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.

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
Front cover of the Victorian Government Universal Design Policy.  document

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.

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.

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. 

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

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.

Intellectual disability and social inclusion

people walking down a wide pedestrian zone. Intellectual disability and social inclusion.Local government authorities are exactly that – local. They are the tier of government closest to the everyday lives of people. Local neighbourhoods are where people feel either socially included or not. People with intellectual disability are much more likely to feel socially excluded. A research project undertaken by the University of Technology (UTS) took a novel approach to the issue.

To begin, they recruited researchers with intellectual disability to participate in all aspects of designing and carrying out the research. This was a key step for informing the research process. 

The purpose of the study was to understand the experiences of people with intellectual disability in their local community. They found that people with intellectual disability have valuable information to share. However, their voices are not heard and consequently their needs are not understood.

The discussion starter was the question, “What would you do if you were boss of your local council?” The answers were that they want their council to:

      • Provide accessible information in a range of formats about what is happening in the community and how to participate.
      • Provide someone to speak to – or even better, face to face contact.
      • Employ people with intellectual disability.
      • Help them access better transport and find ways to make them feel safer and more welcome. 
      • Improve public toilets and offer quiet spaces at noisy, busy events. 

A framework for change

The analysis phase of the research adopted the framework of the eight domains of the WHO Age Friendly Cities program. The eight domains are pitched to community life at the local level. It is a good framework for councils to use to improve the participation of people with intellectual disability as well as older people.

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of life.
WHO 8 Domains Framework

The analysis showed that participants wanted to know what is available and how to get around the community. Familiar faces and places were important. They also wanted respectful interactions with others in the community. These findings have some important information for councils and their social policy. 

Grouping people with intellectual disability under the generic term “people with disability” risks leaving them out. Communication and engagement strategies need to be adapted so they can access social and civic activities.

The title of the article is, Opportunities to support social inclusion for people with intellectual disability at a local level. Published in the Design for All India Newsletter. It is based on a published study, If I Was the Boss of My Local Government: Perspectives of People with Intellectual Disabilities on Improving InclusionThe author is Dr Phillippa Carnemolla who is also a CUDA board member.

This is a comprehensive article with recommendations for local government. 

European built environment access standard

CEN CENELEC logo in black and white for the built environment access standard.European Commission has published a built environment standard for accessibility. It describes basic, common minimum functional requirements using universal design principles. The accessibility and usability requirements relate to the design, construction, refurbishment and maintenance of indoor and outdoor environments. 

The standard was based on consensus between relevant stakeholders. The CEN-CENELEC webpage has more detail about the standard and what it contains. The document is titled, EN 17210:2021 Accessibility and usability of the built environment – Functional requirements

There is a related document about public procurement to support accessibility in the built environment. This is also part of their Active and Health Ageing strategy.

The CEN-CENELEC Protocol on accessibility following a Design for All approach in standardization outlines the procedure to help technical bodies decide whether accessibility, with a Design for All approach, should be addressed when developing or revising a standardization deliverable.

The European Committee for Standardization is one of three European Standardization Organizations (together with CENELEC and ETSI). They are officially recognized as being responsible for developing and defining voluntary standards at European level.

The websites are not the easiest to navigate but there is more information if you care to start searching their standards. 

Examples of universal design policy

Model Position Statement

picture of empty classroom showing wooden desks and a small blackboard. Examples of universal design policy.Here are three articles on universal design policy at national, state and local levels, and CUDA’s model statement. In 2016 the Victorian Government decided to incorporate universal design principles into government procurement processes. New schools were the first examples of Victoria’s universal design policy. 

The Victorian Government updated their universal design policy in 2022. There’s also a summary version. The policy documents are intended for use in procurement processes. They are based on the 7 principles of universal design. Embedding universal design into procurement processes helps ensure the project maintains an inclusive focus. 

Planning Policy at a national level

Front cover of the book. In 1999 Norway turned the notion of universal design upside down. Gone is the idea that it is just about the design itself or 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. 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’s work is the forerunner to the landmark document “Norway Universally Designed by 2025“. He 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? and What Now?”  The paper is based on almost twenty years of experience and has guidance for others. 

Example for local government

Front cover of the policy statement.Having a universal design policy statement to go beyond access compliance is a relatively new thing. And it is a lot of work to start it from scratch. Fortunately Hobsons Bay Council in Victoria has a good example to refer to. Their Universal Design Policy Statement for council buildings and the public realm is comprehensive and nicely written in 18 pages. It covers cost (or lack thereof), the regulatory framework, applying universal design principles and advocacy with business and governments.  

CUDA has a generic universal design position statement as a model for others to use. There’s also a plain language version. 

Shared space or contested space?

two cyclists ride into a city square which is a pedestrian precinct. Shared space or contested space?
Pedestrian zone with cyclists

Policy makers are concerned about growing motor vehicle usage, pollution, and poor health outcomes due to lack of exercise. Consequently, transport and planning experts are keen to get people out of their cars an onto bikes and public transport. Creating pedestrian malls is looking like a policy favourite too. But this often means that pedestrians have to mingle with slow moving traffic, light rail, and cyclists. Alright for some, but not for everyone. So is it shared space or contested space?

Older people in particular don’t like to share walkways with cyclists. And for many older people, the car is their mobility device. With poor footpath maintenance, or no footpath at all, people unsteady on their feet will still get around by car. So not an easy problem to solve.

Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has done some research on this topic which is titled, Shared Space, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones from a Universal Design Approach for the Urban Environment in Ireland .

front cover of the report. black background with a collage of pictures and the title in white lettering. Shared space or contested space?
Front cover of the Executive Summary

It comes as two documents, a short executive summary, and the full document.

The study explored “contemporary national and international practices and thinking on Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones and to investigate these concepts from a Universal Design approach in the Irish urban environment. This report sets out key evidence based findings and provides key recommendations in relation to the implementation of Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones in Ireland”.

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