Why do they keep designing stuff like that?


Woman with a baby stroller using the platform lift to get onto the raised bus stop platform .The bus stop is a tube shaped shelterDespite the readily available information about universal design and inclusive practice, we still hear people say, “Why do they keep designing stuff like that?”  The answer: it’s still considered niche design. And designers think the access standards in the building code actually work for everyone, which of course, they don’t. They especially don’t work when builders “make their own arrangements” with designs.

Inclusiveness of designs always at risk

The process of creating inclusive places is often based on “throwntogetherness”. Charlotte Bates uses this term to explain the haphazard way in which places come into being. It’s throwntogetherness because the processes are complex causing inclusive design to be at risk. Starting out with an inclusive design, doesn’t guarantee it will end up inclusive. There are too many other stakeholders who want to serve their own interests. 

Bates’ article, Negotiating Place: The Challenge of Inclusive Design begins with a quote from an access consultant.

“In my more miserable moments I think we’ll never get it right, and people just ignore it, and building control officers don’t implement it, and we still see buildings where somebody says it’s accessible, and it’s not accessible at all. We’re still designing public spaces with cobbles, brand new public spaces with cobbles and seats that have got no arms or backrests, and they don’t understand that an older person can’t get up off a concrete stone bench. Why do they keep designing stuff like that?” 

The research is from the UK, but the experiences are very similar in Australia. Bates makes good points, including the one that many of us know: even when you design something to be inclusive, it is overridden by contractors who focus on time and money. So there is no guarantee the end result will be accessible. The article is on the Universalising Design website. Very readable article.