Time to bring photographers along with the universal design movement together with those who choose stock photos. For those who understand the issues with the picture shown, there is no need to explain. But there are many others who see two good looking young people, one in a wheelchair being pushed by the other. They are wearing bright colours and looking happy as they make their way through an empty shopping mall. For the uninitiated there are three key issues with these companion pictures.
First, it perpetuates the stereotype that wheelchair users must be helped by being pushed rather than mobilising independently. A person walking alongside would be better.
Second, it is clear that both of them can walk as they change places with each other to be pushed in the chair. There are many wheelchair-users who could be models and wouldn’t need to be pushed.
Third, the type of wheelchair is usually found in a hospital setting. It is not one that a person would normally own let alone use it to go shopping. Wheelchair-user models would come with their own wheelchair.
Wheelchair users are not the only way to convey diversity or disability. The majority of disabilities are invisible, e.g. low vision, hearing loss, heart disease. So pictures of groups of people from all walks of life are much better. Too many of these pictures show a lone wheelchair user in places devoid of other humans. This is not real life.
Images are used for a reason – to convey a message. Let’s make sure they convey the right messages.
Champions of universal design are often told that to effect change you need a good economic argument. Several such arguments have been written, but have met with little success in terms of gaining greater acceptance of universal design and inclusive practice. Shops, buses, buildings, hotels, meeting places, schools, parks, tourist destinations, and homes still remain inaccessible to many. The tourism sector has recognised that telling hotels and holiday businesses that they are missing out on a significant market is not sufficient of itself to make change. What is needed is more “How to…”. The latest publication discussing economics, is on the purchasing power of working age people with disability. It travels over familiar ground with the latest statistics, facts and figures relative to the United States. It compares the disposable income of people with and without disability and with different disabilities, and goes on to discuss the data from a marketing perspective.
As followers of universal design know, designing with people with disability in mind often results in greater convenience for everyone.
The Australian Network on Disability, and Design for Dignity, with support from Lendlease, and the Commonwealth Bank, have produced an excellent resource for retail outlet designers. The key is for designers and retail outlets to understand the level of their missed business by ignoring population diversity. Graphs and statistics are used to highlight the lost opportunities. The missed business point is clearly made: “It is rare in business or design that organisations set out with “minimum standard” customer experience in mind. Designing to minimum accessibility standards is saying that this group of customers doesn’t deserve the same degree of thought, innovation and insight that is invested in other customers.” Readers are reminded that complying to Australian Standards does not make for best practice.
There are two versions of the guide aimed at retail business owners, service providers, shopping centre owners and managers, designers, builders and certifiers. The Australian Network on Disability has a webpage dedicated to the guide with additional links. It includes a link to an accessible PDF and Word versions. There is also a Design for Dignity microsite with the information in a web-based format with more detail
Readers are cautioned about the notion of disability being about wheelchair users. A graph (above) is included showing the use of other mobility devices and communication aids.
The diversity within the population is often disregarded in designs. Building code access compliance is still considered at the end of the design process as a necessary evil (hence the tacked on ramp) instead of integrated at the beginning. This guide helps to show the value of thinking inclusively from the outset.