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.

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? 

 

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. 

 

Disability Reporting Handbook

Front Cover of Disability Reporting Handbook showing a young man and woman. They are laughing together. Media Diversity Australia has a handbook for reporting on disability issues. This is a well researched document that covers more than the usual topics. It also has specific “how to” guides for interviewing people with different disabilities. The Disability Reporting Handbook is a good companion to the ABC guide to disability content

The Handbook covers the usual introductions to disability and golden rules about language and images. It also covers:

      • Intersectionality with disability in relation to women, First Nations people, people from linguistically diverse backgrounds and LGBTQIA+ communities. 
      • Violence and disability, including support services available.
      • How to guides for interviewing people with disability covering physical, sensory, cognitive, psycho-social and neurodiverse conditions. 
      • A list of Useful Contacts

 “The biggest barrier to full participation in the community for people with disability is attitude. Most Australian’s with disability experience the soft bigotry of low expectations”. (Graeme Innes, former Disability Discrimination Commissioner)

The  contributors have varied backgrounds in media and journalism. They consulted widely in the development of this comprehensive publication. Media Diversity Australia is a not for profit organisation that believes the media should reflect the cultural diversity of Australia. They have another publication, Who Gets to Tell Australian Stories?  

 

Consulting people with disability

Front cover Consulting with persons with disabilities.
Full guidelines

Consulting people with disability need not be scary or difficult. Not if it is planned well. Yes, of course it takes time, but all consultation takes time. But it is always worth it because it saves time in rectifications later. 

The United Nations Inclusion Strategy has guidelines for consulting persons with disabilities. The main guideline document is very detailed and links with the UN Convention Indicator 5. It covers representative organisations, when to consult, and how to do it. Thankfully there is an Easy Read version too. 

Front cover of Easy Read Guide Consulting people with disability.
Easy Read version

The Easy Read version encapsulates the key information. The importance of consulting, taking part in decisions, and working with representative organisations are covered. There are links to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals with the promise of “leave no one behind”. 
One key point in this version is that people with disability should be involved in decisions about everything – not just things to do with disability. 

 

Inclusive Cities: More than a ramp

a series of black icons on white background depicting people of all shapes and sizes, including a baby in a stroller, a person with a can and a wheelchair user. Inclusive cities - more than a ramp.
Some disabilities are invisible

Depending on personal experience, the term “access and inclusion” means different things to different people. The idea of who is currently included and excluded is often framed by this experience. People with invisible disability are easily left out of “access and inclusion”. For example, people with intellectual disability, different cognitive conditions, and people with mental health issues. Consequently, inclusive cities need more than a ramp and tactile markers. 

Inclusion is one group looking at another group and thinking about "Them". Inclusive Cities - more than a ramp.
Inclusion is one group agreeing to include another.

Planning and social policies talk of inclusive cities and social sustainability, but making it happen is another matter. Gains have been made in terms of accessibility for wheelchair users and people with vision impairment. That’s because it is written into the building code. What we don’t have is a code for all the other types of disability that are, at first glance, invisible. People with intellectual disability are one group who find themselves sitting outside of community activities. So, in what ways can we ensure their inclusion in the city?

A literature review of research papers on this topic found some useful information. Australian researchers applied the ‘Inclusive Cities Framework’ to the papers and found that local authorities can take actions to improve inclusion at a local level. For the most part they involved community groups, local businesses and civic activities.

Key points

    • Information and support for community groups, local businesses, potential employees and potential mentors.
    • Shared activities (both structured and unstructured) to share learning, activities and build relationships
    • Conversation and sharing of stories – in formal and informal ways, to share information and networking both across and within community groups and all citizens, whether they identify as having an intellectual disability, as potential employers, employees, and com-munity leaders. 

Inclusion of people with intellectual disability relies on having interpersonal relationships within the community. It has to be more than just being on the member list or in the room with other people. Quality of participation is the point of an inclusive city. 

The title of the article is: Towards inclusive cities and social sustainability: A scoping review of initiatives to support the inclusion of people with intellectual disability in civic and social activities. It is an open access article.

Highlights

    • Aiming to be inclusive for all does not automatically lead to participation for all people.
    • People with intellectual disability continue to be excluded from the full experience of cities – despite an awareness of social sustainability.
    • This paper identifies how people with intellectual disability are impacted by policy and practices around citizen involvement.
    • The experiences of people with intellectual disability inform how the Inclusive Cities Framework is understood and applied to define meaningful participation for all people.

From the Abstract

The inclusion of people with intellectual disability in cultural and civic activities is an important particularly in the context of supporting the social sustainability of our local communities and cities. Local governments and community organisations are poised to play a pivotal role in the inclusion of people with intellectual disability.

We undertook a scoping review of local inclusion building initiatives in Australia and other countries that helped connect people with intellectual disability with their local community. The role people with intellectual disability played in the assessment and evaluation of these resources was also examined.

Analysis of the results offers opportunities to consider the ways in which the personal preferences of people with intellectual disability can be interwoven with structure and levels of participation to improve social inclusion in their local communities.

From the Editor: I wrote a conference paper on inclusion and inclusiveness. See the post on What does Inclusion really mean? 

Manchester and Brussels: A place to grow old

A city square in Belgium showing heritage architecture. People are milling about in the square in Brussels.
Brussels city square

The WHO Age Friendly Cities and Communities framework remains a robust method for creating age-friendly places. We can learn a lot from cities that signed up to the WHO Global Network that began in 2007. A book chapter compares Brussels and Manchester as a place to grow old. It shows that different policy approaches result in quite different outcomes.

The first part of the chapter covers introductory material and detail about the 8 domains of the WHO program. The interesting part, especially for local government, is the comparison of approaches and outcomes for Brussels and Manchester. Brussels, for example, focused on social housing for older people and street safety. Manchester focused on lifetime neighbourhoods and quality of life.

Manchester was more inclusive of different ethnic backgrounds than Brussels which also has a diverse population. In short, Brussels was about keeping people safe, and Manchester was about living life. The paper goes on to discuss the barriers to implementing the programme and developing age-friendly policies. There are some good recommendations at the end of this paper which was published in 2015. 

The chapter title is, Developing Age-Friendly Cities: Case Studies from Brussels and Manchester and Implications for Policy and Practice. It begins on page 277.This chapter is one of several interesting papers in Environmental Gerontology in Europe and Latin America.  

You can find out more about the Manchester Urban Ageing Research Group and a short video on what they are aiming to achieve. 

WHO Age Friendly Cities

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of life.Age Friendly Cities has its founding concepts in healthy ageing. Well if it’s healthy for older people it’s healthy for everyone. These cities should be walkable, compact and have infrastructure that supports liveability. But planning laws haven’t this and continue to address ageing in terms of age-segregated living arrangements. 

Canada was at the forefront of the development of the WHO Age Friendly Cities program in 2006. But that hasn’t been enough to overcome entrenched planning and development processes. No Place to Grow Old: How Canadian Suburbs Can Become Age-Friendly, found that although planners and others have concerns about an ageing population, their thinking hasn’t adapted. Consequently, little has changed in the last ten years. 

The survey found that older people were seen as a special-needs group rather than establishing inclusive policy solutions. The report makes some useful recommendations and the findings are applicable to any urban area in any location.

You can find a list of Australian cities or communities that are members of the WHO Global Network of Age Friendly Cities on the WHO website. You can also find out how your community can become a member of the Global Network.

The graphic above depicts the 8 domains of life that need to be considered in making a community age-friendly. 

 

Inclusion, Human Rights and the Market

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion.How can we attain our rights within a market-based economy, when those who do not experience social and economic exclusion have the the power of the market in their hands? The cost of inclusion is often said to “cost too much”. This is illustrated in the proposed changes to the NDIS. Cost is also the argument some states are using to stall the implementation of accessible housing. Human rights do not feature in these arguments. 

In Western societies, justice and fairness are not inalienable rights, but a negotiated process based on mutual advantage. According to Mutual Advantage theory we have to be pragmatic about human rights in a market-based economy. The excluded need to bring a benefit to the negotiating table. Rights get enacted only after a cost-benefit analysis has been carried out and “the excluded” are assessed as being “affordable”. That is, “can we afford to include them?”. This is the wrong question. It should be, “what does it cost to exclude people?” And who is listening to the position of the excluded? 

Market economists rarely reside in the excluded group fighting for rights. Measuring disadvantage and exclusion is not something they find easy to measure. Yet they do have a cost to individuals, society and the economy. 

For more on this discussion, see my paper from the 2014 Brisbane Housing Forum. The content is once again current. It includes an explanation of Mutual Advantage Theory by Lawrence Becker. 

PDF document Housing Forum Brisbane 2014  

Word document Housing Forum Brisbane 2014  

Reference: Becker, L.C., 2005. “Reciprocity, Justice and Disability”, Symposium on Disability, Ethics, Vol 116 No.1, University of Chicago Press, p 9-39.

A decent home is a human right

Residential homes sit side by side in the landscape.New Zealand has taken a human rights approach to housing in its proposed housing guidelines. The draft guidelines circulated for comment late last year contain no specific design features. Rather, the draft is based on a set of explicit values that a decent home is a human right. The use of the term ‘decent’ is grounded in the Treaty of Waitangi and the impact of colonisation.

The guiding value is that a home is “more than a shelter, bricks, mortar or a house”. It also means a village, relationships and responsibilities to place, people and the natural environment. Consequently, the guidelines mean a decent home is a warm, dry, safe, accessible, and healthy home. The right to a decent home also takes account of the historical, social, economic and legal context in New Zealand.

The private sector is expected to play their part in implementing decent homes. Human rights are not just government business, and that universal design has a role to play:

“One way for individuals, communities, government and the private sector to implement the UN ‘decency’ housing principles is to promote universal design. Universal design advances inclusive, accessible, healthy building and environment and respect for cultural diversity. It considers people throughout the life cycle from childhood to old age, and is alert to different scenarios, including disability.”

The inclusion of first peoples in the construction of the guidelines contrasts with other countries and their housing policies. 

UN Conventions cited

The draft guidelines are underpinned by New Zealand’s obligations to several UN Conventions, which it lists as: 

– Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
– International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
– Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
– The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979)
– Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
– Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008)
– UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007)

There are 19 Guidelines in total each with a rationale, history and context. The document is 37 pages but easy to read.  There is also a Word version on the New Zealand Human Rights webpage together with an overview of the guidelines. 

 

What is Easy Read and who needs it?

page from Access Easy English on COVID. Writing for readers.
  Example of Easy English

Easy Read is a good example of how less is more. But conveying messages in fewer words is more difficult than writing more words. Easy Read is for people with the lowest levels of literacy. It’s mostly used for essential information such as health alerts and legal terms and conditions. Writing with minimal words is a skillset of its own. It’s not easy. But it does make you think about what you really need or want to say.

Proficient readers can use Easy Read versions to get the take-home message quickly and easily. That’s also why it’s universal design – it’s for everyone. 

Easy Read not the same as plain English or plain language. Complex documents such as research reports are beginning to include a plain language summary. However, these require an average level of literacy. They are usually presented as a paragraph or a list of sentences in dot points. Easy Read drills down further to the key words and concepts. The techniques include:

      • a lot of white space
      • directly relevant illustrations (not photos) to convey the meaning of the text
      • short words and sentences
      • minimal punctuation
      • positive phrasing
      • bullets to separate items in a list. 

Editors can learn from Easy Read

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading blog has a more detailed article. It summarises Cathy Basterfield’s presentation at their annual conference.  She shows how editorial professionals can learn from Easy Read. 

Blog writer, Anna Baildon, said she learned a lot from the session and had her assumptions challenged. She said she could see “the links to plain English but it goes further”. The headlines she remembers are:

      • It’s hard to write in Easy Read
      • Access to written information should not be a reading test. It should be enabling
      • Unpacking the language so the meaning becomes accessible.
      • Access to information is a right. ‘Access’ means that a person reads, understands and knows what they can do.

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading has a guide to Editing in Plain English

Many people need it

More than 40% of the population has low literacy skills. In some remote parts of Australia and in institutions it is higher than this. There are several reasons why so many Australians need information in easy to understand formats:

– acquired disabilities
– lifelong disabilities
– poor educational outcomes
– psychiatric or mental illness
– dyslexia
– early school leavers
– older people
– different cultural backgrounds
– hearing impaired and/or people from the Deaf community

Accessibility and universal design needs to be considered at the outset of any project, not as an afterthought. Information formats such as brochures and websites are no exception. Some important government documents include an Easy Read version, but this is still rare. 

Cathy Basterfield has pioneered much of the work on Easy Read in Australia. People with high level literacy skills can grasp the key points with little effort. And there are times when people with good literacy skills need help. For example, the stress of a court hearing can temporarily affect one’s reading skills and level of understanding. 

Cathy Basterfield presented a paper on this topic at the Australian Universal Design Conference, UD2021. There is a related post on choice of typeface or font for easy reading. Cathy has an Easy English blogsite that explains more. She did a lot of work for COVID-19 too. 

There is an Easy Read version of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  The Bumpy Road website is a good example of Cathy’s work for interacting with the justice system.