Dementia Friendly Assessment Tool

Front cover of the Dementia Friendly Assessment Tool. It has lime green with text and a man bending down to pet a wallaby.The Dementia Friendly Community Environmental Assessment Tool provides a relatively simple checklist. It takes in many of the regular aspects of accessibility overlaid with design thought for people with dementia. A good place to start your thinking.

The more recent online resource from Dementia Training Australia expands on the 2015 edition and goes into more detail. Sections can be downloaded separately. There are three parts in the handbook:

    • 1 ‘Key Design Principles’ contains a description of key design principles.
    • 2 ‘The Dementia Friendly Community – Environmental Assessment Tool introduces the tool and provides directions for its use.
    • 3 ‘Using the Spreadsheet’ contains a guide to scoring and showing the results graphically.  

This assessment tool is No. 5 in a set of 7 resources within the Environmental Design Resources Handbook.

There is also a free app to guide you through an assessment on the strengths and weaknesses of buildings for people with dementia. The website has more resources covering both community living and residential care. 

Tools that measure the quality of building used by people with dementia identify strengths and weaknesses. We can then make them more supportive of people with dementia. 

Accessibility of public space

A pedestrian zone in a city street. Accessibility of public space.Infrastructure built before disability activists gained legal recognition of their human rights is often inaccessible. Newer buildings have basic access according to the standards imposed by governments. However, standards are no guarantee for full access for everyone. Consequently, urban researchers continue to write in the hope of effecting change for the accessibility of public space. 

A chapter in the book, Future of the City, is yet another offering about universal design and how accessibility is for everyone. This one includes a chart with solutions for typical barriers. These solutions are prescriptive with dimensions and measurements. The chart covers paths of travel, vertical travel, spatial elements and fittings, and transportation infrastructure.

Photographs and good examples illustrate the points made. The information is useful for councils and capital works staff. It fits neatly with the Age Friendly Checklist for Councils.

The title of the open access chapter is Accessibility of pubic space. Although there are some language differences in disability terms, the article is easy to read and makes some clear points. For example,

“For many people leading an independent life may be fully conditional on the accessibility of public spaces. Through accessible places, such people have a chance to participate in the social and economic life of the country or local society.”

“It is estimated that up to 30% of society have permanent or temporary limitations in mobility or perception. Many of these people do not have the status of a disabled person. Therefore, it can be said that accessibility concerns all of us.”

The chapter concludes with a comment about the gradual change in the accessibility of public buildings. However, there is more work to do. 

Design for Dignity Guidelines

Front cover of the Design for Dignity Guidelines.The Design for Dignity guidelines cover all the elements in a major urban renewal project. The guide is based on the principles applied in the development of Barangaroo South in Sydney. It covers public domain, wayfinding, commercial and retail precincts, and workplaces. Stakeholder engagement is also covered. The pictures clearly explain the do’s and don’ts and why the details matter. The guide is comprehensive and easy to read, and has a list of resources at the end.

The story behind these guidelines began when Lend Lease commenced the development of Barangaroo South. Their policy was to to go beyond the bare minimums of compliance to standards. They felt they could do better and strive for a universal design approach. With the assistance of Australian Network on Disability (AND) and Westpac, they developed Design for Dignity Guidelines: Principles for beyond compliance accessibility in urban regeneration

There are two case studies from Barangaroo South. The public domain case study is about the process of consulting with disability stakeholders. The second case study is about achieving dignified access in a mixed commercial space.  This is an excellent resource for interior designers as well as urban planners. The details explain why going beyond access standards is important. 

Age friendly checklist for councils

four older women using wheelie walkers are crossing the road in single file. Age friendly checklistMaking an urban area friendly for older people doesn’t have to be difficult. If we want to encourage older adults to get out and about it comes down to five key things. Footpaths, Seating, Wayfinding, Toilets and Lighting. These are explained simply in a four page age friendly checklist designed for local government. Each feature has a rationale, the basic requirements, additional enhancements, and what to avoid. 

Briefly the five key things are:

      1. Footpaths should be provided on both sides of the street and wide enough for two mobility devices to pass. 
      2. Seating placed at regular intervals and set back from the pedestrian path of travel.
      3. Wayfinding and street signage should have plain fonts, colour contrast and non-reflective surfaces. Architectural landmarks also provide wayfinding cues. 
      4. Toilets should be sufficient in number, clean, and well maintained. Provide at least on unisex toilet and an accessible path of travel to all toilets. 
      5. Lighting is not just a safety issue. It should be even and without glare and placed to minimise pools or strips of light. 

In a similar way, an article in The Conversation highlights 8 things to help people age well and stay active. Footpaths head the list followed by pedestrian networks, slowed traffic, street crossings, accessible public transport, seating, shade and lighting. The article has many links to more detail and the research behind each of the features. It is easy to see that these factors are good for all ages.

Front cover of the WHO guide for age friendly cities.The WHO Guide for Age Friendly Cities remains an good resource with more detailed information. 


Gender equity in design

Front cover of the Gender Equity in Design Guidelines.What does gender equity have to do with design? Given that design impacts on the way we can navigate the world and participate, quite a bit. Gender equity in design is yet another element of designing inclusively. 

Rights, responsibilities and opportunities should not depend on gender. Treatment of women, men and trans and gender diverse people are often subject to stereotyping or generalisations about roles. But for many designers and policy makers gender equity is a new concept. So the Gender Equity in Design Guidelines are a great help. 

The City of Whittlesea in Victoria got onto the issue in 2017 to produce the Guide. As a local government authority the guide focuses on community facilities. It introduces the case for gender equity and has a focus on issues for women. While there is an emphasis on safety and easy access for women with children, gender diverse groups are not forgotten.  

What the guidelines cover

Many of the features capture the essence of universal design. The twenty page document covers site planning, concept design and documentation for:

      • Community centres
      • Maternal and child health
      • Youth facilities
      • Community pavilions
      • Aquatic and major leisure facilities

The Guidelines acknowledge that any building project goes through several stages and has different stakeholders. Consequently, it only covers planning, concept design and detailed design and documentation. The construction phase is dependent upon the follow-through from planning and design.

The aim of the Guidelines is to provide the best possible blueprint for gender-equitable practice. This means it is only looking through a gender lens and is not a total design guide. Consequently, regulatory standards and building code compliance and accessibility are outside the scope of the document. 

Gender Equity in Design Guidelines were produced by the City of Whittlesea with support from the Victorian Government and the Municipal Association of Victoria. 


Cities for People with Hearing Loss

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 walkwayTechnology has improved the sizing of hearing aids, but people still refuse to get them and if they do, they often abandon them. But hearing aids don’t solve all hearing issues. Difficulty hearing causes people to isolate. So how can we create cities for people with hearing loss? 

Janice Lintz’s article reminds us how many people live with hearing loss. She argues that cities need to update their perceptions of people with hearing loss and to think beyond just wheelchair access. She also makes a good point about the assumed access knowledge of people with disability. 

We should not assume that a person with a particular disability understands all disabilities. And, they are unlikely to be an expert on that disability. Similarly, a person with a cochlear implant is not an expert on all hearing devices. Consequently, we should refer to experts as well as people with lived experience.

Lintz briefly explains the different types of hearing systems for the built environment. Hearing aid users prefer the induction loop system that transmits directly to their hearing aids. FM systems that require them to wear a receiver around their neck are stigmatising. It has to be borrowed from the venue and batteries are not always charged.

Hearing loss is common

AUSLAN interpreters are a solution for far fewer people with hearing loss, but must be considered in access solutions. Around 6500 people use AUSLAN in Australia. The total number of people with hearing loss is 3.6 million. That makes one in six people. DeafSpace architecture shows how the design of the environment can support people who use AUSLAN or have hearing loss. 

Captioning and transcripts are another important access strategy and are usable by everyone who can read. This makes it a universal design strategy.

Newer mobile phones can link directly to some types of hearing aids via Bluetooth. This should encourage more people to wear their aids. 

The title of the article is, Rethinking Cities for People with Hearing Loss. It includes a link to an overview of the different types of hearing systems including the different types of captioning. 

Editor’s comment: White wireless earbuds don’t suffer the same stigma as hearing aids. But they both stick in your ears. Glasses have turned into a fashion statement, but not hearing aids despite being up to ten times the cost.

Guide to gender neutral bathrooms

Front cover of Creating Bathroom Accessibility & Gender Inclusive Society.Gender neutral bathrooms are also good for other groups of people who are often neglected in the assignment of sanitary facilities. Prevailing social attitudes are probably the biggest barrier to gender inclusive public bathrooms for people who identify as transgender. A guide to gender neutral bathrooms is a great help. 

The Creating Bathroom Access & Gender Inclusive Society bathroom guide challenges current ideas. For example, is it really necessary to have male and female toilets? The guide discusses the issues and provides solutions. 

Other minority groups face bathroom discrimination. Gender inclusive bathrooms benefit people with disability and older people with carers. Parents with small children also have difficulty finding suitable toilets.

A new approach

Gender inclusive bathroom by Elizabeth Felicella
Gender inclusive bathroom by Elizabeth Felicella

Gender-neutral bathrooms have sparked many public debates in the US, however, in Australia, this is still a fairly new concept.  We are familiar with unisex accessible sanitary facilities that provide a space that allows carers and users of any gender.  Yet, the public services’ push towards gender neutral bathrooms to foster inclusiveness of transgender and intersex employees are causing debate in its Canberra buildings.

The National Construction Code in Australia only recognises the provision of male and female sanitary compartments. Perhaps universal design will provide the solution that architects are looking for:

“Because public bathrooms need to be designated male or female, it forces transgender and nonconforming individuals to choose between the two, sometimes leading them into uncomfortable or unsafe situations. The code leaves architects with a choice, too: take the easy route and design single and multi-occupancy bathrooms labelled “male” or “female,” or design around the code–the latter of which often takes more creativity and resources.”

Building accessibility: explaining why

Front cover of the New Zealand resource. Building accessibility
Front cover of the resource

There are good reasons why revolving doors are not a good idea for a lot of people. But how many designers know this. Unless the building code says don’t do it we will continue to see these in new buildings. The New Zealand Government produced a useful guide to support their building code. It covers building accessibility and explains why some designs are just not helpful. 

Buildings for everyone: Designing for access and usability is a good practice guide which goes into fine detail. For example, problems with sudden changes in light levels, issues with highly patterned flooring, and how wheelchair users might inadvertently damage doorways or tiling. The guide also links to features to the relevant sections of the Building Code. 

While this is a New Zealand publication, there is good information for other jurisdictions. The main contents are:

    1. Builder user activity
    2. Surrounding area and transport
    3. Pedestrian circulation
    4. Vehicle circulation and parking
    5. Building entrances
    6. Internal circulation
    7. Interior space
    8. Fixtures and fittings
    9. Building types
    10. Means of escape 
    11. Building management

This guide explains the “why” of the specific designs. So there should be no more thinking, “near enough is good enough because a little change here and there won’t matter”. It does matter. The publication is from the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

A book to help

Ed Steinfeld holding his book next to his face. Building accessibility.
Ed Steinfeld with his book

Published in 2012, Steinfeld and Maisel’s book, Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments, is still relevant today as a standard text. It introduces designers to the principles and practice of designing for all people. It covers the full range from the foundations of accessibility to the practice of inclusive design.

Topics include interiors, products, housing and transportation systems. Best practice examples demonstrate the value of universal design as both a survey of the field and reference for researchers. Trove has a copy, otherwise it is available for purchase through Google Books or Wiley publishing.  Steinfeld and Maisel have published numerous books and articles and you can find these on the IDeA website

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”.

6 steps for effective wayfinding

A street signpost with multiples signs going in several directions. They need 6 septs to effective wayfinding.
Image by Kim Broomhall from Pixabay

Wayfinding is more than just putting up a sign, but where signs are needed it’s time to call an experiential graphic designer. They have expertise in understanding human behaviour and perception. Knowledge of access codes is also part of their skill-set. The key point is to involve them at the beginning of a project for best effect. A SEDG blog post has 6 steps for effective wayfinding. 

6 Steps for Effective Wayfinding

Think about wayfinding long before the development site and architecture have taken shape. Experiential graphic designers are the go-to people at this point. The following steps are edited from the SEDG blog post. They outline the process for working with designers to integrate wayfinding into new or existing space. 

1. Kick off. A good designer will listen to the problems and challenges that a wayfinding systems needs to solve.

2. Strategize and plan. Designers think about how people move around and interact, anticipate needs and identify obstacles. They should also consider any regulations and restrictions to ensure designs are approved. 

3. Concept and design. A good designer will have skills in type, colour, form, materials, lighting and more and present a variety of designs. They consider sightlines, obstructions, language and culture, physical disabilities and visual impairments.  

4. Review and approve. This is the most important part of the process. A good designer packages the designs for approval and negotiates where necessary. 

5. Bid for pricing. Allow up to three weeks for this step so mistakes aren’t made leading to bigger issues. Proposals should include samples, colours, materials, shop drawings and permits.

6. Fabricate and install. Fabrication and installation takes eight to twelve weeks. A good designer will work with fabricators and installers to ensure design intent is followed, down to the last sign type and location. 

Final thoughts. 

According to the blog post, experiential graphic designers have sound design principles. They understand building materials and manufacturing techniques. These designers understand human behaviour and perception—the way people make decisions and move through a space. In the long run they can save you time and money.