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. 

Inclusive Courts Checklist

This new courtroom has timber backed seats and a long timber desk that seats the justices. A abstract painting covers the wall behind the bench. Daylight comes in through large windows.Courts and justice systems across the world are going through a digital transformation. It’s happening behind the scenes and up front. But are these systems and processes inclusive?  A survey in 2018 revealed that court administrators don’t know about the advances in inclusive solutions. With the current pandemic, reliance on technology has increased. So this matter is more urgent now.

Technology is making it easier for court staff. For example, their payment and filing processes. But we run the risk of making it more difficult for people who find themselves the subject of court processes. The survey by G3ict and International Disability Alliance revealed that people with disability face significant barriers in the justice system – digital and non-digital. As a result of this survey, G3ict has come up with an Inclusive Courts Checklist. It lists 10 Core Capabilities and related Enabling Activities.

The ten core capabilities include, a digital inclusion strategy, leadership, budgeting, and a culture of inclusive engagement, diversity and transparency. The checklist provides a short overview of the issues and the survey, and the checklist is presented as a table. The checklist is on the G3ict website where you can find more useful publications.

Elements of this checklist apply to other organisations that are moving to digital processes and practices. This checklist has a focus on people with disability, but could equally apply to people from diverse backgrounds and to people who have little or no experience of digital applications.

 

Easy Read COVID-19

A poster with three graphics. One of a rugby goal post, one of a calendar with the start date marked, and one showing a television set.Access Easy English has fact sheets and posters on staying COVID-safe. As each state changes their rules a new fact sheet is produced. That makes a lot of fact sheets and posters. They cover sport, schools, travelling interstate, quarantine, childcare and more. 

Each state has its own set of fact sheets that you can download in both Word and PDF. Here are some examples:

Come to South Australia explains who can and who cannot go to South Australia.

We can go out. ACT explains when it started and the number of people you are allowed to meet up with.

The website also has information on Easy Read and Easy English on the home page. With more than 40% of the Australian population with low literacy skills, easy to understand information is vital for everyone. Even people with good literacy skills! 

 

Dementia design and equality

An older woman with white hair holds a bouquet of flowers to her face. Her eyes indicate she is smiling.People with dementia are not always seen as having the same human rights as other people with disability. So design for dementia is often viewed as an added extra to existing disability requirements. To help facilitate a better understanding, the World Health Organization published a guide on human rights and dementia. An article from the UK builds on these issues and provides recommendations for policy, practice and research. 

The title of the article is, Accessible design and dementia: A neglected space in the equality debate.

The article can be accessed from Sage Journals, but you’ll need institutional access, and via ResearchGate where you can ask for a free copy of the paper.

Abstract: This paper addresses the issue of accessible design in the context of dementia. It is not difficult to design buildings and outside spaces for people with dementia but you do have to follow clear design principles and values. However, unlike other disabilities, accessible dementia design is still viewed as an added extra and not a vital component of facilitating citizenship. In 2015, the World Health Organisation published guidance on human rights and dementia. People living with dementia are frequently denied their human rights even when regulations are in place to uphold them. This paper will focus on accessible design from a human rights perspective using the PANEL principles. PANEL stands for Participation, Accountability, Non-Discrimination and Equality, Empowerment and Legality. We will then conclude with recommendations for policy, practice and research to ensure that accessible design for people living with dementia does not continue to be a neglected space in the equality debate.

What does Inclusion really mean?

“Inclusion” is a word used widely, but what do we mean by this? How does it happen? Who makes it happen? Given that we are not inclusive now, it has to be a futuristic concept – something we are striving for. If we had achieved it we would be talking about inclusiveness, and we wouldn’t be writing policies and advocating for it.

Picture of a slide with key points on inclusion.A conference paper discusses what we mean by inclusion and it illustrates why it is hard to achieve. The difference between inclusion and inclusiveness is more than semantics. They have different perspectives and ask different questions. Inclusion relies on one group looking at another group and inviting them in. It maintains a language of separation, for example, accessible, disabled, elderly and design-for-all. Inclusiveness looks at everyone equally and supports a whole population approach. Economic arguments and solutions are viewed differently. Inclusiveness is not a contest of rights and not one group giving something to others. All costs and benefits are measured from this perspective. 

The key concepts are captured in a PDF of a PowerPoint presentation and the full paper is titled, Turning Back Time for Today as Well as Tomorrow available on ResearchGate. 

Mismatch: How Inclusion Shapes Design by Kat Holmes discusses similar concepts. 

Autism and the social model of disability

A young woman sits on a boardwalk next to water. She has her knees drawn up and is resting her head on her arms and knees. It depicts a level of loneliness or sadness.People who are neurodiverse often struggle to shed the medical model of disability others apply to them. A medical diagnosis is part of the problem – they become a category, a label. This is particularly the case for people with autism. And there are no two people alike. But what they do share in common is a relatively high suicide rate. Why would this be the case?

A paper by Richard Woods explores how the social model of disability can be, and should be, applied to this group. But it might not be enough. Negative language is a major barrier to inclusion based on the medical diagnosis label. Woods goes on to argue that the social model does not always explain how any disability is experienced by individuals. This is particularly relevant to people who are neurodiverse. Categorisation under a label is limiting and does nothing to shift community attitudes and improve individuals’ mental health. In conclusion, the paper calls for the “full emancipation of the autistic population”. An interesting read.

The title of the paper is, Exploring how the social model of disability can be reinvigorated: in response to Jonathan Levitt

Abstract.  Levitt argues the social model of disability needs to be re-invigorated, potentially by adapting the tool for separate countries. The social model has been successfully applied for some disabled groups in the United Kingdom. However, the social model is not implemented for neurodivergent labels such as autism, through negative language of autism, causing severe problems for autistic individuals’ daily lives. The social model can be re-invigorated for autism, removing social barriers by; changing non-autistic people’s attitudes towards autism through ensuring positive language of autism, preventing the categorisation of autism and fully enacting The Autism Act 2009 and The Equality 2010.

Universal design and talking human rights

A girl holds up a sign that says, Love not Hate. She appears to be sitting on the shoulders of someone in a public street march.Universal design isn’t just or only about disability. But it does have a major role to play in improving the lives of people with disability. The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, cites universal design as the way to gain inclusion and equity. So does Australia’s National Disability Strategy. But discussions and actions on human rights often get diverted by politics and ideologies. The way we frame and word our responses can make a big difference in cutting through. But what words and what frame?

A Brilliant Way of Living our Lives: How to Talk about Human Rights by Anat Shenker-Osorio has some good answers and examples. The first part of the document looks at messaging pitfalls and fixes. The second part of the document looks at words that work, and the third part covers common critiques. Here is Shenker-Osorio’s introduction to the document:

“Using language data from advocacy, opposition, political speech and popular culture, I analyzed why certain messages resonate where others falter in the human rights sector in Australia, the UK and the US. Complementing this written discourse were 53 interviews with advocates in these three countries in order to draw out what we wish people believed – the vision for which we’d like to inspire increased activation from present supporters and persuade new ones. Recommendations
here also draw upon previous research and empirical testing across issues related to human rights.”

This article was featured in a longer piece on The Commons Social Change Library. It covers a long list of issues for advocates for all kinds of social change.

Editor’s note:  It is worth noting the change in public attitude in the same sex marriage campaign. It gained momentum when it moved from the right to marry whoever you want to being about marrying the person you love. In that vein, universal design is about the people we love.

 

Christianity and inclusive education

The cupola of a Christian church.Supporting concepts of inclusion is one thing; putting it into practice is another. “The Challenge” is the title of a book chapter about including children with disability in Christian schools and giving them access to a Christian education. An interesting discussion about faith and inclusion using a case study to illustrate points. The discussion gives yet another voice to the inclusion discourse‍.

Abstract  Christian educators advocate that faith and learning should be holistic and integral to Christian education, but is this available for all students? The inclusion of students with disabilities does not have a strong record of implementation within Christian Schools. This chapter briefly recounts the history that led to the legislation mandating inclusion, and discusses the very real issues that concern teachers and parents today. The question posed is: should children with disabilities be enrolled in Christian schools? Responding in the affirmative, nine research-based strategies are described in detail, which provide solutions to the challenges faced in inclusive classrooms. Children with disabilities are capable of learning; and in order to receive a holistic Christian education they need to be included in Christian schools.

“The Challenge”, written by Marion Shields, is a chapter in Revealing Jesus in the learning environment:Experiences of Christian educators. It is open access. 

Consumers, care and ageism

A man sits on a bench in a garden near a building.Are customers the same as citizens? Consumers are part of the market. Citizens are part of society. There are consumer rights and then there are human rights. Older people are treated as consumers of specialised housing products. They are not treated as citizens in their own homes. This is one of the messages to come out if the Royal Commission.

In The Fifth Estate article, Willow Aliento says of the care and retirement living sectors, “…the inquiry found that there had been a shift towards thinking about the aged care sector as an “industry” with “customers”, rather than a social service for older citizens.” This is an important factor because this approach dehumanises residents. Even the retirement living sector is fundamentally ableist because they only advertise “active living”. 

The article discusses how poor design of the physical environments with large, noisy facilities and poor visual layouts contributes to residents’ reduced quality of life and care. it also cover issues of downsizing and pension and assets tests. Complex issues are tackled well in this article titled, How ageist, ableism and inequity are creating “shelter hell’ for older people

 

Design and Inequality

Front cover of the journal. A black background with an orange abstract design.The introduction to a special issue of Design Issues focuses on the way design can reproduce inequality in society. It asks questions such as: In what ways do designers or design processes emerge in relation to social inequalities? How can the discussion of inequality be broadened within design practices? This introduction discusses the rise of design and refers to different concepts and debates relating to design and designing. An academic journal asking important questions about the role of design in exercising power, creating accessibility, capitalism and consumption, cultural reproduction, oppression and neglect. An important contribution to the discourse on design.

The introduction is titled, On the Need for Mapping Design Inequalities, by Mona Sloane. Subscription to the full journal Design Issues is required to read the other contributions.

“This collection offers Design Issues readers insight into the
multi-layered connections between design and inequalities. All the
articles address issues that are both deeply sociological and acutely
concerned with design. They move across themes like the economy,
labor, gender, disability, politics, colonization, material culture,
class, and (social) policy. The essays clearly position themselves in
the context of design inequality by pushing for greater criticality
and reflexivity in design scholarship and practice.”