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

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.