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 to 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.

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.

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. 

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. 


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.

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.


Economics of meaningful accessibility

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the background. Economics of meaningful accessibility.How can we measure the economic benefits of designing our built environments to ensure access for everyone? Good question. Tourism has a solid body of knowledge on the economics of inclusion, and housing studies cite savings for health budgets. However, we need a benchmark to show clear and direct economic benefits for stakeholders and society. But it has to be meaningful accessibility, not just minimal compliance to standards. That’s the argument in a paper from Canada.

 An article in the the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All has a good look at the literature on the subject. Research papers agree that there are overall economic benefits in making products and services more accessible. But we still need a way of getting hold of data and finding a good method for measuring. That’s the key argument in the paper.

The title of the paper is, Measuring economic benefits of accessible spaces to achieve ‘meaningful’ access in the built environment: A review of recent literature.

Meaningful accessibility

Meaningful accessibility is about how the built environment enables everyone to participate in social and economic life. As the authors say,meaningful accessibility and universal design go hand in hand—meaningful accessibility is a goal of universal design”. They also note that accessible environments are perceived as an altruistic intention rather than a business choice. That is, the notion of special designs for a small group of people who need them. 

The aim of the paper is to draw attention to the gap in the research in areas such as planning, urban design and architecture. A strong voice from users of places and spaces calling for change remains essential. So too, is a change in discourse about disability being outside the frame of ‘normal’. 

Concluding comments

In the concluding comments the authors say meaningful accessibility is harder to sell than green buildings. And that’s despite reduced material costs and energy savings. From a human rights perspective accessibility shouldn’t be an option – it’s a fundamental requirement. 

Whether a better or more rigorous framework for economic analysis will win the day is still questionable. The political context is far more complex. The evidence in Australia on the economic benefits of accessible housing was not sufficient to sway all jurisdictions. The argument that “it costs too much” is consistent with the narrative of disability being outside the frame of normal. 

Editor’s note: The argument for change is not about economics, it’s about political will. It was only when the Victorian and Queensland governments took the lead on accessible housing that the building code was changed. People say to me that we should be explaining the economic benefits if we want accessibility and inclusion. Sadly, the many economic studies have fallen on stony ground and remain silent and ignored. 

This website has more than 20 articles on the economics of inclusion and universal design. Use the search box with “economic” to find them.

Growing older: Where do you want to live?

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands. Where do you want to live when you grow older?Where do we want to live when we get older? The research tells us that most of us want to live where we are living now. If not in the same dwelling, then something similar in the same location. Basically, we want to keep our sense of belonging in the neighbourhood. We want familiar things around us – the things that make us feel supported. They matter more as we get older.

Retirement villages make up about 5 to 6 per cent of homes for people aged over 65 years. There is no indication that this will change in the future. 

Architect Guy Luscombe asks Where do you want to live when you grow older?  His article in ArchitectureAU summarises the situation which is a prelude to further articles. Architecture for ageing is broader than retirement villages. It’s about age-friendly environments and supportive infrastructure. Growing older is more than needing good home design. There’s finances, health, social interaction, and civic involvement. The articles will be released on line in the near future. 

Guy Luscombe is interested in how age-friendliness can be embedded into design to make it ‘normal’. With population ageing and more people staying put in later life, this is a now issue. Yes, the longevity revolution is already happening. 

Most jurisdictions understand we have to do something now. Hence the upcoming changes to the National Construction Code for basic access features in all new homes. By 2050 it’s expected that 50% of homes will be more suitable for ageing at home.

You can access two of Luscombe’s previous contributions on this website. 

Preferences of older people in residential design

Think about the windows  

Accessibility Toolbar