Taming the wilderness with inclusive design

A boardwalk traverses a rocky slope down to the lake making it accessible for everyone.The natural landscapes of Norway conjure up pictures of fjords and wilderness with steep slopes. For some people, walks and bike rides in this natural environment aren’t possible. So one municipality of 1287 residents took up the challenge to create an activity park for everyone – locals and visitors of all ages. It was managed as a joint effort between the community and private and public partners. 

A man sits in a bike taxi which is being driven down a section of the boardwalk.Residents had input into all the elements of the park including information signs and a BMX park. Local businesses were invited to tender for contracts. Some thought the investment too much. However, when tourism increased and the cafe trade increased the criticisms receded. The award winning Hamaren Activity Park now gets 10,000 visitors a year.

 

A child rides a BMX bike on the BMX track in the park.The article on the DOGA website provides more information: methods, observations and lots of pictures. There is also a video where the designers and users explain their experiences. It’s in Norwegian but has English captions. Below is a YouTube video without words.

 

Universal design and gardens

A public garden with brightly coloured flowers and plants set around a water feature. Community and botanical gardens are a place of relaxation and enjoyment. They provide an opportunity to experience nature. There are many physical and mental health benefits to experience nature.  Applying universal design principles in the planning a design process allows many more people to enjoy the benefits of a public garden. The American Society of Landscape Architects lists some important aspects to consider:

    • Frequent, flexible seating with arm and back rests throughout the garden. Seating that is light enough to be used encourages social engagement.
    • An obvious inclusion is to limit the level changes, but where they are necessary they should be well signed with multi-sensory wayfinding.
    • Toilets are a must and should be located within easy line of sight, not hidden. Clear signage throughout the garden is also a must.
    • Secluded areas are also helpful, not just for people with autism or other cognitive conditions, but for private contemplation. 

There’s more on the ASLA website on this topic with some useful case studies.  

 

Going outside for inclusion: An education perspective

Four people paddle their brightly coloured canoes .The current theory and practice of outdoor environmental education is failing to include the voices of marginalised people and communities. So writes Karen Warren and Mary Breunig. In a thoughtful paper they argue that the historical background of white privileged males in this field still underpins current thinking. The arguments and thinking in this paper could be applied in other educational settings and the broader community. At the end of the paper they advise that instructors should use the language that students use to self-identify:

“Critically conscious use of language in educational environments can prevent the othering of students who self-identify outside normative boundaries. Asking all participants to share their preferred gender pronouns can prevent the misgendering of students. Mirroring the language that students use to name their identity allows the educator to advocate for inclusion. In a canoe trip for queer students one author recently led, participants were given an opportunity to self identify if they chose to. Even within the queer community, there was a diversity of identity – gender non-binary, lesbian, questioning ally, and trans- and cisgender gay were some of the responses. Educators aware of the power of language to oppress by renaming, disnaming, and misnaming participants will consider adopting the words students use to refer to themselves.”

The title of the easy to read paper is, Inclusion and Social Justice in Outdoor Education. It covers gender, race and ability from a social justice perspective.

Playspaces: Adventurous and Inclusive

A small boy crawls over a branch laying on the ground. He is in a woodland setting and wearing winter clothes. Concepts of play can be designed into many different places – not just the standard urban park. Making play areas inclusive is becoming the norm now – not singling out specific play equipment for children with disability. And not calling them “all abilities” play spaces either. If they are inclusive they don’t need a special name. We need to add adults into the design as well. Younger children only get to go if an adult takes them. And that adult might have a disability. That means moving away from the modular play equipment found in catalogues as the total solution.

Sanctuary magazine has a great article on nature play in parks and home gardens. Play for All Australia, based in the northern beaches of Sydney, is mentioned in the article titled, Playspaces: Child’s play gets serious. Touched by Olivia has achieved many of its aims and is now part of Variety which is continuing advocacy for inclusive play spaces. The NSW Department of Planning has followed up on this movement with the development of the Everyone Can Play guideline and a second year of funding for local government authorities in NSW. 

Note that there will be two presentations on inclusive play spaces at UD2020 universal design conference.

For academics, the article is also available from Informit.  

Inclusive Outdoor Recreation

A man with a backpack is walking down a path on a hillside. What does the international research on accessible nature-based tourism say? That’s what researchers in Sweden checked out.  Nine major themes emerged:

      1. employee attitudes towards people with disability
      2. accessibility of tourism websites and information systems
      3. accessible transportation, accommodation and tourist attractions
      4. technical solutions
      5. experience, motivations and constraints in tourism settings for people with disability
      6. tourism for the families and carers of people with disability
      7. tourism and leisure activities for older people
      8. the accessible tourism market
      9. nature-based tourism and outdoor recreation

This review found that existing research took the perspective of the consumer rather and the tourism operator. The report goes into more detail on the nine factors. It includes evidence from USA, Europe, UK and Sweden. The title of the report is, Enhancing Accessibility in Tourism & Outdoor Recreation: A Review of Major Research Themes and a Glance at Best Practice.

An very academic article, but with important findings. The key point – we need more research on businesses rather than consumers. 

 

Parks for Inclusion

Open parkland with St Patrick's Cathedral Melbourne in the background.When we talk of ‘inclusion’ and ‘inclusive’, have we thought of everyone? Older people and adults with disability are usually front of mind. But older people can have many different backgrounds and capabilities. Same goes for children and young people. The Parks and Recreation Report does an excellent job of covering just about everyone in terms of age, disability, cultural background, refugee status and sexual orientation. It has statistics on each of the groups which help focus the mind when it comes to designing parks and recreation facilities.

The Report is a concise document emphasising that everyone can take advantage of facilities, programs, places and spaces that make their lives and communities great. Published by the National Recreation and Park Association. 

Also, have a look at Advancing play participation for all: The challenge of addressing play diversity and inclusion in community parks and playgrounds. This is an academic article.

Abstract: Outdoor parks and playgrounds are important sites of social inclusion in many urban communities. However, these playspaces are often inaccessible and unusable for many children with disabilities. This paper presents findings from a case study of one urban municipality in Ireland. The study aimed to understand play participation in five local playgrounds by exploring the perspectives of play providers and families with diverse abilities, through the lens of universal design.

Placemaking Toolkit

Children play with bubbles in urban area.Designing public space is seen as something for trained professionals. But the Placemaking Toolkit shows how community groups and residents can do their own place make-over. The Guide is for community-driven, low-cost public space transformation. With the support of local government anyone can change a neglected space in their neighbourhood into a clean and safe play area or park. This Guide is especially relevant for developing countries and remote communities in any country. The Guide is from the Public Space Network.      

 

UD and Parks and Plazas

Two people walk on a path that is edged with lots of greenery. In the background there are white cafe umbrellas.Poorly designed spaces limit the number of people who can use them – they might look great, but that is not enough. Everyone should benefit from great civic space. The American Society of Landscape Architects has a great guide to Parks and Plazas. The online guide includes good case studies and easy to follow tips. Here are a few of the points covered. See the online guide for the rest. 

Connections to the street: Parks and plazas should meet the street at grade, ensuring that anyone can enter the space. When a grade change must be addressed, integrated ramps and stairs create a unified experience regardless of ability. Safe materials that are, tactile, not slippery when wet, and provide high contrast should be chosen.

Clear identity: While maintaining a seamless entry from the street is important, creating a space separate from the street gives identity to the space. Trees can buffer noise and other sensory information from other areas.  

Providing options: Public places serve many different groups of people, with differing needs. One solution is not going to accommodate everyone, but the scale of many public places creates room for spaces that give visitors different choices and opportunities.

Ease of access to restrooms: Bathrooms that are easy to locate allow families with children, people with disabilities, and older adults to readily use facilities that everyone needs. Placing bathrooms near streets and along major pathways of parks makes locating restrooms easier if the need arises. Restrooms should be clearly indicated on multi-sensory signage throughout parks and plazas. 

The guide is supplemented by What is a great civic space? which looks at benefits of inclusion and the identity of place.  

Landscaping with universal design

A garden with water features and lots of plantings around a curving footway. In the background a woman is being pushed in a wheelchair.Compliance with legal requirements in public spaces is rarely enough to guarantee access for everyone. A focus on technical aspects often results in spaces that are still challenging for many. The American Society of Landscape Architects has a Universal Design page where they list some of the disabilities and impairments regularly overlooked. For example, dementia, deafness, vision loss, and autism. The classic 7 Principles of Universal Design are re-jigged to suit landscape design: 

      • Accessible
      • Comfortable
      • Participatory
      • Ecological
      • Legible
      • Multi-sensory
      • Predictable
      • Walkable/Traversable.

More detail on the above list is on their web page.You can also find more resources on their website including one specifically on Universal Design: Parks and Plazas with some nice case studies too. 

Learning through experience

A scene of the station showing people near the ticket barrier gates. Claremont College students from different disciplines joined the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip to Japan. A short video shows them checking out accessibility at Umeda train station and Ogimachi Park. The trip included time with Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department working on a project. They explored robotic technologies and universal design and created a model high tech recreational space for older people. The students conclude that barrier free places are not just for people with disability – it’s about including everyone. 

Abstract:  Studying Accessibility in Japan shows the research project led by Professor Angelina Chin (history, Pomona) with students who studied universal design and accessibility in Japan during the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip. The group also worked with the Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department.

Editor’s note: This is a video only publication – I couldn’t find any written material other than the abstract. The download button takes you to a high definition of the video, not a document. It is a very large file.