Who thought of kerb cuts in the footpath? 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 (curb 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.
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.
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, childcareand more.
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!
“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.
A conference paperdiscusses 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.
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.”
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.
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 introduction to a special issueof 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.
“This collection offers Design Issuesreaders 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.”
Confusion still reigns about the international symbol of access (ISA). Is it exclusively for wheelchair users? Or does it denote access for everyone? The ISA was originally created to denote physical spaces for wheelchair accessibility. The access symbol’s meaning has evolved into something much more complex.
A study with participants who were a mix of people with and without disability revealed some interesting findings. However, some participants who did not identify as having a disability described themselves as having some form of impairment. This illustrates ideological differences about disability per se, and highlights how society uses labels and symbols to define a group or culture in wider society.
The article has lots of statistical results. The discussion and conclusions are worth a read because of the implications across society. It includes a look at all the symbols currently in use to signify different disabilities. Some participants wanted to see characteristics of themselves in symbols, but this creates uncertainty with other groups. As an aside, the use of the word “handicap” showed up in participant responses, indicating it is still in common usage.
The article concludes, “Perhaps a more effective solution would be standards which incorporate universal design, thereby ensuring equitable and intuitive use of products and spaces and eliminating the need to symbolically represent population-based accessibility. Initiatives such as Design for All (DfA) in Europe, which was adopted in the EIDD Stockholm Declaration of 2004, and the Barrier-Free Accessibility (BFA) program in Singapore, promote a social model of disability by encouraging barrier-free design of products, services, and environments for people of all abilities and under varying socioeconomic situations.”
Does the symbol need to be rethought?
“Does the international symbol for disability need to be rethought”? is the title of an article in the FastCompany blog. First question this raises is, “Is it a symbol for disability or a symbol for access?” Actually, it is a symbol for access, not disability.. The article proposes a variety of symbols for different disabilities. But do we need more symbols and if so, what purpose would they serve?
Objects should not just be useful; they should be intrinsically meaningful both philosophically and emotionally. In his paper, Gian Maria Greco discusses the move from separate approaches based on disability to universal approaches. His Principles for Accessibility Studies are a useful take-away for designers and lead to co-design thinking.
The Principal of Universality: accessibility concerns all, not exclusively specific groups or individuals.
The Principle of Personalisation: one size does not fit all. The design should be able to respond to the specificities of individual users.
The Principle of User-centrality: design should focus on users and their specificities.
The Principle of Epistemic Inclusivity: users and other stakeholders, including experts, are bearers of valuable knowledge for the design of artefacts.
The Principle of Participation: design should be carried out through the active participation of the stakeholders involved.
The Principle of Pro-activism: accessibility should be addressed ex-ante, not ex-post.
From the abstract
Accessibility has become increasingly discussed in a range of fields, producing a large number of new ideas, theories, and innovations that have proven to be quite fruitful. A closer look shows that different fields have experienced fundamental changes. There has been a shift from specific accounts to a universalist account of access, a shift from maker-centred to user-centred approaches, and a shift from reactive to proactive approaches.
Through these processes, accessibility has birthed new areas within those fields, that have been gradually converging to constitute the wider field of accessibility studies. The nature and position of accessibility studies has now become a central topic. This ongoing progression of conceptual clarification may bear some misunderstanding and misinterpretations along the way.
In the paper, I first briefly review the principal traits of the process of formation of accessibility studies. Then I address some possible misconceptions; and finally, introduce a first, very general sketch of poietic design, a method proper to accessibility studies.
Inclusion and exclusion in the social environment discussed from the perspective of the Christian Church is a novel approach. Society has social norms and if people don’t fit them they are often ignored or excluded. They ask the question, “If exclusion occurs because of social skill deficits, who has the deficits?” Is it the one who is different or the one who could accept or change their behaviour? Thinking about how we socially exclude due to notions of social ineptness, often without realising, is an important topic. The authors discuss the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design in relation to social inclusion and show how the Church could do better.
Abstract: This article considers a next step in the application of universal design principles, that being universal social design. Using the idea of “social ramps,” we consider seven principles of universal design from a social perspective. Social skill deficits in persons with disabilities has arguably been the reason for exclusion of persons with disabilities. But if the traditions of those without disabilities leads to the exclusion of those with disabilities, then one must wonder who has the social skill deficits? This is particularly the case from a Christian perspective. This article challenges the reader on a variety of levels to reflect on social practices with an eye toward changes leading to inclusion.