Inclusive visual art

How can we include people without vision in the visual arts? A collaboration between the Queensland University of Technology’s Design Lab and Art Museum decided to find out. The result was a co-designed inclusive visual art project titled Vis-ability.

Co-researcher Megan Strickfadden audio-describing a painting.

The Vis-ability project pushed the boundaries of universal design to discover multi-sensory experiences.

Equal access to art and cultural heritage remains limited. As a consequence, it privileges people with sight. Cultural institutions are a draw for tourists, but few are considering equitable access to exhibits.

A team of 35 researchers and people with lived experience of blindness or low vision, co-designed 12 outputs. The process proposed alternative ways of engaging with the art collection and expanding understanding of visual art.

Front view of the tube shaped tactile model with two hand shapes indicating it can be touched.
Front view of a tactile model
A tube shaped tactile model with raised portions inside the tube. Someone has their hand at the opening touching the mode.
Side view of a tactile model

The project emerged from Janice Rieger’s conversations with people who are blind. They found it was pointless going to an art gallery or museum because they were told that “art is only for the sighted”.

The Vis-ability exhibition opened in April 2019 at the QUT Art Museum. Visitors had the opportunity to experience tactile models and audio descriptions of selected works on display. Visitors were encouraged to think about senses other than sight when engaging with the artwork. More in-depth understanding of the works added a new dimension to the experience of art. Audio pods concealed the paintings so that all visitors would have to ‘hear the painting‘ before seeing it.

When you went into the exhibition you could see the paintings, you could touch the paintings, and you could hear the paintings. Even people who consider themselves able bodied appreciated that.

Prof Janice Rieger

The Vis-ability exhibition was co-designed with people with disability and reached an audience of 4 million globally. Funding for the project came from the EU Commission and in-kind support from institutions in Canada and Australia.

The title of the short paper by Janice Rieger is, Vis-ability: Design Cultures of Inclusion in Australia and Globally.

Editor’s comment

I was lucky to be involved in the early stages of this project. I joined a workshop where different groups attempted to interpret a painting by creating a tactile model using paper, glue and an any other materials available. The process of creating the model was a learning exercise for everyone involved.

Touching artworks in regular art galleries is forbidden, but in this instance, tactile experiences were encouraged. This added another dimension for people who are sighted. As with many things designed for a particular disability, it turned out good for everyone – yes, universal design!

The top picture was taken during a workshop session. It shows Prof Megan Strickfadden, a co-researcher, audio describing a painting.

Literature review of playspace guides

There’s lots of different terminology covering the topic of inclusion and diversity, but they all generally mean the same thing. On one hand, the very nature of inclusion and diversity should allow for different ways of understanding the concepts. On the other hand, researchers who are seeking clarity on the topic find mixed terminology difficult to work with. A literature review of playspace guides is a case in point.

Two small boys are crouched by the side of a pond and are reaching into the water.

Inclusive playspace guides have different ways of explaining how to be inclusive.

The United Nations and other international organisations use the term “universal design” but it’s not universally used. Many other organisations use inclusive design and accessible design. A research team in Ireland decided to look at playspace guidelines to find out more.

Playspace guides often use the term “universal design” but they don’t always mean the same thing. A scoping review found 27 guideline documents where 13 of them referred to universal design approach for inclusive playspaces. While they referred to a universal design, they used this term interchangeably with accessible design and inclusive design.

Playspace aims are the same

The 13 guidelines referring to universal design described the general aims as:

  • Moving beyond minimum accessibility to maximise varied play opportunities and social integration
  • Creating a space where everyone feels welcome
  • Providing the same or equivalent experiences and activities
  • Designing a space with accessible, inclusive routes and infrastructure, and relevant ground and elevated level activities.

Of the remaining fourteen guideline documents not referring explicitly to universal design, 10 utilised inclusive design in combination with accessible design. However, the explanations of inclusive design were the same as those for universal design. Two documents used accessible design exclusively, with a greater focus on children with disability.

A play area showing brightly coloured poles and a boardwalk leading to equipment.

The core concept of inclusion underpinned all the guideline documents.

The researchers found that less than half the guideline documents referred to the classic seven principles of universal design. Instead, they articulated their own principles. They lament that this is problematic claiming it adds further confusion about what an inclusive playground is or should be.

The researchers conclude that creating inclusive playgrounds likely needs a tailored version of universal design. Their conclusion suggests they believe there is one ‘correct’ way of applying universal design – that is, using the 7 principles. It also assumes that the principles of universal design have not evolved since their inception more than 25 years ago.

The title of the review is, Designing public playgrounds for inclusion: a scoping review of grey literature guidelines for Universal Design. The extensive reference list is good for finding playspace guides from the English-speaking world. It includes well-known Australian guides, but not the landmark Everyone Can Play guide.

A rising tide lifts all the boats:

Inclusive ministries and universal design

Many churches and places of worship are improving the accessibility of their premises. But have they thought of more than just getting in the door? What about faith leaders with disability?

What is good for people living with disabilities is good for all of us, and a rising tide lifts all the boats.

Bill Gaventa
A rising tide lifts all the boats

Traditionally, men have taken all the leadership roles, and in some faiths they still do. But in other faith groups women are gradually being accepted into these roles. Progressive faith-based institutions might also consider gender diverse leaders. So it’s time to push the envelope for broader inclusion and that means embracing leaders with disability.

An article by Bill Gaventa discusses universal design in different forms as a way to be more inclusive. A major role for any faith leader is to pass on knowledge about the faith to followers. That means teaching and learning methods need to go beyond the written word and preaching techniques.

Gaventa writes that ministries are coming of age and that it is time to advocate for inclusion in faith communities.

Four panes of a church stained glass window depict different people needing help.

The primary premise of Universal Design is that those environments, including places like religious education classes and worship services, should be designed, from the beginning, to include a wide variety of people with varied learning styles and needs.

The title of the article is A rising tide lifts all the boats: It is about All of Us. It is nicely written in a conversational style and is wide-ranging. Gaventa also discusses assistive technology, understanding disruptive behaviour and universal design for learning. “A rising tide lifts all boats” is a fitting analogy here as well as for economics.

Whatever way a congregation might get to the point of Universal Design, it puts new meaning on our celebration of the “church universal.”

Social inclusion for playgrounds

Two children are climbing on a rope web obstacle course.

Social inclusion is just as important as physical inclusion in playgrounds. So it isn’t always about special equipment or design.

It seems really difficult to create inclusive playgrounds without making them sound as if they are special places for children with disability. That was one finding from research in Switzerland. A commonly shared perspective was that a playground is only inclusive if it has special equipment.

So moving from “all-abilities” to “inclusive” might not have taken us any further forward in designer attitudes. But we don’t need a special label – a playground is a place for people of all ages – for everyone.

An inclusive playground could be any playground as long as children with disabilities are welcome there.

Study participant

The presence of other children with disabilities was important to give a feeling of belonging. This was particularly the case when other parents displayed negative attitudes towards their children.

Invisible barriers

The researchers found that lack of relevant policies and support from politicians was a key barrier. Participants felt that inclusion is not a policy priority when designing playgrounds. Consequently, funding to improve playgrounds was not forthcoming.

Despite years of global and international campaigning by disability groups, attitudes towards children with disability remain mixed. The classic claim is that there are so few children with disability in playgrounds (because you don’t see them). So why go to such lengths to make all playgrounds inclusive: “Because no child with a disability is coming anyway.”

Negative attitudes remain in the community leading to judgmental attitudes by parents of children without disability. Consequently, parents of children with disability did not feel welcome. So physical accessibility is only part of the story of inclusive playgrounds.

The title of the article is, Designing inclusive playgrounds in Switzerland: why is it so complex? Although the research is specific to Switzerland, the findings would apply in many settings. The researchers conclude that a universal design approach, which considers social inclusion, is the way forward.

The New South Wales Government is updating their very successful guide, Everyone Can Play.

Abstract

Playgrounds designed with the intention to be inclusive are one approach to creating equal opportunities for all children, including those with disabilities, in terms of their right to play. However, when building inclusive playgrounds, the focus is often limited to the physical environment.

Yet, studies investigating children’s play in inclusive playgrounds have shown that other aspects of inclusion, such as social inclusion, are equally as important as the physical environment. Nevertheless, there is a lack of knowledge about how inclusion is considered in the design of inclusive playgrounds.

Therefore, this study aimed to explore the design and use of inclusive playgrounds among people involved in the provision of inclusive playgrounds and advocates of children with disabilities from a Swiss context. Four focus groups were conducted with 26 participants involved in providing inclusive playgrounds or having a professional or personal relationship with children with disabilities.

Results revealed no uniform understanding of inclusive playgrounds. Barriers to inclusive playground provision included negative attitudes, lack of knowledge about
inclusion and the absence of policies for inclusion.

Through the focus group discussions, it was proposed that a community network is needed, to bring together children with disabilities and their families with playground providers when designing inclusive playgrounds. In this context, user involvement can inform the design of playgrounds and support the understanding of the needs of people with disabilities in playgrounds, among other things.

To enhance inclusion for children with disabilities on inclusive playgrounds, design approaches that consider social inclusion, like Universal Design, are proposed.

Inclusive Play guide from South Australia

Front cover of inclusive play guide.

Inclusive play enables everyone to connect with their surroundings, with other people and with themselves.

The South Australian Government has produced a practical guide making playspaces inclusive. Connection is a key element: Connect with place, Connect with each other, and Connect with self.

  • Connect with place: A place without barriers that is easy for everyone to acces and enhances the existing environment.
  • Connect with each other: Facilities and equipment that encourage everyone to interact and play with each other while feeling safe and welcome.
  • Connect with self: An experience that help every individual activate their senses, stimulate their imagination and challenge their limits.

The process

The first step in the design process is checking that everyone can get there and access the place. The second step is to make sure everyone can easily find their way around. The third step is to remember access to the fun stuff – is the equipment accessible? Environmental factors such as shade, natural features and nearby accessible facilities conclude the list.

The guide continues with advice on community consultation, encouraging intergenerational activities, and thinking about amenity – seating, toilets, lighting and safety.

The guide touches on aspects of play such as considering the senses and challenging activities across ages and levels of capability. The document concludes with some checklists for the preceding elements. These cover access, landscaping elements, layout, safety and location.

The guide is easy to follow and shares some similarities with the NSW Government’s Everyone Can Play guide.

You can download the guide from the South Australian Government website.
The document was found in a literature review of universal design play guidelines. The review is titled, Designing public playgrounds for inclusion: a scoping review of grey literature guidelines for Universal Design.

Books for everyone with universal design

Girl sits with a book flicking pages and looking a little unhappy. Reading is a skill that some people find difficult or onerous, so they miss out on reading for pleasure. But making books more accessible is more than just applying Easy Language. It also requires thoughtful layout, font and use of images. The Books for Everyone Framework describes the book making process from writing to publication. 

Matching readers to the “right book” is more than the issue of genre or reading interests. Readers have varying language skills, functional differences and are neurodiverse. So the question for the publication industry is, “How can they work for inclusion of all types of potential readers?”

An article from Norway describes a case study of how the Books for Everyone (BfE) framework was used for five fictional books. These books were written by different authors, illustrators and publishers. The article provides suggestions for the publishing industry to accommodate reader diversity in the future. 

A universal design perspective

At the beginning of 2000, books in Norway aimed at adults with dyslexia were often simplified versions of more complex books that were already published. Taking a universal design approach led to an awareness that books should still aim for high quality. 

Rather than just simplifying text, more attention was given to how Easy Language can create high level literature. Consequently, BfE started cooperating with highly qualified authors, graphic novel designers, illustrators, and publishing houses in making new books.

The target groups for Easy Language books was broadened from people with cognitive impairments to everyone who will benefit. The primary target group determined the main adaptation approach applied. At the same time, these adaptations would most likely benefit other readers. Consequently, the universal design aspect of Easy Language was incorporated into the BfE framework.

It is interesting to note that in the last 22 years, Norway has embraced universal design across the built and digital environments. Consequently, it is no surprise that they are now applying the concepts more broadly. 

The processes and framework are described in more detail in the article, The Development and Production of Literature Within an Easy Language and a Universal Design Perspective. The article is open access.

Abstract

Finding suitable books for pleasure reading is difficult for many people with reading challenges. Consequently, authors and publishing houses must consider user diversity when developing books.

Easy Language comprises an important component, which is closely related to other elements which together constitute accessible books, such as layout, fonts and use of images. Moreover, extensive user testing and involvement must ensure that the books meet the requirements of the readers.

This paper presents The Books for Everyone (BfE) Framework, which describes the process from initiation to publication and promotion of Easy Language books, using Norway as a case study. The BfE Framework is illustrated through examples from books and related to the reception and understanding of various user groups.

A Market Place for Everyone

A crowded public market place.Getting people out and about relies on having places that are accessible and provide safety and comfort for everyone. Markets are one way to activate space and encourage people to get out and about. But they don’t happen by accident. The secret of a market place for everyone is that there is plenty to do and is accessible and inclusive for all.

Creating sociability in public space is often the most difficult aspect of placemaking. Markets are gathering places that can help the socialisation process. Research indicates that socialising is one of the main reasons people visit markets. 

Public markets provide economic opportunity, bring diverse groups together, promote public health, and activate space. More importantly, they encourage people to get out and about. 

 

Wheel shaped graphic showing six elements of public markets: Activates Space, Brings people together, promotes public health, renews neighbouroods, economic opportunity, links urban rural communities.

 

Placemaking Europe’s Project for Public Spaces has seven principles for a successful market city. They are briefly listed below. 

Seven principles of market cities

1. Variety: A market city includes both food and non-food markets across a city-wide market system.

2. Collaboration: A market city collaborates with diverse partners and stakeholders. They include advocates for health, community services, not-for-profits as well as government agencies. 

3. Measurement: A market city measures the value of its markets especially for vulnerable neighbourhoods. The quality of physical access and facilities and the health impact. Analysing all aspects of social and economic outcomes helps to develop a city-wide market system. 

4. Resilience: A market city has facilities for storage, processing and distribution of food and goods produced in the region.

5. Excellence: A market city invests regularly in its facilities which includes maintaining existing structures. It also invests in well trained staff to operate the market system. 

6. Opportunity: A market city supports vendors to start a new business or expand an existing one.

7. Place: A Market City recognizes that its markets are public spaces that celebrate cultural heritage. Public spaces in and around markets are safe, accessible, attractive and inclusive.

The picture above shows a very crowed market place which some people find uncomfortable. Not everyone enjoys being with so many people being close together. To be inclusive, markets also need quiet spaces for resting, and facilities that support people with physical and sensory disabilities. 

The best way to achieve an inclusive market place is to begin with community consultation – the first step in all placemaking. 

Placemaking Europe has an extensive toolbox of placemaking guides and manuals and is worth browsing. The toolbox begins with three key elements; know your community is the first step.

 

Sports facilities for whole communities

Artist impression of new home for Matildas and also the whole community..
Photo courtesy Football Victoria

Sports facilities are moving beyond a changing room and narrow benches for spectators. Larger sports infrastructure is being designed for whole communities, not just sports teams. It has to be a social, economic and environmental investment. Belinda Goh from Populous provides some insights into the design processes behind two case studies. They cover cultural diversity, connection to country and including women in the design of sports facilities. 

The focus of Belinda Goh’s presentation for the NSW Office of Sport webinar was two case studies. The design of both were underpinned with a universal design approach using extensive community engagement strategies. Co-creation and co-design were essential to the success of the designs. 

Goh explained that sports facilities should integrate community and grassroots activities with these projects. She uses examples of major professional sports teams bringing women into elite sports. So she is talking beyond standard design thinking to deliberately designing women into these facilities. But this made for more inclusive facilities overall. 

Goh discusses how beginning with a focus on including women has matured into an approach for all Populous’ designs. It is about being more inclusive, equitable and universal in their approach. She says it also about going beyond access codes to making people feel like they belong. 

Considering culture

In a second case study she discusses the new multi-use sports facility on the mid north coast of NSW. This project posed some additional challenges. It involved delving into the “why” of the project and significant community engagement. The area has a high Indigenous population as well as the largest Sikh population outside India. 

Apart from consulting with sports organisations, they talked with people from arts, youth, and the nearby high school among others. In considering the culture of the spaces they also included the concepts of universal design and access to all spaces. 

Belinda Goh’s presentation is engaging and worth a look in the video below. 

There is more on the ABC news website about the Matilda’s new home. Well, not so much a new home but a first home. The facility will also house a sports science centre, a gym and recovery rooms. 

 

Health-promoting urban design

Big trees under a blue sky in Skansen, Sweden. Wooden tables and benches in the foreground.
Skansen, Stockholm, Sweden

The links between urban design and physical and mental health are well established. So how do you take an evidence-based approach to health-promoting urban design and green spaces? Swedish landscape architects wanted to know how to translate existing evidence into design and looked to researchers to help. 

Researchers and landscape architects collaborated on a project using participatory action research methods. Researchers used existing evaluation tools and two case studies were carried out to test the processes. 

One case study used an existing park that was due for renewal. Citizens, politicians and planners were involved in collaborative activities. Design proposals were evaluated based on the feedback from the local stakeholders. This is how they discovered the most important design aspects to consider in the second part of the study.

Aspects such as safety, vegetation, water flow, and traffic management were considered in the design. Residents with homes and gardens next to the park were concerned that this would attract visitors from other areas. New users were apparently not welcome to “their” space.

The article explains the collaborative processes that involved the researchers, the landscape architects and other stakeholders. The Quality Evaluation Tool was used as the framework for the study. Some landscape architects found it took time to learn how to use the tool. Others found it wasn’t easy to use it either – they needed something simpler.

However, the tool was useful in knowing how to apply evidence and assist the design process itself. Overall, landscape architects said they had a better understanding of how their designs could promote health and wellbeing. 

The title of the article is, Health-promoting urban planning: A case study of an evidence-based design process.  There are reflections on participatory action research as part of the concluding comments.

From the Abstract

Planning and building health-promoting, sustainable, and resilient urban environments is a complex challenge. We exercise less, obesity is a growing health problem, and loneliness and lack of human relations are also risk factors for disease and premature death.

Evidence shows that access to nature and urban greenery has positive effects on human health and well-being. Hence, landscape design could contribute to meeting the goals for public health and well-being. 

This study explores the application of an evidence-based approach in urban planning for design of health-promoting urban green spaces. A two-step study using participatory action research as the overarching method enabled us to take part in and observe a collaborative practitioner-research process in a municipal planning and design context. 

The results show that evidence-based design principles are useful for guiding design interventions for health-promoting environmental qualities. Landscape architects found that the evidence-based process inspired design solutions and gave a higher sense of meaning to their work. 

The study also identifies a need to connect health promoting environmental qualities to urban planning guidelines for access to green space. It also identified preconditions in earlier planning phases that enable or limit landscape architects’ ability to develop some of the health-promoting environmental qualities.

To surmount the time-consuming threshold of learning how to use new tools and methods, landscape architects ask for more concrete and easily applied guidelines or checklists to aid design decisions. 

Access Statement for The Kelpies in Scotland

Giant silver coloured horse head sculptures depicting mythical Kelpies in a new parkland. Visitors can see the access statement for the Kelpies for information before their visit. The Kelpies are 30 metre-high horse-head sculptures in a new parkland area near Falkirk, Scotland. The project connects 16 communities in the council area and the Clyde Canal. The sculptures attract many visitors to The Helix site and the whole project was designed with access and inclusion in mind. This is apparent in the Access Statement for the Kelpies – a good guide for all visitors.

The Access Statement for The Helix and the Kelpie sculptures uses and plain language and lots of photos. The photos show key places such as car parking, the visitor centre, playground, café and toilets. Visitors can hire manual wheelchairs and dog bowls are provided for assistance dogs. 

The Access Statement is not an overarching policy document. It is a visitor guide that includes information about the level of access visitors can expect. One of the best examples of visitor access information – makes it good for everyone.

There is more information about this destination and how to get there on the Accessible Travel Online Scotland website. Accessible Travel Scotland also has an accessible travel hub.

The video below provides more information about The Kelpies, the largest public artworks in Scotland. It explains the story behind the sculptures and their construction. 

There is more information on travel and tourism on this  website.