COVID-19 Screens and hearing augmentation

A man wearing a striped apron passes is behind an acrylic screen. A woman on the other side of the screen is paying for her goods.Acrylic screens have appeared at almost every reception desk in response to covid-safe requirements. But without related hearing augmentation installed, it makes it harder to hear each other.  If people are wearing masks as well, this makes it worse. 

We are familiar with screens at ticket offices, such as train stations, where hearing augmentation systems are mandatory. An article by Bruce Bromley explains how these new reception desk screens contravene the building code if they don’t have hearing augmentation. When businesses installed new screen, few, if any, thought about the communication problems they would cause. And if they did, they perhaps thought we could all live with it.  We need respond to this issue because being covid-safe looks like being a new normal. 

Any service or business that recently installed an acrylic screen at reception should look at finding a hearing augmentation system. It will benefit the receptionist and the customer. Plug and play solutions are available where there is a microphone and speaker on both sides of the screen. I suspect that these screens will not disappear even if and when covid does. It’s all part of adjusting to the “new normal”.

Editor’s comment: Sometimes I find myself or the receptionist ducking around the screen to hear and to be heard. So the screens only work some of the time.

Walking Space Guide: Ease and Comfort

A large arched walkway at night with purple bougainvillea flowers overhead. The pathway is well lit but has the line shadows of the arches across it.Getting out and about is good for our health. We know that. But the environment has to be conducive to encourage walking and wheeling. That means streets and paths have to be designed for ease of access and walking comfort. The Walking Space Guide sets out standards to ensure sufficient walking space is provided for everyone. That includes people with disability, people with mobility limitations, families with young children and prams, and people walking dogs. 

The Guide sets standards for designing, planning and implementing footpaths. It sets targets for five levels of footpaths: local with low and medium activity, and main streets with low, medium and high activity. There is no standard less than 2 metres wide. 

There is a quick overview in a summary of the Guide. Transport interchanges or where walking is highly managed is not covered. A second space guide for crossings is being developed. 

Included in the guide is a method for carrying out a Walking Space assessment and guidance on how to understand the results. There is an accompanying Excel spreadsheet for recording data and calculating results. The Guide was developed by the NSW Roads and Maritime Authority

 

Spaces for all ages

Urban landscape with shade trees and lots of casual seating with people sitting.Too often we hear that an ageing population is going to be a burden. Viewing older people through the prism of health and disability ignores the wider perspective of their continuing contribution to society.  The 2015 Intergenerational Report talks of the ‘three Ps’ – population, participation and productivity. But where is the fourth P – policy? 

Emily Millane discusses the issues of ageism, employment and social participation in a percapita report. She asks, where is the fourth P, policy, and argues we need policies to overcome age discrimination in all its forms. This includes the design of public spaces, parks and streets. Urban design plays an important role here. It needs to capture all ages and foster interaction between generations. This strategy might be easier than changing community attitudes in the short term.

Older people are considered lesser value than others – something highlighted by the Royal Commission into Aged Care. COVID brought forth words such as ‘vulnerable’ and applied them only to older people and people with disability.  By perpetuating the idea of being less capable or being a burden on society affects attitudes that are hard to shift. 

The report is titled, Spaces for All Ages: policies for an inclusive Australia.

This report follows on from The head, The Heart and The House

 

Complete Streets: Health agencies play a role

Pedestrians are walking towards the camera. They are on a wide walkway. Some people are looking at their phones. They are dressed for warm weather. There are buildings on each side of the walkwayThe Complete Streets concept is about creating a safe place for all road users regardless of their age or ability. Transport and planning agencies usually have control over road and street plans. But public health agencies also have a role to play. Along with other stakeholders, health agencies can evaluate initiatives from a health, physical activity and inclusion point of view. A report from the US gives an overview of strategies and examples of how public health agencies, advocates and practitioners were involved in planning processes.

The report, published by University of Illinois, is titled, “Public Health Engagement in Complete Streets Initiatives: Examples and Lessons Learned”, is 18 pages plus appendices. 

Complete streets should also mean good footpaths. Parking on and across footpaths in Australia is illegal. For people who are pushing strollers or wheeling anything it means going out on the roadway. And not good for people who are blind or have low vision for the same reason. An article on the BBC News website explains some of the difficulties about this issue, especially now that the UK are providing designated places where it is OK now to Two cars parked with one wheel mounting the kerb of the footpathpark on the footpath. A backward step (excuse the pun). The article includes videos showing the problems. 

Access to Premises Standard Review

It’s time to review the Access to Premises Standard again. The Department of Industry wants to know what works and what needs to be improved. People with disability and their families, and disability advocates are encouraged to say what works and doesn’t work in the built environment.  Building professionals and local council people can also respond. Submissions close 30 November 2020.

The Department of Industry website has a link to a survey where you can give your opinions. There will be a discussion paper to follow.

There is an Easy Read guide to the process and information about the Access to Premises Standard. 

The Review of Access to Premises Standard closes 30 November 2020. You can also send in a written submission.

 

Ambient Technology: Assistive or Intrusive?

A graphic of a blue body with different labels around it. For example, telehealth, patient monitoring, assisted living.Designing and creating electronic devices for older people so they can stay home in their later years is a good thing. But are they actually what older people want? It’s a balancing act between assistance for independence versus privacy intrusions. Where do you draw the line? And will the older person have a say in where that line is drawn? These are tricky questions and the answers are likely to be individual. And what happens to any data that are collected both deliberately and as a by-product?

A conference paper from Germany discusses some of these issues as we are increasingly looking to technology to solve our problems. The issues raised in could benefit from a universal design perspective. Taking this view, one would ask, “How can we make ambient technology more universal and general and less specialised so that people don’t feel stigmatised? As Eva-Maria Schomakers and Martina Ziefle say, privacy concerns include the feeling of constant surveillance, misuse of personal information by third parties, as well as the invasion of personal space, obtrusiveness and stigmatising design of these technologies.

The title of the article is Privacy Perceptions in Ambient Assisted Living 

Ambient Assisted Living is a growing field of research. A related paper on ResearchGate “Enabling Technologies for the Internet of Health Things”, might be a place to start. It contains some useful diagrams.

UD, ID, DfA, UX, UA: A terminology muddle

A hand holding a coloured pen is poised over a green post it note. There are drawings on the table and a smartphone. It indicates UX design.The aims of universal design (UD), inclusive design (ID), design for all (DfA), user experience (UX) and universal accessibility (UA), are basically the same – inclusion. So why should we be in a muddle about terms? For most designers and practitioners who understand the underpinning principle of inclusion, it’s not a big deal.  But shouldn’t the key issue be about implementation rather than discussing the nuances of terms? Even if we had one term, would that alter designer and practitioner attitudes towards inclusion?

Nevertheless, researchers find it frustrating not to have one term to cover the concepts. That’s because it makes it difficult to know if people are talking about the same thing when sharing research findings. The debate among academics has resulted in many papers on this topic. Some putting forth arguments that they are all different things. Others lamenting the problems of not having a consistent terminology. A few delve into philosophical arguments.

A paper from 2014 is still relevant today because the arguments haven’t abated. This paper discusses historical, methodological and philosophical aspects. It’s a long paper, probably best suited to academics. It covers just about every aspect of the issues. It also draws in the ICF (International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health) and international standards which is quite useful. 

The title of the paper downloadable from ResearchGate says it all, Universal design, inclusive design, accessible design, design for all: different concepts—one goal? On the concept of accessibility—historical, methodological and philosophical aspects.

Editor’s Note: I also wrote on the topic of terminology in relation to housing design, Calling a Spade a Shovel: Universal, accessible, adaptable, disabled – aren’t they all the same? 

Abstract: Accessibility and equal opportunities for all in the digital age have become increasingly important over the last decade. In one form or another, the concept of accessibility is being considered to a greater or smaller extent in most projects that develop interactive systems. However, the concept varies among different professions, cultures and interest groups. Design for all, universal access and inclusive design are all different names of approaches that largely focus on increasing the accessibility of the interactive system for the widest possible range of use. But, in what way do all these concepts differ and what is the underlying philosophy in all of these concepts? This paper aims at investigating the various concepts used for accessibility, its methodological and historical development and some philosophical aspects of the concept. It can be concluded that there is little or no consensus regarding the definition and use of the concept, and consequently, there is a risk of bringing less accessibility to the target audience. Particularly in international standardization the lack of consensus is striking. Based on this discussion, the authors argue for a much more thorough definition of the concept and discuss what effects it may have on measurability, conformance with standards and the overall usability for the widest possible range of target users.

Sea Change or Urban Uplift?

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundWhile some retirees will seek a sea change to resort-style living, others want to stay connected to their families and established neighbourhoods. Some might even be thinking about planning renovations to make staying put easier. A place in the country sounds ideal, but is it the right choice?

An article in Aged Care Insite critiques the age-restricted model of villages. It asks if this is a sustainable model into the future. The article was written in 2018 and shows foresight given today’s issues with aged care. Many of the current issues are discussed and the author, Susan Mathews questions if this is the right way forward. 

Mathews proposes alternatives, one of which is flexibility of design across the housing market so that people can receive care at home when it is needed. This fits with the principles of universal design as outlined in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines at Gold level. Other key points are inter-generational interaction, connectivity, inclusion, and proximity to conveniences. A good article  from an architect’s perspective. The title of the article is Aged Care in the urban context: what’s missing?  

Universal Design and Planning Policy

Front cover of the book.Are your planning policies universally designed? In 1999 Norway turned the notion of universal design upside down. Gone is the idea that it is just about the design itself and the responsibility of the disability officer. Instead, universal design principles were placed at the heart of the planning process.That means everyone has to take responsibility. Their landmark approach to universal design still holds today.  

Olav Rand Bringa’s story on how this was done in Norway is reported in a 2007 publication. He explains how it worked and what still needs to be done. The title of the book chapter on page 97 is, “Making universal design work in zoning and regional planning: A Scandinavian approach”. The book is, Universal Design and Visitability: From Accessibility To Zoning

Bringa gives an overview of the processes needed to bring about a change in attitude from inclusion being a “social services job” to “everyone’s job”. His work is the forerunner to the landmark document “Norway Universally Designed by 2025“.

Bringa followed up with another update at a UD Conference in 2018 titled, “From Visions to Practical Policy: The Universal Design Journey in Norway. What Did We Learn? What Did We Gain? What Now?”  This is very useful as it is written with almost twenty years of experience and guidance for others. 

To be successful, universal design and inclusion cannot be patched in later. An important point when planners think that access and inclusion is the disability officer’s job or something to worry about as a “detail” for later. 

Other chapters in the book cover different areas. Although it was published in 2007, most topics are still current due to the slow movement on the issues. Included within the 9 chapters are: The Seven Principles of Universal Design in Planning Practice; Universal Design in Transportation; and Inclusive Housing and Neighbourhood Design.

Abstract:  Universal design may turn out to be the most innovative and significant development to reach the planning sphere in the past several decades. The strategy of universal design presents a holistic approach to how to deal with the interaction between humans and the environment. The core of this thinking revolves around the important issue of accessibility for people with reduced functionality based on equal opportunities and equal rights.

The Norwegian Government is currently in the process of integrating universal design perspectives into various aspects of national planning policy. This is a direct result of advances achieved through preliminary policy development and pilot projects over the last years. County and municipal plans comprise the main targets for the new initiatives, which address a number of issues in strategic planning and zoning. The process of integrating universal design into planning policy includes revising the Planning Act, expanding government impact assessment regulations, developing and issuing national policy guidelines, and raising the overall levels of professional competence.

This process brings to light new issues that need be discussed and clarified. What is the relationship between universal design, sustainable development, landscape development, and protection of the cultural heritage? Are the universal design principles consistent with the full scope of the definition of the concept?

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.