Universal design standard from Europe

Universal design is a design thinking process so a universal design standard is a contradiction in terms. Standards are fixed where universal design is a continuous improvement process. However, where designers cannot grasp the concept of an inclusive thinking process, a set of design directions is needed. Hence a new European universal design standard for products, goods and services.

Front cover of the Design for All standard.

The standard sets out requirements and recommendations for extending the customer base for products and services. It’s for organisations that design and manufacture products and/or provide services. The aim is to ensure products and services are available to the widest range of users possible.

Diverse user needs, characteristics, capabilities and preferences area all covered. It is based on processes of user involvement and building on accessibility knowledge. The standard can also be used for complying with legislation and to advance corporate social responsibility. 

The standard was developed by Ireland’s National Disability Authority that houses the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design. The document has the title “design for all” which is a recognised European term, but notes that universal design, barrier-free-design and transgenerational design are the same thing. 

Design for All – Accessibility following a Design for All approach in products, goods and services – Extending the range of users can be purchased from the standards authority

There is a media release explaining a little more. The regular complaint about standards is the cost of purchase and could be a reason why they are ignored.

Learning about standards

It is assumed that students in design disciplines, such as engineering, automatically learn about standards and how they are developed. According to an article by Jenny Darzentas this is not the case. The way standards are developed and written makes them difficult to understand and apply. Too much emphasis is placed on “learning on the job”. 

view from the back of a university lecture theatre where students are seated listening to a lecture.

Darzentas says that education about standards in universal design courses would be beneficial. In Japan, Korea and China this is included, but not in Europe and North America. 

Access to standards documents is not usually discussed as a barrier to accessibility and universal design. However, people not only need easy access the documents, but also the information should be easy to access. Is this an argument for standards to follow the concepts of universal design?

The title of the article is, Educating Students About Standardisation Relating to Universal Design. How well do Australian universities address standards in courses where universal design is part of the course?

Abstract

Standardisation education is rarely taught to students in the design disciplines in academic settings, and consequently there is not much evidence about best practices. This paper examines this situation, and elaborates on some of the possible reasons for this situation. Further, it gives an example of how students may be instructed and encouraged to further their interests in standards and the standardization-making process as a means for increasing Universal Design in practice.

This article comes from the published papers from the 2016 Universal Design Conference held in York, UK, which are open access.

Victorian Government Universal Design Policy

The Victorian Government has updated their universal design policy which applies to the whole of government. Previously it sat within the health and building department. The policy is not just an empty statement – it has actions embedded. These actions begin with the procurement process for built environment projects.

Front cover of the Victorian Government Universal Design Policy.  document

Universal design is a design philosophy that ensures products, buildings, environments, programs and experiences are innately accessible to as many people as possible regardless of age, disability, background or any other differentiating factors”

Victorian Government

The policy is structured around the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design. The aim is for all Government departments and agencies to apply the principles to all stages of the project from the project proposal to the implementation and operation of the project. Specifically:

  • Undertake user engagement and co-design processes
  • Incorporate universal design principles into procurement and function briefs
  • Incorporate universal design principles into design standards

The summary document provides a detailed explanation of how each of the 7 principles might be applied.

The main document has more detail including how to apply universal design across the lifecycle of a project and co-design methods. The 7 Principles of Universal Design are expanded to include both good and poor examples of design outcomes. In short – what to do and what not to do.

Both documents are in Word format for easy access for all. This is also a good example of getting the message across with as few words as possible – another universal design feature.

The Victorian Government has been leading the way on universal design for some time. Other states could benefit from following their lead. See also Victoria’s Health and Building Authority policy as well.

Design for inclusive attitudes

The biggest stumbling block to inclusion is the prevalent attitudes in society. Many of these rest in stereotypes about people who look or sound different to ourselves. Attitudes are also founded on myths and misinformation. So can we design for inclusive attitudes? According to a conference paper the answer is, yes, we can.

Many coloured heart shapes with black eyes and smiles indicate diversity. Telling stories for inclusion.

There is a gap between the concept of universal design and creating inclusive attitudes in society. Creating inclusive things does not necessarily create inclusive attitudes.

The paper looks as if it was translated from another language making this difficult to understand. However, the underlying premise brings the concept of universal design into the 21st Century. That is, moving from designing inclusive things, to addressing societal attitudes to inclusion.

The paper discusses a theoretical framework in the traditional academic manner. Part of the discussion is about how Inclusive Design, Design-for-All and Universal Design are not specific in how they promote inclusive attitudes. The emphasis is on products and not on intangible contents such as attitudes and behaviours. The authors argue that designers can use existing paradigms, and at the same time challenge them to focus on equity and quality of life.

A framework

A synergy between design culture and the Inclusive Attitude concept is needed. The framework suggests transitions from Design for Inclusion, to Design for Inclusive Attitude. Thereby moving from inclusive approaches to design, to designing for Inclusive Attitude. And further, moving from inclusive things to conceiving things that foster inclusive societal attitudes. The diagram below, which is taken from the article, shows the transitions.

Chart showing the theoretical framework of the transition from universal design to inclusive attitudes.
Design for Inclusive Attitude framework cited in the conference paper.

The authors pose the argument that there is a new generation of citizens and activities that don’t define themselves as designers. Rather, they apply their skills and efforts in the direction of social inclusion. This takes the discussion into the field of co-design although this term is not used.

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion.

The authors conclude the aim is to create designers with inclusive attitudes, who create inclusive things, and at the same time, create inclusive societal attitudes.

The title of the paper is, Design for Inclusive Attitude: towards a theoretical framework. It is open access. The paper is in the proceedings of the AHFE International Conference, 2022 where you will find like-minded papers.

Editor’s comment: The paper takes a philosophical approach in trying to link inclusive design concepts to inclusive society attitudes. With so many new papers still reaching back to the 1997 principles of universal design, this is a refreshing change.

From the abstract

The Inclusive Attitude is a concept mainly debated in psychology, sociology, anthropology and it has received less attention from a design research perspective.

This paper proposes a theoretical framework for using Design for Inclusion to support Inclusive Attitude among the society. Starting from literature review, the paper compares the Inclusive Attitude concept with orders of design, design contents, design domains, continuum of design approaches, and domains of disciplines of Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE). As a result, a conceptual framework is identified for studying the Design for Inclusive Attitude.

10 Things to know about Universal Design

Page with 10 things to know about universal design.The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a comprehensive list that covers all the myths and misinformation about the purpose of universal design. Briefly, the 10 things to know about universal design are:

      1. Universal design strives to improve the original design concept by making it more inclusive
      2. Universally designed products can have a high aesthetic value
      3. Universal design is much more than just a new design trend
      4. Universal design does not aim to replace the design of products targeted at specific markets
      5. Universal design is not another name for compliance with accessible design standards
      6. Universal design benefits more people than older people and people with disabilities
      7. Universal design can be undertaken by any designer, not just specialists
      8. Universal design should be integrated throughout the design process
      9. Universal design is not just about ‘one size fits all’
      10. A universally designed product is the goal: universal design is the process

Editor’s comment: the CEUD website is looking a little dated, but the content remains valid and is good for newcomers to the topic. There are several guidelines for practitioners too. 

See more detail about these 10 things and other resources on the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design website.

 There are more explanations in the What is Universal Design section of this website. 

Diversity and inclusion: not the same thing

The feet of two dancers. The woman is wearing red and white shoes and the man regular black shoes“Diversity is being asked to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” This is a great quote from Verna Myers. She is referring to the workplace and the employment and advancement of women and people of colour. It is relevant to all other groups because diversity and inclusion are both part of the movement for more inclusive and equitable societies.

The Harvard Business Review discusses this issue in Diversity doesn’t stick without inclusion. It is one thing to have a diverse population, but that doesn’t mean equity or inclusion will automatically follow. Diversity and inclusion are often lumped together in the employment context. They are assumed to be the same thing. But this is not the case.

In the workplace, diversity equals representation. Attracting diverse talent requires full participation to foster innovation and growth. This is inclusion. Getting diverse talent is one thing, including them fully is another. 

Diversity & Inclusion: Start Here

A hand-drawn graphic with faces of bright colours with big eyes. They are grouped in a bunch.

The Commons Social Change Library is about social change and driving social movements in Australia. While the context of their guide is about driving social change, most of the information is applicable in any situation. 

The Diversity & Inclusion: Start Here guide introduces key concepts and links to other resources. The key point is that inclusion is a social change movement and we can all do our part by including marginalised people in our ranks. That’s whether it’s the workforce, our local sporting team or our social change campaigns.

Carly Findlay is a disability activist who reminds us that disability is part of diversity. Carly’s video explains her experience. Judy Heumann’s TED talk is also worth a look. 

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk, The urgency of intersectionality is about race and gender bias. 

Kaytee Ray-Riek discusses marginalisation across the spectrum and ways of building trust and encouraging inclusive practice.  

Organisers of social justice events sometimes forget the basics of inclusion. Make your social justice event accessible spells out how to do it. 

Before people can get to an event they usually need information. The Internet is usually the first stop. So it’s important to Improve your website accessibility

There are many more resources on this website – you don’t need to be a campaigner to benefit from them. 

Brightly coloured books on a bookshelf with titles that represent social change.

The Commons Social Change Library is a not for profit organisation committed to educating for community action. They collect, curate and distribute the key lessons and resources of progressive movements around Australia and across the globe.

Editor’s note: I co-wrote a paper on inclusion being something where you have to wait for the “mainstream” group to invite you in. Inclusiveness is something that is present, it is happening now. You can see the slideshow version too which has some explanatory graphics.

Accessible and inclusive workplaces

There’s a lot of talk about inclusive workplaces and a diverse workforce, but a policy isn’t enough. The “how-to” is the tricky part. The Australian Human Rights Commission has produced a plain language guide to help employers recruit and include people with disability. The guide is titled IncludeAbility and is 10 pages (in PDF) and therefore sticks to the basics.

Graphic from the cover of accessible and inclusive workplaces called include ability.

People with disability have the right to work on an equal basis with others, and in a work environment that is ‘open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities’.

The guide covers some old ground including the ageing 7 Principles of Universal Design and the Lendlease Design for Dignity Guidelines. And of course existing standards for the built environment. In terms of technology, readers are directed to the WACG guide. Assistive technology and Employment Fund Assistance also get a mention. Case studies highlight some of the issues many people with disability face when getting work and while at work.

Workplace attitudes are the barriers you can’t see and are therefore the most difficult to overcome. There’s a list of questions employers can ask themselves that mostly relate to organisational policies and staff training. The Human Rights Commission offers staff training in capital cities.

Workplace technology

At an individual level, assistive technology bridges many of the gaps between being able and dis-abled. However, company websites should be accessible for staff as well as customers. Similarly, all key documents should offer accessible formats for staff and customers. the South Australian Government toolkit is referenced with more information on this topic.

Creating an accessible and inclusive workplace is available online where there are links to a PDF version and a Word version. The IncludeAbility website is has additional resources for people with disability and Frequently Asked Questions.

Editor’s comment: This document appears to be a gathering of existing information that’s been around for a while. It would be interesting to see what a co-designed guide would look like. That is, what do employers want to see in a guide and how do they want it presented.? A guide is a product so it can be universally designed too.

Social impact framework

The Property Council of Australia has launched their Collective Social Impact Framework. The aim of the Framework is to help companies asses their social sustainability programs. Interestingly, universal design gets a mention, but as always, there is an assumption people know what that is.

The Framework has three pillars with reportable metrics:

  • Healthy Places
  • Inclusive Communities
  • Responsible Growth

The priorities in the Framework are health and wellbeing, active living, and climate resilience. Community connection and advancing universal design are listed under inclusive communities. Equity and inclusive growth and job creation are the priorities under responsible growth. The metrics for each one are listed in the chart below.

A chart showing the three pillars of the social impact framework.

The Framework is aligned to industry standards such as the Sustainable Development Goals and ‘green’ standards. Participating companies can promote their social sustainability initiatives and showcase good practice.

Front cover of the Property Council report. A child is doing cartwheels in a park

The Framework builds on the foundations set by the report A Common Language for Social Sustainability. This is the baseline document which underpins the Framework.

The Property Council encourages members to rate their activities against the framework. Information gathered from participating companies will provide industry insights into the range of activities across the sector.

Which font to use? All of them?

Old wooden printer's typeface blocks in different colours and sizes.

New research from Adobe shows we have to re-think optimum fonts and typefaces.

First, font is not the same thing as typeface. What’s the difference? Typeface is a group of letters and numbers in the same design, such as Times New Roman. Font is a specific style of typeface, such as Italic or Bold, and in a particular size, for example, 10 or 16.

A woman is reading a book reader device similar to Kindle.

By simply changing the font readers can gain incredible reading speed. But there is no one-size-fits-all “best” font.

While reading speed is not something usually considered as a universal design concept, it is a related aspect. Ease of use and comfort for all is one of the tenets. And if you want to extend the attention span of readers then speed and comfort will help.

The study looked at a group of 352 participants aged 18-71 years. Forty-six percent were female, 22 percent bilingual and all self reporting they are comfortable reading English.

The study measured 16 common typefaces and their effects on reading speeds, preferences and comprehension scores. Similarly to an optometrists eye test they toggled letters to ask participants their preferred font.

a man is reading a tablet device.

Different readers read fastest in different fonts without losing comprehension. That means personalisation is the key.

On average an individual read 35 percent faster with their fastest font than with their slowest font. Comprehension was retained across all fonts. But no font was a clear winner for all participants. This means that devices will need to allow reader to personalise their font choices.

The other finding was that the fonts people say they prefer aren’t often the ones with which they read fastest. While there is no best font, there was some typefaces that worked best for older participants. This could be due to familiarity, or visual properties.

The title of the article is, The need to personalize fonts for each individual reader. It has some surprising results everyone should consider in their written and online communication. The title of the research paper is, Towards Individuated Reading Experiences: Different Fonts Increase Reading Speed for Different Individuals

Abstract

In our age of ubiquitous digital displays, adults often read in short, opportunistic interludes. In this context of Interlude Reading, we consider if manipulating font choice can improve adult readers’ reading outcomes.

Our studies normalize font size by human perception and use hundreds of crowdsourced participants to provide a foundation for understanding, which fonts people prefer and which fonts make them more effective readers.

Participants’ reading speeds (measured in words-per-minute (WPM)) increased by 35% when comparing fastest and slowest fonts without affecting reading comprehension. High WPM variability across fonts suggests that one font does not fit all. We provide font recommendations related to higher reading speed and discuss the need for individuation, allowing digital devices to match their readers’ needs in the moment.

We provide recommendations from one of the most significant online reading efforts to date. To complement this, we release our materials and tools with this article.

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. 

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