Dementia and urban design

A street scene showing a wide footpath and a row of shops in the suburbsPeople with dementia can continue with their everyday lives for many years in the community. But they need a bit of help in the form of supportive urban design. To help urban planners include people with dementia, the Age’n’dem Toolkit  is a very practical guide. It is designed for:

1. Councils and built environment contractors
2. Planning processes
3. Design of infrastructure and maintenance
4. Use as and auditing tool for assessing compliance with age and dementia friendly design principles

The Toolkit was developed by Moonee Valley City Council as a foundation resource to guide Councils and local authorities toward the goal of creating more age and dementia friendly community. International evidence shows that elements that support people with dementia have good outcomes for others. So it isn’t “special” design – just thoughtful design. The Age’n’dem Toolkit is inclusive, practical, congruent, informative,
Inclusive and evidence-based.

The Toolkit is easily accessible and simple to read for a variety of audiences, from members of the community to people working across all social and built environment disciplines. It incorporates consultation and feedback from a wide range of sources and stakeholders. There are good examples and case studies.

Getting out and about in the community is part of the picture – home design needs to be considered too

Planning walkable neighbourhoods in Queensland

Front cover of the guide showing a montage of pictures: a tree-lined pathway, a group of new homes, children on a cycles on a cycle path.New residential developments in Queensland must be walkable and encourage physical activity. Specific legislation requires among other conditions, connectivity, footpaths and street trees. Blocks must be no longer than 250 metres and residents must be within 400 metres of a park or open space. To help with this, a new guide is available. 

The new planning provision comes into force at the end of September. This move is supported by the Street Design Manual for Walkable Neighbourhoods. Prepared by the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia in conjunction with the Queensland Government, the guide is designed to help engineers, designers and planners to design more walkable and liveable residential areas. And Walkable, should also mean Wheelable. This is a new document and feedback is welcome. 

The guide covers open space, lot design, street design, active travel, public transport, landscaping and much more. At 160 pages is it comprehensive. There is a brief mention of people using mobility devices, children, older people, and parents with strollers.

Sourceable has a short article introducing the guide, Queensland Lays Down Law on Walkable Neighbourhoods.  


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?

Common language for social sustainability

Front cover of the Property Council report. A child is doing cartwheels in a park“Our built environment has always shaped the lives of people … it is also a powerful force for positive social change.” This is the opening statement in the Foreword of a Property Council of Australia handbook. It goes on to say the property industry is in a powerful position “to do well by doing good”.

The handbook, A common language for social sustainability, provides definitions and context of social sustainability and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It reminds us that investors are increasingly making financial decisions based on social responsibility. Consequently, this aspect of business should not be ignored. Sustainability now goes beyond economics and the environment. 

The handbook covers five key areas and uses examples to explain how social sustainability applies to: 

    • Culture and community
    • Health and wellbeing
    • Mobility and access
    • Equity and fair trade
    • Economic outcomes

The mobility and access section has this to say,

The ability of everyone to access, use and benefit from all aspects within their environment. The goal of accessibility is to create an inclusive society
for all people, regardless of their physical, mobility, visual, auditory or cognitive abilities.
The national Disability Discrimination Act 1992 provides protection for everyone in Australia against discrimination based on disability. Disability discrimination occurs when people with a disability are treated less fairly than people without a disability, or when people are treated less fairly because they are relatives, friends, carers, co-workers or associates of a person with a disability.
A voluntary partnership between community and consumer groups, government and industry that champions the mainstream adoption of inclusive design principles in all new homes built in Australia.
Developed by LHA, these guidelines outline the design elements that ensure a home is easy to access, navigate and live in, as well as more cost-effective to adapt when life’s circumstances change. Three levels of certification – Silver, Gold and Platinum – indicate how a home meets the needs of all Australians, from older people looking to age in place to families with young children, and from people who sustain a temporary injury to those with a permanent disability.
The design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.


Dementia Friendly Outdoors

A black and white paved area. The black pavers are laid in an "S" shape and look like a long black snake against the white pavers.We know that people want to stay home as they age. This does not change for people with dementia. Staying safe at home also means staying safe in the neighbourhood. How we design both has the potential to better support people with dementia and their family members.

Ash Osborne writes in the Access Insight magazine about dementia and outdoor environments. The number of people with dementia is expected to grow. Although dementia is NOT a normal part of ageing, one in ten people over the age of 65 experience dementia. It is the single greatest cause of disability for this group. So we need to give them a bit more thought in our designs.

Osborne takes us through the key design elements that support people with dementia as well as other groups. Depth perception often changes and that means strong changes in contrast can be perceived as steps or a hole. This can lead to falls. Wiggly lines in paving and sun-cast shadows from a pergola are two cases in point. A black mat at a doorway looks like a hole in the ground.

hallway with lighting across the floor making it look like stepsThe article, Age and Dementia Friendly Outdoor Spaces is informative introduction to the topic. 


DeafSpace: Architectural design for people who are deaf

Two men are walking on a path between two buildings.Who would think that deafness and ramps are connected? For people who sign, it’s easier and more fluent if there are no steps in the way. They don’t have to watch where their feet are going either. This is one of the things that underpins the notion of DeafSpace.

People who are deaf inhabit space in different ways to others. DeafSpace is about aligning their way of being to environments. But designs that suit are not a problem for others. Indeed, wider walkways and no steps are great for everyone.

This four minute video below shows it’s not difficult to achieve. Once things are pointed out, it becomes obvious. The video has basic design features both inside and outside buildings that include people who sign to communicate. The features shown are universal because they are good for everyone. 

A UD approach to urban planning

Front cover of guide for planning.A guide to taking a universal design approach to urban planning covers just about everything. The aim of the guide is to deliver sustainable solutions and to create inclusive places. Here are some of the reasons planners should take a UD approach:

    • It avoids the need for wasteful and inefficient retro-fitting of solutions
    • It informs genuinely integrated strategies for land-use, transportation and urban design
    • It creates greater efficiencies for public infrastructure investment
    • It widens the audience and market for development projects enhancing commercial viability
    • It helps provide an environment in which people can age and retain their independence

Although this guide is based on planning laws in Ireland, there are many similarities to other jurisdictions. It covers, consultation, neighbourhoods, community facilities, lifetime homes, travel chain analysis, street design, car parking, economic development, wayfinding, heritage and more. There are also sample policy statements for each section. 

Once again, a really comprehensive guide from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland.

The title of the guide is, Building for Everyone: A Universal Design Approach – Planning and policy.  


How to design an inclusive school building

A view of the school courtyard showing a circular garden and blue paving.A design project for a new school building shows how to make it inclusive for everyone. Architects involved users from the outset and then applied the knowledge they gained. This was no typical building because the task was to integrate two existing schools into the one building. One was a primary school and the other is described as a special school. The story is told in a video which begins with the architects talking about their approach. The video goes on to discuss all the elements they needed to consider which make this an excellent exemplar for all buildings.

Good examples of incorporating user feedback are the installation of footbaths. The area has a high Somali population who like to wash their feet before praying. Understanding that some children with autism find sharp building lines difficult influenced the curved building shapes within the building. The placement of toilets so staff don’t have to walk the length of the building each time was another factor in the final design. Integrating overhead hoists for transferring children to and from wheelchairs so that it just looked like part of the overall design – not special. Small details also make a difference. An interesting point was installing different tap styles because it is a learning experience for the children. And of course energy efficiency was not forgotten in the design process. 

 A very useful and interesting video from the UK for anyone interested in design. There are few good examples of inclusive design in action so this is welcome change. 

A second video shows it’s very productive to involve children in the design process. It’s too easy to dismiss them on the basis that they are too young to know much. It’s also a learning process for them too.

 The picture a the top is of the courtyard in the new school.

Beyond compliance with UD

Front cover of the guide.Standards for the built environment tell you how to comply with minimum requirements. But compliance does not equal usability or convenience for everyone. A guide book from Ireland on the built environment draws together Irish standards with a practical universal design approach. Many of the standards mirror those in Australia so most of the information is compatible. Parking, siting, pedestrian movement, steps, ramps, lifts, seating and bollards are all covered. 

Building for Everyone, External environment and approach covers each of the features in detail. While the style of tactile indicators varies from the Australian design, the advice on placement is still useful. There is a reference list of related documents including Australian Standards. The guide is undated, but probably published circa 2010. This means some of the technology, such as parking ticket machines is a little outdated.

There is also a section at the end on human abilities and design. It covers walking, balance, handling, strength and endurance, lifting, reaching, speech, hearing, sight, touch and more.

Published by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland it is very detailed. Checklists help guide the reader through the material. This booklet links with others in the series, particularly the one on entrances and circulation spaces. The good aspect of these guides is the perspective of a universal design approach rather than proposing prescriptive design parameters.

COVID re-think on retirement living

Single storey homes in the late afternoon sun suggesting a retirement community.Retirement living has to factor pandemics into design now. Separation rather than isolation is the key.  Much of the value of specialist retirement living is the easy access to amenities and socialisation. But the pandemic put a stop to both. The constant reminder that older people are more vulnerable to the infection was the last straw. Especially as everyone fell into the vulnerable category. Consequently, everyone got isolated from each other. But how to design for this?

Australian Ageing Agenda has an article discussing these issues. If residents have to stay home for prolonged periods, they will likely demand more space. Pocket neighbourhoods could work so that only a section needs to be cordoned off. Other ideas are:

    • Converting utility rooms in residential aged care to provide  sleeping cubicles for staff to stay overnight
    • Architects and designers working with materials that are either antimicrobial or easily cleaned
    • Better air filtration and purification, possibly driven by future changes in air-quality codes
    • More high-tech senior-living communities with virtual socialisation, technology support and clear communication systems in place so residents can ask questions and feel more comfortable
    • Technology that allows residents to navigate communities without pressing buttons or grabbing handles
    • Facilitation of in-person visits during times of outbreaks via a dedicated clean room

The title of the article is, COVID-19 is shaping design of future facilities