in the sunshine.A Roy Morgan report gives us a good idea of what younger people think of aged care and what they expect for themselves. In a survey covering people aged 18-70+ years, they found that younger people think that going to aged care is acceptable. However, the closer the survey participants are to older age, the more likely they will want to stay home. This was emphasised in a program on ABC TV about a small rural community in Queensland.

The ABC program featured a 91 year-old farmer whose wife went to their nearest aged care facility 50 km away. He said, “I’ll feel guilty ’til the day I die that she had to go off.” The story featured the grief of the farmer and others who were separated from their friends and relatives. The farmer said he was “grafted onto the place”, but that it was inevitable he would need to go to a facility.

The ABC story was about a campaign to build a care facility in the small town. There was no mention of aged care at home. There was also no mention of home modifications or other options. Another solution is to have 6-10 universally designed villa-style units as a cluster where home help could be provided. A better solution is to have all new homes universally designed and start building housing stock suited to our futures.

There will always be a place for aged care facilities, but they are expensive to build and to run and are highly regulated. The Roy Morgan survey found that those who had visited an aged care facility felt residents had no control over their lives, were lonely and not happy. Nevertheless they believed residents were safe and comfortable. 

Hardly anyone had an idea how much the government contributes to aged care costs. Most thought it about half, but it is 78 per cent. This is something to consider. If people stay home longer, even with home care, the costs of running a facility are avoided. 

Bottom line? As people get closer to 70 and 80 years they want to stay home and be cared for at home with a mix of family and paid care. Younger people prioritised medical services whereas older people emphasised the need for help with everyday household tasks. This supports their wish to stay put. The different perspectives indicate that what younger people perceive about aged care and ageing is different from reality. 

The Roy Morgan report was commissioned by the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and is titled, What Australians Think of Ageing and Aged Care.  

The ABC program is titled, Queensland country town pushes for regional aged care homes so the elderly aren’t forces to move to cities. It was broadcast on 19 July 2020 in the Landline program. It is available on iView.

Image courtesy ABC.

Home design and independent living

An older woman sits in an armchair. She is wearing a purple knitted jacket and is smiling into the camera.Our homes have to work for us – all of us. COVID has highlighted how important this is. But do our current home designs support all home-based activities for the whole household? Probably not.

The Conversation has a timely article on how home design liberates people with disability or long term health condition and improves their quality of life. It is written in the context of the Australian Government’s housing stimulus package. The title of the article is, Renovations as stimulus? Home modifications can do so much more to transform people’s lives. The bottom line is that designs that increase independence, significantly decrease care hours and improve quality of life. 

The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design has campaigned for universal design features in all new homes. Their 20 years of advocacy has resulted in the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) for accessible housing. The RIS was devised by a firm of economists for the Australian Building Codes Board. Using standard economic modelling, it was their job to weigh the costs and benefits of including basic universal design features in all new housing. They found that costs outweigh benefits to the community. However, the community currently bears the cost of not having universal design features in our homes.

Early entry to aged care, carers not being able to do paid work, increased falls, longer times in hospital, and the list goes on. So perhaps we should be comparing one cost with another. To say not having a cost is a benefit hides the current and ongoing and cumulative costs to individuals, families and the community. The “benefit” is not a bonus, not the “cherry on the cake”. It just reduces the current cost. And the features are good for everyone – it’s not special.

As a consultation document the RIS calls for submissions to either confirm their assessments or to provide additional information for their calculations. Submissions are open until 31 August 2020.

This is a moment in time where we have a chance to update home design for how we live today and tomorrow. If you have a story about home design, send it to ANUHD or respond directly to the Consultation RIS. Submissions can be your own story in your own words.

A home has to support people studying, working, doing a hobby, exercise or just needing a quiet space. And let’s not forget our personal care, household chores and maintenance. It also has to suit people caring for others – family members or paid staff. 

 

Digital Accessibility: It’s not an add-on

A graphic showing a laptop with a green screen and several smart phones around it also with green screens. It is indicating that they are all connected.Beware digital consultants who offer a range of services “plus Accessibility services”. If they list it as a separate service then it is likely they don’t truly know what it is. Why? Because accessibility should be built-in regardless. It’s not an added extra. But it is specialised.

As Sheri Byrne-Haber says,
“Just because you are good at one does not make you good at the other”. If you say you are good at both it implies you don’t understand the business drivers for either.

In her article Byrne-Haber lists some other mistakes commonly made by consultants:
1. They assume that you can wave a magic wand over people and turn them into accessibility testers.
2. They rarely employ people with disability, but outsource to disability services and pay them a pittance for their knowledge.
3. They tell people they can do every type of accessibility testing in their contact messages.

Byrne-Haber also points out that digital accessibility specialists will be in demand as disability discrimination legislation gets tighter. Big tech companies are already on board with an increasingly diverse workforce. But you do need to know what questions to ask. The list of questions to ask is in her article, Vetting Accessibility Vendors.  

 

NSW Housing Strategy: Have your say

graphic depicting a house shape with sloping roof. Inside the shape is a montage of people.NSW Government wants to set a 20 year vision for housing. The strategy covers housing supply, diversity, affordability and resilience. Housing for seniors and people with disability is listed as a separate category. It mentions national policies such as taxation, migration, financial regulation, and the NDIS. Nevertheless, it lacks reference to the National Disability Strategy, the Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the current consultation Regulation Impact Statement for accessible housing. The strategy implies that the NDIS and Specialist Disability Accommodation will solve the problem. 

The proposed vision is:

“Housing that supports security, comfort and choice for all people
at all stages of their lives, achieved through supply that meets the
demand for diverse, affordable and resilient housing and responds to environmental, cultural, social and economic contexts.”

The document includes a set of discussion questions that can help people with their responses. There is also a Fact Book with the data used to form the draft strategy.  It includes data on households with a person with disability on page 25.

Submissions close 24 July 2020. The discussion paper can be downloaded in full or in parts. 

There’s good supporting info in Home Coming? Framing housing policy for the future. The information is presented in an e-learning format, but this makes the information easy to grasp. And it’s free to do. It is a quick run through of the issues that should be considered if we are to truly have “comfort and choice for all people at all stages of their lives”.