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.

Movement and Place: A guide

Front cover of the movement and place guide.Transportation is more than trains, planes and automobiles. The design of the built environment can make or break a successful transportation system. Transport for NSW and the state government architect recognise this and have come up with a great guide to movement and place. 

The guide aims to change some established ways of working so that we get better places and better outcomes. It outlines:

      • a collaborative method for practitioners, stakeholders, and the community 
      • shared responsibility and a shared language to support collaboration 
      • a process for implementing this approach in decisions and project types
      • criteria for measuring and evaluating movement and place now and in future projects

The Practitioner’s Guide to Movement and Place has three main sections. The introduction to the concept and implementing a place based approach cover the practicalities. The third section is more about understanding why this approach is important. The guide is necessarily technical in places and has a reference list at the end.

Established working practices and standards are likely to change, according to the guide. It is asking professionals to think differently about their role in creating successful places. 

There is a companion guide, Aligning Movement and Place. 

Editor’s Note: I couldn’t find a mention of accessibility and inclusion. I assume that practitioners will make this part of the process, but that means it will likely rely on existing standards.  Aboriginal custodians get a mention.

Access Insight newsletter: focus on parking

Front cover of magazine showing an accessible parking space.Accessible parking spaces are the focus in the latest issue of the access consultants newsletter. Each contributor offers a different perspective on the topic. Nick Morris gives a personal story, and Howard Mutrie and Eric Martin get technical with standards. Rachel Whymark discusses car parking related to Specialist Disability Accommodation. As with all standards there are always some anomalies and these are discussed.  

You can read the magazine online using ISSUU, or you can download the PDF version.  

You can also see back issues of the newsletter on the ACAA website

 

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

 

Specifications for universal design

new home construction site with timber on the ground.Universal design is a thinking process that aims for the most inclusive design solutions possible – designing universally. It is a process that improves through iteration. This means that you can’t specify a standard, which is for one point in time, because it stops the process of continuing improvement. But we don’t live in a perfect world and some people just want to know they got it right. Ergo a standard please. 

NATSPEC is an non-profit organisation with the aim of improved construction and productivity in the built environment. Their website has a long list of technical notes, which cover many construction elements. New to the list are:

These technical notes are just two pages long. They are good for quick reference and for anyone new to universal design concepts. The Accessible Housing guidance refers to the Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299), Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the Access to Premises Standard. it also references the National Construction Code and related standards.

Designing with inclusion in mind will sometimes mean that more than one solution is required. So a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be counterproductive. It also means doing the best you can with what you have at the time with a view to improving with the next iteration. 

 

Occupational therapists do universal design

A graphic depicting aspects of rules, right and wrong, and tick boxes. Accessible built environment advisors and practitioners know that it is an uphill battle to get clients to go beyond compliance. However, that doesn’t mean giving up. Occupational therapists (OTs) are often involved in home modifications, but not often thought about in the public domain. They often hold key information about how our minds and bodies interact with the built environment. So OTs can sometimes bring new solutions to the table with universal design. 

Apeksha Gohil has devised a universal design guide for OTs. The aim of the guide is for OT practitioners to offer universal design solutions to enable full participation by all users. The guide is a three stage stepwise process to reach universal design solutions beyond compliance and prescriptive standards. 

Gohil agrees stakeholders are primarily interested in what is required by the law. However, it is important to create awareness about user participation and co-design a part of the design process. One of the aims of the guide is to create awareness about role of OTs in universal design and create best practice examples. 

The Universal Design Consultation Guide for Occupational Therapy Practitioners is structured as a step by step guide. It also serves as a learning tool because it is very detailed. 

The document is available on ResearchGate, or you can download directly as a PDF document

Dr Apeksha Gohil is currently based at Federation University, but wrote this guide while based at University of Illinois at Chicago. 

 

Whole Building Design Guide

wheel diagram showing all the elements of building design.Joining the dots between all aspects of the built environment is not easy task. So the Whole Building Design Guide is a welcome resource. It is a collaboration among stakeholders and government agencies in the US. It could be titled, Building Design as a Whole. 

This web-based resource has everything you need to know. The section on design considerations has subsections that include accessibility, aesthetics, historic preservation, and sustainability. The Accessibility tab reveals more sections including Beyond Accessibility to Universal Design. This section has a useful explanation for building on the seven principles of universal design with the eight goals of universal design.

There are also sections on continuing education, case studies, and project management. This is one of the most comprehensive resources around for anyone involved in the built environment. The resource has content specific to the US in terms of codes and regulations, but the concepts apply elsewhere. The good thing is the resource appears to be updated. I first posted on this guide in 2017. I can see there is new content. 

 

Hearing Loops are not obsolete technology

picture of Sydney Centennial Hall (Town Hall) set up for an event with red chairs in rowsSome technologies are overtaken by new discoveries, but others just keep getting better. One such technology is hearing loops. The basic technology remains the same but improvements are being made over time. Modern hearing aids have not  improved so much that people don’t need augmentation in meeting venues. It’s a bit like saying wheelchairs have improved so much we don’t need ramps.

Andrew Stewart at Hearing Connections nicely addresses all the myths and misconceptions about hearing augmentation systems. He says that the hearing loop is still the most efficient and effective for users, and the most convenient for venue managers. Other systems are not popular because of additional equipment that needs to be worn or used, which singles users out from the crowd. Andrew also provides the BCA references at the end of the newsletter.

    • Myth 1:  Hearing aids have improved and sufficient by themselves
    • Myth 2: Hearing loop systems are superseded by other technology
    • Myth 3: The newer technology is better
    • Myth 4: Use your smartphone as a receiver
    • Myth 5: SoundField systems are the modern-day replacement
    • Myth 6: Bluetooth is the answer
    • Myth 7: Captions are good enough

An excellent resource for building designers and property managers.

Picture is of Sydney Centennial Hall (Town Hall). A hearing loop is installed.

Design, Dignity and Dementia Report

Front cover of the Design Dignity Dementia Report.The field of dementia and the design of the built environment is not well understood. Until now. Comprehensive Australian research has resulted in two volumes on the topic. The research looks at current best practice in design, and regional and cultural aspects. It also covers the importance of including people with dementia in the design process. The impact of the pandemic is another discussion point. People with dementia have the same human rights as others and that includes being treated with dignity.

The first volume is about the approach to the topic, the thorny issues, design processes and the 10 principles they developed. The second volume presents 84 case studies from around the world. A collection of day care centres, residential care facilities, and public buildings illustrate good design principles. The case studies include architectural detail and photos illustrate some of the design points.

The title of the report is, World Alzheimer Report 2020: Design, Dignity, Dementia: dementia-related design and the built environment. Authors are Prof Richard Fleming, John Zeisel and Kirsty Bennett.

The report launch webinar gives a good overview. Unfortunately the captions are auto-generated so they aren’t the best. However you can increase the speed and still understand the content.

Principles of dementia 

    • Unobtrusively reducing risks: Minimise risk factors such as steps and ensure safety features are as unobtrusive as possible.
    • Providing a human scale: The scale of buildings can impact the behaviour of people with dementia, so provide a human scale to minimise intimidating features.
    • Allowing people to see and be seen: The provision of an easily understood environment will help to minimise confusion. A literal line of sight should be clear for both residents, and staff.
    • Reducing unhelpful stimulation: Environments should be designed to minimise exposure to stimuli that are unhelpful, such as unnecessary or competing noises and the sight of unnecessary signs, posters, spaces and clutter.
    • Optimise helpful stimulation: Enabling the person living with dementia to see, hear and smell things that give them cues about where they are and what they can do, can help minimise their confusion and uncertainty.
    • Support movement and engagement: Providing a well-defined pathway of movement, free of obstacles, can support engagement with people and opportunities.
    • Create a familiar place: The use of familiar building design, furniture, fittings and colours affords people with dementia an opportunity to maintain their competence.
    • Provide opportunities to be alone or with others: A variety of spaces, some for quiet conversation and some for larger groups, as well as spaces where people can be by themselves, gives people with dementia a choice to how they spend their time.
    • Link to the community: The more an environment enables visitors to drop in easily and enjoy being in places that encourage interaction, the more the sense of identity that comes from spending time with loved ones and others is reinforced.
    • Design in response to vision for way of life: The way of life offered needs to be clearly stated and the building designed both to support it and to make it evident to the residents and staff.

Safe Evacuation for All

Picture taken looking up a building where a man in striped pajamas is being helped onto a ladder by two firefightersNext time you have a fire drill take a moment to consider whether anyone could be experiencing difficulty getting out. And it is not all about mobility issues. In a real situation some people are likely to panic or experience high levels of anxiety. Fire wardens can be trained to manage these situations, but is the design of the building helpful as well? The guide, Safe Evacuation for All has some really useful information to help. 

The guide is for anyone involved in planning and managing safe evacuation from buildings. This includes facilities and accommodation staff, health and safety staff, access officers, human resource professionals and others. Design professionals and fire engineers will find it useful too. The guide was developed by the National Disability Authority in Ireland. Each section is available to download separately: the guide, a risk assessment checklist and a PEEP template.

The aims of this publication are to:

    • encourage anyone preparing an evacuation plan to consider the needs of people of all ages, sizes, abilities and disabilities;
    • help those responsible for buildings to recognise the evacuation features relevant for people with disabilities;
    • give guidance on providing safe evacuation for everyone; and
    • identify good practice in providing safe evacuation for everybody.  

The title of the guide is, Safe Evacuation for All