Parkinson’s home design study

We know that as people grow older, the desire to stay in their current home increases. Different health conditions begin to emerge as we get older, and home design becomes an important factor in managing these conditions. Researchers from Italy chose to explore Parkinson’s disease in relation to home design using inclusive design methods.

Parkinson’s disease is one of the most frequently occurring neurological conditions along with dementia. Parkinson’s disease affects voluntary movements which make daily tasks more difficult.

An older woman in a red jacket uses a cane to walk with a younger woman along a pathway.

Similarly to other studies, the researchers found the size of the bathroom the main area of difficulty. This is for manoeuvring in a wheelchair or shower chair and placement of a shower seat.

People with reduced mobility find stairs difficult. But the visual impact of stairs can reduce “freezing” in people with Parkinson’s disease. However, overall, participants in the study preferred a single level dwelling. Being able to work in the kitchen from a seated position was the third most important factor. The design of kitchen appliances also emerged as a design factor along with furniture design.

The article has some explanatory drawings and pictures depicting their design solutions. Many of these solutions are beneficial for other health conditions and disabilities. Circulation space within the home is the main criteria for all of them.

Assistive devices

Participants reported frustration with products immediately identifiable as “products for the disabled”. The authors note that although these products are useful, they are stigmatising. Consequently they are often rejected by those who could really benefit from them. Their appearance makes them different from “normal products”.

As with the universal design approach and co-design methods, places and products for people with disability are good for everyone.

“…designers often forget the meaning and full force of the words human-centred design as a fundamental affirmation of human dignity…”

Designers have “the responsibility to continuously search for what can be done to uphold and enhance the dignity of human beings as they lead their lives…”

A blank sheet of paper with an eraser, two pencils and a light globe.

The title of the article is, Inclusive Environments: Utopia or Reality? How to
Create Inclusive Solutions Starting From People’s Needs

A note on terminology

Note that the authors make reference to inclusive design being different from universal design and design-for-all. Their distinction is based on the notion of universal design being only for people with disability. This is often the case in the United States, but is not the case in Australia. The term universal design is embedded in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, this does not mean it is exclusive to people with disability.

Consequently, the terms inclusive design and universal design mean the same thing. Human-centred design also has the same goals, but has emerged from the ergonomics literature.

From the abstract

Inclusive design is an approach that puts users at the centre of the design process. This means working with people rather than working for them. This article focuses on the application of inclusive design and human-centred design approaches specifically aimed at Parkinson’s disease.

The article describes a case study of the applied methodology for solving challenges posed by Parkinson’s disease. The case study shows how an inclusive design mindset favours a holistic and creative approach, capable of bringing together different user groups throughout the various stages of the design process.

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