Emily Steel has written a thoughtful piece about how the thrust of Australia’s National Disability Strategy is languishing while everyone focuses on one small part of it – the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). She argues that the NDIS runs the risk of further marginalising people because it is still treating people with disability as needing special (that is, separate non-mainstream) treatment. This is where the concepts of universal design come to the fore. Yes, some people will need specialised equipment as part of experiencing inclusion, but that equipment doesn’t make for inclusion unless the person can use the equipment to merge into the mainstream. For example, a person with paraplegia needs both a wheelchair and a step-free entry to buildings. One is no good without the other. The good thing is that a step-free entry is good for everyone – inclusive universal design. Only a small percentage of people with disability will qualify for the NDIS and this is also why we need universal design – for everyone, including people with and without NDIS packages. See Emily’s article for some good points on this issue. Emily will be speaking at the 3rd Australian Universal Design Conference. She is Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Wellbeing at University of Southern Queensland.
An opinion piece on the Design Council website gives an overview of the study they did with Social Change UK. More than 600 built environment practitioners across the UK completed the survey. They found that healthy placemaking often sits outside mainstream housing, public health and placemaking policy. It is seen as a cost rather than an investment and consequently often gets overlooked.
The article explains the economic benefits of healthy placemaking. The Design Council defines healthy placemaking as, “tackling preventable disease by shaping the built environment so that healthy activities and experiences are integral to people’s everyday lives.” Improved physical and mental health can be supported by designing neighbourhoods that enable:
- Physical activity: To increase walkability in buildings and neighbourhoods and encourage healthy modes of transport
- Healthy food: To improve access to healthier foods
- Social contact: To design well-connected housing and neighbourhoods that provide access to facilities and amenities to reduce social isolation and loneliness,
- Contact with nature: To provide access to the natural environment, including parks
- Pollution: Reducing exposure to air and noise pollution.
This all adds up to compact, mixed-use, walkable and wheelable neighbourhoods with leafy streets and great parks.
Measuring the benefits of universal design
Dr David Bonnett writes in an opinion piece for the Design Council, that health professionals need to step up to show the benefits (cost savings) of designing inclusively. He argues that inclusive design contributes to our health and wellbeing, but these benefits don’t get measured.
In the UK new buildings, both public infrastructure and private homes, must incorporate basic access features. But older buildings are not under the same regulation. There are costs for refurbishing older buildings, but by now we should be calculating that cost more effectively.
The cost of improving these are borne by local authorities. Bonnet says, “Design professionals, highways engineers included, are open to influence, and access consultants and others can tell them what to do. But first, health professional must assist in devising a method for demonstrating the benefits of inclusive design in order to make the case. Concerns for health succeeded in a ban on smoking in public building almost overnight. Inclusive design – already fifty years in the making – has got some catching up to do.”
We sometimes hear mention of the cost of bed days for falls, for example, and other conditions that are brought about by poorly designed environments, but as Bonnett says, it is time for the health profession to get on board.
Hobsons Bay City Council is situated south-west of Melbourne with a significant stretch of coastal area. As with many local councils in Victoria they are keen to embrace the principles of universal design in their planning policies. As part of their access and inclusion strategy they plan to implement universal design principles in new buildings, buildings with significant upgrades, retrofits of existing buildings, features and public open space. They started with a Hobsons Bay Universal Design Policy Statement.
The policy statement includes a table where the 7 classic principles of universal design are translated into specific guidelines for council staff. The policy statement discusses the myths, regulatory framework and how to implement universal design, and how to go beyond compliance.
A short document and a good template for other councils to use. Policy statements don’t need to be long and wordy. This one gets to the point.
The notion of “third places” is about places in the public domain that encourage informal and casual social interaction. The “first place” is home, and the “second place” is where significant time is spent in a formal sense such as the workplace. Community gardens and town squares are an example of a “third” place.
The Conversation has an interesting article about being lonely in the city. It brings into focus the idea of creating spaces with the human scale in mind. Loneliness is a growing concern and spoken of as the “new smoking”. The article, Many people feel lonely in the city but perhaps third places can help with that also has links to relevant papers.
The Compassionate City
The Dutch idea of the Woonerf has been picked up again, this time by Jenny Donovan of La Trobe University. Using some graphics, she shows how design can affect our decisions to either walk, drive, use public transport or not, and whether you feel welcome in the environment. She covers the key elements of a Compassionate City where various design elements can meet the needs of a range of people and create more harmonious behaviours. There are several links in the article to other related reports and articles. The article originates from The Conversation.
Urban design and social responsiveness
It’s one thing to be accessible, but what other features make a place socially responsive? According to a research paper from Singapore, top of the list is footpaths followed by seating for resting. Concerns over the mix of cyclists and pedestrians and good lighting also feature. The article outlines a method for assessing accessibility and useability of environments. Apart from the method, the results support many other papers on this topic.
The title of the paper is, The Methodology for Evaluating Accessibility as a Tool for Increasing Social Responsiveness or Urban Landscapes in Singapore. Several photos illustrate the text.
From the abstract
Creating a more responsive urban environment enables social integration of people into active public life. This is especially the case for people limited physical abilities.
The author presents a research-based methodology for analysing and evaluating accessibility in public areas of a big city. The originality of the method lays in empowering the disabled persons to play the active role of experts in measuring and evaluating accessibility according the developed assessment tool.
The methodology enables evaluation of accessibility on different urban scales: urban landscapes, in buildings, and in their interiors. The case study performed in Singapore explores the quality of access that people have to public spaces, metro stations, hotels and café.
The paper presents recommendations for improving accessibility in the city by improving the architectural design of buildings. Updating building regulations is also required as well as the maintenances of open spaces and buildings.
The results of this research provide the comprehensive action plan for eliminating barriers in the specific Singapore’s environment and in the other cities. Conclusions present a coherent accessibility monitoring tool and improvement programme to create a socially responsive urban environment.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) embrace the concept of “leave no-one behind”, but we hear little of the SDG in Australia. Perhaps because the focus of the SDG are on developing countries. But some of the aims and ideas could be applied at home as well as elsewhere. A report from the University of Birmingham in the UK reviews ways in which “different groups of people might be unintentionally excluded .. in infrastructure projects.” While the SDG are broad ranging to cover many aspects of exclusion, this report has a focus on people with disability, people of all ages and women. Large scale infrastructure projects can have negative effects for people who are largely invisible to investors, designers, and deliverers of such projects. The report covers transport, water and electricity, discusses tools and approaches, participatory planning processes, social equity audits and universal design. Case studies are provided throughout. Again, although this report is written with developing countries in mind, there are still learnings to be had for developed countries. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a booklet promoting universal design in aid projects funded by the government.
Nabil Eid writes a thoughtful piece on how inclusion in urban environments is an investment that benefits everyone. And not just built infrastructure – it includes services and experiences. This means a collaboration across disciplines that go beyond the traditional links. The more active we are, the healthier we will stay. That’s why smart cities should include everyone and everything.
Eid says, “Such concepts apply across the entirety of built environment, including not only buildings, transport infrastructure, public space and parks, but also to key products, services and facilities that help improve the experience of movement and connectivity. [It] will involve a wide array of different types of designers, each of whom will benefit from collaborating across disciplines and working with experts in a range of technologies or on designs that extend beyond their traditional spheres of interest.”
See Eid’s comprehensive article on the need for inclusion, Smart city means building an inclusive society for all. For text style that is easier to read, access the article via ResearchGate.
Inclusive smart cities are an important opportunity to advance three aspects of a just and sustainable world. Investments in new infrastructure that creates economic benefits for all. Inclusive smart cities also advance essential rights, including decent work opportunities, and an adequate standard of living, with opportunities to participate in cultural life.
The National Disability Authority, which funds the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland, has produced an online Accessibility Toolkit that is targeted towards services, both public and business. The home page has a list of items that you can look at individually. They are listed and linked below. The home page also has a 16 minute video briefly outlining each of the items. Each of the links below has links to further resources.
Connected and automated vehicles are being trialled across the world, but will their use and facility be universally designed? The arrival of the self-driving car could be life-changing for people who have been unable to own and/or drive a car. In their article, Towards Life-Long Mobility: Accessible Transportation with Automation, the authors explore some of the challenges and opportunities for automated vehicles for people usually excluded from driving. They conclude that the future of automated vehicles for currently excluded people seems to be promising.
Despite the prevalent discussions on automated vehicles, little research has been conducted with a focus on inclusiveness of traditionally excluded populations from driving. Even though we may envision a future where everyone can drive with perfect automation, the problem will not be that simple. As with any other problem domains, we need to scrutinize all the design considerations – not only each population’s characteristics (capabilities and limitations), but also the entire system, technological limitations, and task environments. To this end, the present paper explores challenges and opportunities of automated vehicles for multiple populations, including people with various difficulties/disabilities, older adults, and children. This paper brings up some controversial points and is expected to promote lively discussions at the conference.
Electric vehicles and wheelchair users
Good to see designers thinking about customising for the independent travel of wheelchair users. The designers claim that you can wheel yourself into the vehicle and drive yourself without the need for assistance from others.
Because the vehicle is small and box like, the wheelchair user can park so that the ramp will lower directly onto the footpath. This vehicle is available in the UK. We might have to wait for more electric vehicles to appear in Australia before this option is available here. See the website for dimensions and other information and more pictures.
Transport, Mobility and Society
The Centre for Transport and Society at the University of the West of England has a mission to understand the interactions between mobility, lifestyles and society in the context of our changing world. This includes equity in transport and mobility.
Professor Graham Parkhurst’s slideshow makes it easy to digest the concept of automated vehicles and the impact this technological change will have on society. One impact is the opportunity for greater equity in the independent use of motor vehicles. The slide show is quite long with some of the most interesting slides in the second half. Plenty to think about. Their webpage has links to other publications.
From the Editor: One of our members raised an interesting point with me this week about Changing Places toilets and whether they meet the principles of Universal Design. This is one of those situations where it isn’t easy to distinguish where UD ends and specialised design begins.
The European perspective is that inclusion is a continuum – a chain of inclusive thinking. At one end of the continuum are universally designed products, services and environments that almost anyone can use. At the other end are specialised assistive technologies and devices such as prosthetic limbs and speech synthesisers. Somewhere in the middle the two intersect. Some people need both specialised and universally designed products and environments.
A simple example is ramps and level entries go together with mobility devices – a wheelchair user depends on both for achieving entry to a building. So where does that leave us with Changing Places (CP) toilets?
The Changing Places website says their toilets are designed to “meet the needs of people with severe and profound disabilities”. It also says, “It is required that accredited Changing Places facilities be built in addition to and separate from required Unisex Accessible Toilets (see picture of signage). This is to ensure that the needs of both groups of toilet users are met without compromise”. This clearly puts Changing Places (CP) toilets at the assistive technology end of the continuum as as a specialised design for particular users. The toilet is therefore not universally designed because not everyone can use it due to the way it is designed. But CP toilets support universal design because in conjunction with other toilet types in the vicinity they provide equitable access for everyone to the surrounding environment. Consequently, everyone gets the benefits – everyone is included.
However, there are concerns that where funds are limited, it would be easy for the uninitiated to assume the CP toilet would work for all wheelchair users. In that case, there would be problems with the drop-down grab bars, particularly for people with MS, Parkinson’s and others with balance problems. The accreditation for these facilities should be through the Changing Places organisation without reference to the public accessible toilet standard (AS1428.1). The term “Lift and Change” toilets is being used in New South Wales to avoid the copyright issues. However, it leaves it open to misinterpretation of what the CP toilet is supposed to achieve and who it is for.
Australian Standard for accessible public toilets (AS1428.1) does not cover CP facilities. And not all adult lift and change toilets are accredited by the Changing Places organisation. Hence this leaves it open for a non-accredited Changing Places/ lift and change toilet to be installed without a companion accessible toilet nearby.
CP toilets give families a new freedom to participate in activities, both outdoor and indoor. In this respect these toilets facilitate greater participation and inclusion for individuals and families – and this is a principle that universal design fully supports.
Jane Bringolf, Editor
At a roundtable meeting following the 2014 Universal Design Conference in Sydney, Kay Saville-Smith shared her experience on universal design and affordability. She was happy to share her five key points about universal design in housing:
“The usual argument is that universal design is consistently unaffordable (by which they mean more costly) than poor design because of the difficulties of retrofitting the existing environment and lack of economies of scale. Actually, the reasons why universal design is seen as costly can add cost. Five points are interesting:
- Most products are not designed but driven off existing tools, processes and organisational structures. To change these does require some investment (hump costs) but these are one off and should not be seen as an ongoing cost. Indeed, those changes can bring reduced costs in the long term through increased productivity etc.
- The costs of poor design are externalised onto households, other sectors or hidden unmet need.
- Comes out of an advocacy approach that pitches the needs of one group against another and treats universal design as special design etc.
- Win-win solutions need to be built with the industry participants that are hungry for share not dominant players who have incentives to retain the status quo.
- Universal design is different from design which is fashion based. The trick is to make universal design fashionable so no one would be seen dead without it.”
Her keynote presentation provides more information about why it is so hard to get traction with universal design in housing. The picture is of Kay Saville-Smith.