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The aim of universal design is to create a more inclusive world. The concept of universal design is being used internationally to change design thinking throughout the design process so that all people are considered regardless of age, capability, background, or beliefs. It is about being inclusive and designing for all. 

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The principles of universal design can be applied to everything that is designed: products, buildings and open space, transportation, tourism, sport, as well as learning programs, polices and plans. Our newsletter covers as many design fields as possible.

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An architectural view of aged care

Apartments in shades of grey are linked by a graded pathway to provide accessibility.The Longevity Revolution along with the recent pandemic is asking questions about aged care and retirement living. Can we keep doing the same? The short answer is no, but what to do instead?

A report from an architectural group reviews the literature and makes some strategic suggestions for the future. The research looked at how the market can re-align itself to the aspirations of upcoming ageing generations. As we know from previous research, it isn’t looking like retirement villages, and there’s a preference for aged care at home. 

The costs of aged care are discussed at length. Consequently, affordable strategies are needed for both older people and for government.  

Using models from overseas they suggest serviced apartments, communal flats and co-housing. Multi-generational living is presented as a new idea. It is premised on the notion that people will be happy to move when their current home no longer suits. We already have multi-generational living in our existing neighbourhoods. The homes just aren’t accessible for everyone at every age. Nevertheless, the researchers eschew the notion of mandatory universal design standards in dwellings. 

The report returns to the notion of specialised housing products for older people and talks of being able to convert “normal dwellings” to enable home care. The multi-generational neighbourhood model is presented as a combination of different housing options where young and old exchange services.

The title of the report is Aged Care in Australia and argues for the market to create new and sustainable ideas. It was prepared by Architectural Research Consultancy for Carabott Holt Architects.

Editor’s note: Researchers claim the Productivity Commission supports voluntary uptake of universal design standards, not regulation (see p.4). Nevertheless, the Productivity Commission recognises, “The Australian Government should develop building design standards for residential housing that meet the access and mobility needs of older people.” (See the Summary of Proposals.) The PC report goes back to 2011 when Livable Housing Australia was set up to lead a voluntary roll out of UD features in housing. As we know, this has not worked.

The image is courtesy Guy Luscombe’s NANA project report.

Future proofing existing social housing: A case study

A group of red brick three storey apartments shaded by trees. What about a post-pandemic social housing stimulus project? Not a new idea, but such ideas usually relate to new housing. So what about modifying existing social housing? This is so that people can stay in their community for longer as they age. Lisa King argues the case in a research paper with a focus on older women. 

King’s paper begins with a literature review of the issues related to older women and housing. The case study takes the floor plans of existing dwellings and makes changes to show how to make them more accessible. The case study includes studio units and two bedroom units. There is also a site plan, a demolition plan and costings too. 

King summarises the research by giving a rationale for choosing 1960s dwellings, and says the project is scaleable, modular and cost effective.  In addition, this type of work provides employment for small and medium businesses. And of course, it optimises existing stock while improving the lives of residents. King sums up with, “The result would be universally accessible housing and an asset which would assist meet the growing demand for residents to age-in-place with dignity.”

A thoughtful and nicely written paper and well referenced. Although the focus is on older women, the concepts apply across all social housing. The title of the paper is, Future-proofing Existing Social Housing: A case study helping meet older women’s housing needs.  

For a short read King’s paper was featured in a Domain article, Trapped inside: Why social housing apartments need an urgent revamp.  

DI and UDL: Is there a difference?

A woman in a blue shirt and a long pig tail has her hands upturned and eyes wide in a pose of confusion.Confused about the differences between Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL)? A previous post explains the two concepts in basic terms, and from two perspectives – one from Katie Novak and the other from New Zealand Ministry of Education. But what about the literature on this topic? 

 A recent systematic review provides an insight into the views of the two approaches to inclusion. And yes, there is a bit of “fuzziness” between the two.

The systematic review confirmed that confusion exists when examining the two frameworks. They explored twenty-seven peer-reviewed articles and found three interpretations of the two approaches. One was to diminish one approach in favour of the other, another was to include DI within UDL, and incompatibility was the third approach.  

The authors conclude the approaches are complementary theories; DI is embedded within UDL and that DI is a model independent of UDL. However, descriptions of the interrelationships in the literature tended to rely on perception rather than evidence. 

The authors reference studies that show they are both are inclusive pedagogical models. They have the potential to transform education systems by counteracting the existing one-size-fits-all approach. 

The article provides a salient overview of the importance of pedagogical approaches that aim to reach all students, as a foundation to truly inclusive education.

The title of the article is, ” Exploring the interrelationship between Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Differentiated Instruction (DI): A systematic review”. It’s open source from ScienceDirect.

See more on UDL on CUDA website.

Compliance isn’t an aim – it’s a duty

Entrance to the LightHouse building showing a man using a cane and a woman with an assistance dog.Do you know of good examples of universal design in buildings? One or two maybe?  Bess Williamson asks in Metropolis magazine, Why Are There So Few Great Accessible Buildings? Of course, accessibility in its fullest sense is much more than compliance to the building code.

Professor Williamson discusses the LightHouse project, and the Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living. Including people with disability in the design process means these buildings are not a regular type of commission. In some respects they are specialised buildings because people with disability were central to design thinking. It’s puzzling to think that architects can’t apply the same thinking to all their projects. After all, everyone benefits from inclusive design. What’s worrying is that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), isn’t being heeded.

Williamson also discusses the recent architectural “triumph” of the new Queens Public Library which revealed major access problems. The architects claimed compliance on the basis that patrons could ask a librarian for help. However, this is not equitable access. It shows scant regard for the ADA and not only people with disability. Families with prams also use libraries, and staff cannot take trolleys to the shelves. Thinking about all users makes a case for universal design. The Queens Library is a case of form over function – the views from the windows, if you can reach them, are fabulous. 

Williamson concludes that access remains an afterthought for designers who look to the minimum. But disability-specific places show that access can be creative beyond the legal minimum. The article is easy to read and has a gallery of illustrations.

 

IBM Equal Access Toolkit

A graphic in purple indicating levels of design. There is a graphic of someone at a desk and other using a wheelchair.Make your product more usable by more people in less time. That’s a great aim, and it is the opening line in the IBM Equal Access Toolkit.  With many websites remaining inaccessible, this toolkit assists web developers and designers increase accessibility.  It comes with Accessibility Checkers and has reporting tools for accessibility conformance. 

Non-tech people should also have a look at this Toolkit especially if they are in charge of contracting a web developer for their website. Or when they update their website. 

There are five steps: Plan, Design, Develop, Verify, and Launch. The process inolves the whole team regardless of their level of expertise.

The Equal Access Checklist is where it gets technical and links to the WCAG2.0/2.1 Checkpoints. There are four principles underpinning the process.

    • 1: Perceivable – Information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive.
    • 2: Operable – User interface components and navigation must be operable.
    • 3: Understandable – Information and the operation of user interface must be understandable.
    • 4: Robust – Content must be robust enough so it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies.

For an overview, G3ict has a media release explaining why this toolkit is needed. Accessibility is an issue that comes up in legal and policy discussions in many organisations. While many websites have improved their accessibility there is still a long way to go. It is worth noting that a new site might be fully accessible but as new material is uploaded, it isn’t always checked for accessibility over time

 

Moves to online instruction: accessibility cheat sheet

A computer screen shows a man in a blue jacket standing in front of a blackboard.The sudden move to online instruction runs the risk of forgetting accessibility features. A cheat sheet on making a quick move to online instruction has some handy tips. Some are obvious, but of course, they are obvious once they are mentioned. Basics such as, make sure you don’t have a bright light behind you. But other tips are not so obvious for accessible online instruction:

– Don’t try to do anything you are not comfortable with
– Focus on the essential learning
– Keep lectures shorter
– Make documents accessible and caption videos
– Allow a range of assignment options
– Find ways to work out what works and what doesn’t
– Make expectations clear

This one pager has a brief explanation on each of the tips and should help give confidence to instructors making the change. Many tips are good for video meetings as well. The cheat sheet comes from Disability Compliance for Higher Education. 

 

Dementia design and equality

An older woman with white hair holds a bouquet of flowers to her face. Her eyes indicate she is smiling.People with dementia are not always seen as having the same human rights as other people with disability. So design for dementia is often viewed as an added extra to existing disability requirements. To help facilitate a better understanding, the World Health Organization published a guide on human rights and dementia. An article from the UK builds on these issues and provides recommendations for policy, practice and research. 

The title of the article is, Accessible design and dementia: A neglected space in the equality debate.

The article can be accessed from Sage Journals, but you’ll need institutional access, and via ResearchGate where you can ask for a free copy of the paper.

Abstract: This paper addresses the issue of accessible design in the context of dementia. It is not difficult to design buildings and outside spaces for people with dementia but you do have to follow clear design principles and values. However, unlike other disabilities, accessible dementia design is still viewed as an added extra and not a vital component of facilitating citizenship. In 2015, the World Health Organisation published guidance on human rights and dementia. People living with dementia are frequently denied their human rights even when regulations are in place to uphold them. This paper will focus on accessible design from a human rights perspective using the PANEL principles. PANEL stands for Participation, Accountability, Non-Discrimination and Equality, Empowerment and Legality. We will then conclude with recommendations for policy, practice and research to ensure that accessible design for people living with dementia does not continue to be a neglected space in the equality debate.

Design details and everyday experiences

Title of the article in white text over an image of the top of an escalatorWhat is it about designs that either include or exclude users? Many designs are everyday – the things we hardly notice. That is, until we have difficulty using them. Design students need to see how exclusion happens.

Deborah Beardslee takes the perspective of physical ability to analyse how inclusion and exclusion happen in the design process. She notes that most designs work reasonably well for most people even if they aren’t designed that well. But we are all familiar with some degree of compromised experience. For example, hard to read instructions, doors that are difficult to open, places difficult to navigate and generally unappealing places.

Beardlee’s article will be of interest to design educators as well as practitioners. It focuses on examining everyday interactions with commonplace items with analysis of several examples. The aim of the paper is to encourage strategies for educating designers to be more inclusive. 

The title of the article is, Inclusive, High Quality Decisions? Macro/Micro Design Impacts within our Everyday Experiences, and was accessed from SEGD.org Universal Design webpage.

Abstract:  Age and physical ability are natural filters for assessing the successes of designed objects, messages, and experiences. Design problem solving contributes (or not) to the resolution of challenges faced by aging and/or physically challenged individuals as they interact with products and contexts in the built environment. This paper examines some design details, solutions, and situations that impact everyday inclusivity and quality of experience, and suggests approaches toward understanding and increasing interaction success for all of us.

The comparisons presented in this work are intended to initiate an evolving platform for the discussion and development of design education strategies and content that prioritize aging and physical ability issues. Some familiar macro and micro examples have been chosen to illuminate everyday user interactions, challenges, and considerations. Ideally, increased exposure to these aspects, through audience-, age-, and ability-related projects, courses, and curriculum, will strengthen awareness and empathy in young design students, and encourage thoughtful, and more inclusive, design in the future.

Be age-friendly to be sustainable

Four older men wearing hats sit at a square table in the park.The key to sustainable cities is to make them age-friendly, to work collaboratively across city departments, and to engage all ages in consultations. This is because older people risk exclusion from social and economic life if we keep designing cities in the same way. 

The latest policy brief on ageing from the UN group in Europe focuses on housing, access to green and public spaces, and transportation. The policy brief also looks at how smart technologies can be leveraged to improve the situation.

Mainstreaming ageing, gender, disability and human rights in urban planning is the key. Involving all generations for a people-centred approach, and not working in silos are also important. These are all elements of a universal design approach.

The document links with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 11). That is, to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It also references the WHO Age-friendly cities and communities guidelines, and the New Urban Agenda

Each section on housing, green spaces and public places, and transport address the issues in more detail. A lengthy document which should be of interest to policy makers and urban planners working at all levels. The media release is a shorter, easier read. 

The policy brief is from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. There are more policy briefs to browse on their website. 

 

Airport wayfinding: Easy for everyone

A broad view of the inside of an airport building with people coming and going.Airlines are working to improve accessibility, but airports also need to step up. People with disability are making regular complaints, and older people are likely to just give up travelling by air. Not good for the travel industry or tourism. So a well researched guide is welcome in this space. Wayfinding is far more than just good signage – it starts with the whole building design. In airports it’s about the customer experience and promoting independent travel. That’s regardless of age or ability.

Enhancing Airport Wayfinding for Aging Travelers and Persons with Disabilities is a comprehensive guide for wayfinding professionals, signage designers, and interior designers. It is published by the US Transportation Research Board’s Airport Cooperative Research Program. It comes with a checklist that emphasises community consultation as part of their universal design approach to wayfinding. The detailed guide also has a companion PowerPoint presentation that covers the key elements with lots of pictures. The presentation is 15MB and is downloadable from the main webpage and is a good way to get across the key points. There are eight chapters in the guide:

    1. Introduction
    2. Understanding the needs of aging travelers and passengers with disability
    3. Wayfinding strategies via visual, verbal and virtual communication
    4. Airport planning and design consideration
    5. Departing customer journey
    6. Arriving customer journey
    7. Connecting customer journey
    8. Wayfinding technologies for aging travelers and persons with disability

To achieve the overall objective of helping aging travelers and persons with disabilities to travel independently, an airport has to consider more than just helping these customers know where to go.