Ableism and urban planning

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the background. Urban planning.The COVID pandemic lockdowns have shown more people what it’s like not to be able to get out and about when you want to. But do the calls for “not going back to the way things were” include everyone? Lisa Stafford says that the planning profession and society have learned little. Planners, perhaps unwittingly, are still favouring the idealistic view of the “able body”. So we need to discuss ableism and urban planning.

In her article, Lisa Stafford explains how ableism is inherent in urban and regional planning. Planning is not neutral – it’s not value-free. Planners make decisions on what and who to plan for.  

“Time and again I have heard universal design omitted in the provision of social infrastructure…” Stafford writes. Excuses are budget shortfalls, and it’s “too hard” (read too costly) contribute to this lack. 

Talking about ableism

Where to start? Where you are now. Share and discuss readings with colleagues – look up “ableism” in Google. Low hanging fruit is checking your own ableism by asking “for whom are we planning?” Ableism intersects with other identities and experiences. Planners must think more deeply about the connection between planning, design and society.

Stafford advises we look to the work of the American Planning Association and their universal design approach. They promote intergenerational neighbourhoods and smart growth. Norway’s leadership in universal design is also mentioned. 

The chapter concludes with a short discussion on transport and active transport. 

The title of the article is, Planners, We Need to Talk about Ableism. The title of the open access special edition is Disability Justice and Urban Planning

Other articles cover bathrooms, physical access, disability and climate justice and an artist view of disability justice and planning.

There are several posts on the work of the Norwegian Government on this website that link to Stafford’s references.

Housing and health – a much needed partnership

A older man and woman are smiling at each other. The man is handing the woman a yellow tulip.Research collaborations between different disciplines are a good way to build knowledge and share resources. Housing and health is one area where more cross-sector collaboration is needed. But collaboration doesn’t just happen. Stuart Butler and Marcella Maguire say in their article that collaboration needs a supporting infrastructure. 

Butler and Maguire argue that health and housing partnerships remain in their infancy compared with other collaborations. So what is holding up the development of this essential partnership? They say it is the need for connective tissue.

“Connective tissue is a way of describing the infrastructure needed to support intentional alignment, coordination, and integration between sectors or organizations that serve the same or similar populations in a community.

By “infrastructure” we mean both tangible elements, such as information exchange systems, financing, personnel, shared language, and the intangible elements of trust and shared goals. Developing systems and trust that address cross-sector needs does not just happen; it requires a deliberate process that moves beyond the individual goals of any one system towards a community-wide approach.”

Why the partnership is important

Housing can be the platform for the range of services needed to promote good health. It is a foundational social driver of health. Housing and health partnerships are particularly valuable for addressing the needs of marginalised populations. Collaboration supports:

      • Ageing in the home and community
      • Meeting future pandemic situations 
      • Ending homelessness and housing instability
      • Supporting NDIS participants and their families
      • Addressing some of the impacts of climate change

Components of success

The authors say the components of success include clearly defined goals, network development, and working on projects together. And a good point is made about budgets and cost-shifting: 

“Partnerships are often weakened by the “wrong pockets problem. This exists when one sector needs to invest in a way that benefits another sector but offers little or no direct cost savings to the first sector. In a housing-health partnership, for example, a housing authority might be considering improving safety features in all bathrooms for older residents. But the main cost saving would be to the Medicare program, not to the housing budget.”

The title of the article is, Building connective tissue for effective housing-health initiatives.  

See also the WHO Housing and Health Guidelines which includes a chapter on accessible housing. 

Inclusive Victoria – the plan

Front cover of the Inclusive Victoria state plan. The Victorian State Disability Plan has a great introduction that includes language and terminology. It acknowledges there is no one right, or universal way to conceptualise disability. That’s because people perceive disability in culturally specific ways. Some people are proud to identify themselves as disabled, whereas others don’t want their disability to define them. Similarly, many autistic and neurodiverse people don’t see autism as a disability. They just see autism at a different way of interacting with the world. The State Disability Plan 2022-2026 is titled, Inclusive Victoria

From the introduction

Here is a nicely worded section from the introduction on language:

“Language is a powerful tool for changing community attitudes,
promoting inclusion and fostering disability pride. Throughout
history, people with disability have fought for changes to
language that reflect their human rights. We know language
is always changing, and we recognise that words are powerful
and have different meaning for different people. We recognise
that people with disability have different preferences regarding
how they describe their disability.”

This introduction explains how language is used throughout the document. It highlights the real importance language plays in community attitudes towards people with disability. A good example for other government documents and policies that are based on a marginalised group. 

The plan contains facts and figures about the prevalence of disability and other statistics. The international, national, state and local government obligations are laid out in a straightforward table format. The key elements of the plan are:

      1. Inclusive communities: Changing attitudes, transport, digital inclusion, sport and tourism.
      2. Health, housing and wellbeing: Health, mental health housing, NDIS, children and families.
      3. Fairness and Safety: Emergencies, advocacy, abuse and neglect, justice system, and gender identity.
      4. Opportunity and pride: Education, employment, voice and leadership, pride and recognition. 

Systemic reform

Most disability plans are action plans. This document includes systemic reform which should underpin actions and outcomes. The six systemic reforms are listed as:

      1. Co-design with people with disability
      2. Aboriginal self-determination
      3. Intersectional approaches
      4. Accessible communications and universal design
      5. Disability confident and inclusive workforces’
      6. Effective data and outcomes reporting

Inclusive Victoria is nicely presented with relatively plain language throughout. 

Health, the digital divide and rural dwellers

A timber barn in a rural setting. Looks like it is on a farm. Health and digital divide. In the land of access and inclusion, the focus is usually on the built environment and services. But there is also virtual access and inclusion to consider. The pandemic has highlighted a lack of equitable access to the internet and therefore access to health services. This is particularly the case for rural dwellers. The issues of health, the digital divide and rural dwellers is discussed in a report from the US.

The context of the report is the social determinants of health and the digital divide. Broadband access and digital literacy are key for connecting to services such as employment, education and health services. While broadband infrastructure and computer hardware are necessary, true equitable access also requires focus on digital literacy and proficiency. However, there are other issues related to poor health outcomes. 

According to the report, rural residents are subject to additional social determinants including physician shortages, persistent poverty, and food insecurity. Excessive travel times, inadequate transportation options, environmental exposures are also problematic. And broadband internet services that are often poor quality, unaffordable, or unavailable. 

“Super-determinants” of health are poor transportation, lack of broadband access, and living with a disability. That’s because they cause disadvantage across other areas of life. 

The title of the report is Underfunded Infrastructure Impact on Health Equity. The study focuses on north America, but Australian rural dwellers share many of the same issues.

People are looking at bright orange pumpkins piled in rows in a field on a farmThe report recommends engagement and involvement by community members. Community health workers live and work in vulnerable communities, and they understand the real lives of people. Consequently, community health workers should lead community involvement in coming up with solutions. 

The report explains the social determinants of health, the cost of inequity, and the need for digital literacy training. 

Four key findings in the report

      1. Households with consistent broadband have increased health literacy, greater access to clinical and social services, make better informed healthcare choices, and stay closer connected to support systems of friends and family.
      2. A holistic approach led by health advocates from the local community has the best chance of improving health outcomes and successfully overcoming barriers caused by social determinants.
      3. Strategies for reaching vulnerable populations should center on community health workers (CHWs) who are trusted and respected members of that population. CHWs have an ability to better understand the reality of
        how people live and the obstacles that keep them from success.
      4. Program leadership should include meaningful representation from local community organizations with valuable experience in health equity and extensive community networks.

What’s next for urban design?

All aspects of urban design and development are undergoing technological change.  The pandemic has increased the speed of  some changes. For example, online shopping and parcel delivery, working from home and demand for green open space. The University of Oregon’s Urbanism Next Framework draws together key issues in answer to “What’s next for urban design?”

The three page framework lists the forces of change as new mobility, e-commerce, mobility as a service and urban delivery. These impact land use, urban design, building design, transportation, and real estate. The infographic below shows the kind of questions designers and policy-makers need to ask themselves. Click on the image for a better view of the infographic. 

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The framework poses key questions for the future. For example:

      • How will e-commerce impact the demand for industrial land?
      • How do we protect open space under pressure to expand cities?
      • What will happen to sprawling city footprints when people don’t need to live in cities?
      • How will the need for fewer parking lots impact urban form?
      • How can the interactions between pedestrians and vehicles be managed?
      • Will new mobility reduce the demand for vehicle ownership?
      • What will draw people to places in the future?

The Framework says all these things matter for equity, health, the environment and the economy. So it is up to designers and policy makers to remember to take a universal design approach and follow co-design processes. 

From the introduction:

“One of the key challenges cities face is understanding the range of areas that are being affected or will be affected by emerging technologies, and how these areas are related. The Urbanism Next Framework organizes impacts based on five key areas— land use, urban design, building design, transportation, and real estate—and relates those to the implications they have on equity, health and safety, the environment, and the economy. It then considers what we should do to ensure that emerging technologies help communities achieve their goals.

QDN’s Co-design principles

Front cover of QDN Co-design priniciples.Co-design is the new buzzword in the field of disability. But co-design isn’t only about disability inclusion. It’s a design process that seeks the best design for the intended users. Including people from a diversity of backgrounds, ages, levels of capability and experience is good practice. It’s how you do universal design. But what is it exactly and how does it work? 

The ultimate in co-design is to include users from design concept stage. The next best thing is to include users in testing the first prototype. Many design firms say budget and time constraints prevent them from implementing this highly iterative method. But how much does it cost to remedy poor design and lack of compliance? 

Co-design should not be confused with community consultation which seeks opinions about a design. User testing is not a form of co-design either. Co-design is where designers and users share the power of designing together. Co-design can be used for developing products, buildings, websites, services, policies and guidelines.

Queenslanders with Disability Network (QDN) have published their Co-Design Principles. This document obviously focuses on people with disability and the Queensland context. Regulation, legislation and policies such as the state disability plan fill most pages. 

 Five values underpin QDN’s co-design principles and processes:

      • Authentic Voice – We ensure those with limited or no voice are heard and valued
      • Collaborative Action – We learn from collective experiences, values, and wisdom 
      • Rights – We believe in a human rights approach 
      • Respect – We value human difference and diversity 
      • Resilience – We are here for the long term.

Co-design processes

A three page summary has the key points above and the co-design processes. 

The starting place – Craft the question that reflects intent/purpose and invites inquiry. 
Build the team – Get diversity and support inclusion
Discovery Phase – See the issue from different viewpoints, and perspectives. Hear from others including those who disagree
Pause and Reflect – Take time to pause and reflect on what you have learnt in the discovery phase and what you still don’t know before jumping to solutions
Sense-making – Look at the data, story, research, and evidence in their raw form and work together to make sense and meaning of what has been gathered
Generate options – Stage where sense-making starts to yield conclusions, ideas
and possibilities, and people get in the creative zone
Developing Prototypes – Generate as many ideas as possible and develop a working example of the policy, service, program, product, or scenario-based solution
Learning, reworking, and refining – Part of the learning cycle and reworks can produce ‘prototype’ – the solution for testing, piloting, or putting into action
Embed what works – Turn it into action and make it real. Keep people engaged and stay accountable.

The QDN website has more information about the organisation and their activities.

See other articles on co-design: The right to participate in co-design, and What does co-design mean? How does it work? 

 

When home is the workplace

A woman is sitting at a dining table typing on her laptop. When home is the workplace.Computers and internet provided the opportunity for some people to occasionally work from home. That was pre-Covid-19 when Home was still Home. But now Home is the workplace as well as home. It’s also been a place for education, long day care, and a place to stay safe. For some, home is all four at once: workplace, school, childcare centre and safe haven. Open spaces have taken on an increased value as a means of escape from the same four walls. But not everyone has easy access to open space, public or private.

Our homes were never designed for any of this. Not on a long-term basis anyway. Then there are the institutional homes – the aged care industry has not fared well in providing a sense of home for its residents. So we need a complete re-think about what it means to be “going to work at home”. 

A paper from Ireland looks at the impact of the pandemic on everyday lives and the need to adapt the built environment. The authors argue that: 

“There is now a key opportunity to implement universal design, to allow the best possible use of space, to enable everyone to live, work and socialise safely and equally.”

The authors discuss issues related to the public realm, housing design, and green infrastructure, and access for people with disability. They conclude that the pause mode caused by Covid-19 gives an opportunity to improve the lives of city dwellers. 

The title of the paper is, The impact of Covid-19 on our relationship with the built environment. 

From the abstract:

This article aims to explore the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the built environment in Ireland. It considers how our homes might suit the future needs of all citizens, particularly the needs of the most vulnerable members of society.

The growth in ‘working from home’ has highlighted architectural issues such as space within the home and the local community, as well as the importance of public and private open space. Covid-19 has exposed the most vulnerable, and the nursing home model is under scrutiny and will need to be addressed. 

The Covid-19 pandemic offers the potential for architects to provide a vision of a built environment that addresses biosecurity issues, accessibility and climate change. Architects need to re-purpose towns, villages, and urban areas, and develop new housing typologies which will integrate living and working within the one dwelling, and promote a sense of community in local neighbourhoods. Adaptable, flexible buildings alongside usable and accessible public spaces are necessary to meet change.

What do Ableism and Ableist mean?

A row of tightly packed wheelchairs with bright orange fabric. They are lined up facing a wall. Ableism and ableist. Disability rights, accessibility and inclusion have come a long way. But we are not there yet. Despite legislation, public policy statements, and access standards, it’s taken more than 50 years to get to this point. Ableism and ableist attitudes are alive and well. Yet many people aren’t aware of how this undermines inclusion and equitable treatment. The same goes for ageism. 

An article in Forbes magazine sums up the sentiments well. The word ‘ableism’ gives voice and substance to real experiences. But it can also discredit people for an offensiveness they don’t see or don’t agree exists. The title of the article is, Words Matter, And It’s Time To Explore The Meaning Of “Ableism.”

The Wikipedia definition explains: “Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. On this basis, people are assigned or denied certain perceived abilities, skills, or character orientations.”

Ableism is expressed in ideas and assumptions, stereotypes, attitudes and practices. Physical and social barriers in the environment is also a form of ableism. Usually it is unintentional and most people are completely unaware of the impact of their words or actions.

Different types of ableism

Andrew Pulrang discusses both personal and systemic ableism. Here is his list on personal ableism.

1. Feeling instinctively uncomfortable around disabled people, or anyone who seems “strange” in ways that might be connected to a disability of some kind. This manifests in hundreds of ways, and can include:

• Being nervous, clumsy, and awkward around people in wheelchairs.

• Being viscerally disgusted by people whose bodies appear to be very different or “deformed.”

• Avoiding talking to disabled people in order to avoid some kind of feared embarrassment.

2. Holding stereotypical views about disabled people in general, or about certain sub-groups of disabled people. For example:

• Assuming that disabled people’s personalities fit into just a few main categories, like sad and pitiful, cheerful and innocent, or bitter and complaining.

• Associating specific stereotypes with particular conditions. For example, that people with Down Syndrome are happy, friendly, and naive, mentally ill people are unpredictable and dangerous, or autistic people are cold, tactless, and unknowable.

• Placing different disabilities in a hierarchy of “severity” or relative value. A prime example of this is the widely held belief, even among disabled people, that physical disability isn’t so bad because at least there’s “nothing wrong with your mind.”

3. Resenting disabled people for advantages or privileges you think they have as a group. This is one of the main flip sides of condescension and sentimentality towards disabled people. It’s driven by a combination of petty everyday resentments and false, dark, and quasi-political convictions, such as:

• Disabled people get good parking spaces, discounts, and all kinds of other little unearned favors.

• Unlike other “minorities,” everyone likes and supports disabled people. They aren’t oppressed, they are coddled.

• Disabled people don’t have to work and get government benefits for life.

A last word

Pulrang concludes with a few reminders. People with disability can be ableist too. They grew up in an ableist society. Ableism isn’t a new ‘ism’ – it is a word that sums up longstanding oppression and injustice. So when it is used, don’t take it as an insult. Ableism is a way of talking about a set of real experiences that people with disability experience. It’s a way to talk about them. 

 

The Longevity Revolution and the 100 year life

A man with white hair and beard sits at a desk with a younger man. The longevity revolution has arrived and the 100 year life is here. But what are the challenges and how do we meet them? An article from the World Economic Forum poses this question as part of The Davos Agenda. The first thing is to dismiss discussions about an ageing crisis – there are opportunities to be realised.

According to research, a child born in 2000 can expect to see their 100th birthday. The implications carry across the whole of society, business, and government.

The Stanford Center on Longevity has launched “The New Map of Life” initiative. New models of education, work, policies for healthcare, housing, and the environment are on the agenda. And researchers aim to redefine what it means to be “old”. 

The Stanford report says we are not ready, but we can meet the challenges. Here are their principles:

      • Age diversity is a net positive
      • Invest in future centenarians to deliver big returns
      • Align health spans to life spans
      • Prepare to be amazed by the future of ageing
      • Work more years with more flexibility
      • Learn throughout life
      • Build longevity-ready communities

Longevity is about babies not old people

“The impact on the global workforce is profound but also not yet realized. Before, we would have three or four generations in the workforce. Now, we have five and even six generations in the workforce. While stereotypes of all generations abound, many aren’t true. A growing body of research indicates that multigenerational workforces are more productive, see lower rates of employee turnover, have higher levels of employee satisfaction, and feel better about their employer.” (from the New Map of Life).

The Design Council also addresses the issues from a built environment perspective. See the post The 100 year life

Future of Place Framework

A circle of different coloured wedges representing the sustainable development goals. The wording is about Our Compass which is the SDGs.Driven by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Future of Place Framework sets out the Why, the What and the How. The framework is part of a larger project and marks the halfway point. The aim of the framework is to understand the evolving relationships between people, place, technology and data. 

The Framework is a thumbnail sketch with key points, using simple formats. Many meetings and workshops with a long list of participants sit behind this document. The task ahead is to produce a handbook to guide policy and practice. The aim of the handbook is to show how technology and data enablers can bring great place outcomes. 

Front cover of the Future of Place Framework.Smart Cities Council, the organisation behind the document, invites others to participate in the process. The outcomes they list are not new but still worth mentioning: 

 

Connection Diversity
Engagement Commerce
Experience Wellbeing
Enjoyment Meaning
Choice Culture
Happiness Inclusion
Safety Sustainability
Comfort Respite

Future of Place Principles of Practice 

The framework states, that as city shapers we will:

      • Embrace technology and data solutions where they help amplify the quality of place, and human experience.
      • Design technology and data solutions with purpose, deploy with transparency and operate them ethically.
      • Uphold the principle that technology and data can help shape great places, but in support of other foundational enablers. 

You can find out more about the Smart Cities Council and this project and also see the list of contributors. Or go directly to the Framework

The Sustainable Development Goals have a commitment to universal design and inclusion.