Universal Design

Our last article explored the principles that employers, landlords, and service providers must follow when implementing accommodations. Among these principles are integration and full participation. In this article, we discuss how service providers can accomplish these goals of accommodation using universal design.

Universal Design

Universal design means creating products, services, and places that a wide variety of people can use. When something is universally designed, creators are thinking about people’s accessibility needs during the design process. Thinking about accessibility at the design stage often saves time and money later, because retrofits are more costly and time-consuming than accessibility from the start.

If employers, landlords, and other service providers use universal design when creating or updating their structures and services, they may need to make fewer changes later.

For instance, one example of universal design is website accessibility. When web developers create websites accessible with assistive technologies, without barriers, people with a variety of abilities can use them. For example, some web elements that developers can design universally are:

Moreover, universal design also benefits people without disabilities. For instance, speech recognition software makes computers accessible for people with mobility disabilities. In addition, people who are multi-tasking also find it useful. Furthermore, when websites are designed for use with voice or keyboard commands, they also become easier for search engines to find. As a result, people who create websites accessibly also make it more likely that visitors will notice and browse them.

Similarly, people with physical disabilities often need stair-free access, wide paths, and automatic doors. These features are often useful to:

  • Families with small children
  • Parents with strollers
  • Shoppers with bags or carts
  • Travellers with luggage

When organizations design their buildings and services with accessible features, they can employ, house, and serve many more people. In addition, they can offer services that allow everyone to participate fully in integrated and dignified ways.

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When Street Design Leaves Some People Behind

Expanding road space for bikes can limit accessibility for others – a balancing act for street planners and disability advocates. By John Surico
August 13, 2020

A person in an electric wheelchair crosses a street in Hawthorne, California. Adding bike infrastructure is a boon for cyclists, but some street redesigns can make getting around harder for disabled road users.

Last month, cycling advocates in the U.K. cheered the opening of Manchester’s “CYCLOPS.” Short for “Cycle Optimised Protected Signals,” the redesigned junction is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, land of the difficult roundabout. Cyclists can ride seamlessly around the “external orbital cycle route,” separate from pedestrians, who cross cycle lanes and traffic islands, and in sync with motor vehicle traffic. It will act as a blueprint, advocates say, for future junction design.

But for some pedestrians, CYCLOPS is riddled with conflict. Those who are blind or partially sighted told me that the flattened curbs offer little indication that cyclists are approaching from either direction. The traffic-island-hopping produces multiple pressure points. People with hearing issues have trouble picking up the quiet hum of bicycle traffic. If this is the future, then accessibility advocates are concerned.

The disabled community is no stranger to shaping street design. As Sara Hendren recently wrote in CityLab, it was the work of activists who called out the normative “user” that paved the way to the Americans With Disabilities Act and made curb cuts mainstream. Projects like CYCLOPs represent the newest chapter of that same struggle, as cities shift from car-centric infrastructure toward “complete streets”-style redesigns meant to promote bikes, pedestrians and other forms of “active travel.” But what may be heralded as expanded space for one kind of road user can be a new hurdle to overcome for another. And as the Covid-19 pandemic accelerates such street reconfiguration, activists are worried that new changes will not take their experiences into account.

Growing up with a disabled parent in New York, I learned early on that every curb cut matters. Accessibility can be particularly tricky in underground mass transit: Only a quarter of New York City’s subway stations, for example, are ADA-accessible. It’s an issue of growing global importance. The number of people with disabilities living in cities around the world is estimated to reach nearly a billion by 2050. And solutions can be hard to come by.

Street access disputes are a hot topic in London, as I found out after moving to the U.K. capital last year. Last September, during London’s “Car-Free Day,” Will Norman, the city’s “cycling mayor,” was giving a speech on future plans amongst a favorable audience, before activists confronted him to ask about what they perceived as systemic design flaws in new bike-friendly street changes that made life more difficult for those on foot.

One big issue is the bus stop bypass, where cycle lanes go around floating bus stops in order to avoid entering traffic. At least 50 of these new features have been installed along London’s “Cycle Superhighways” since 2010 as a means of boosting bike ridership. But there’s a catch: Essentially, bus riders getting on or off from the sidewalk must first cross a cycle lane.

Later, activists also showed me videos on Twitter of other schemes I had taken for granted. In Glasgow, a new pedestrian crossing fell in the middle of a busy cycle lane. In Amsterdam, where conflict between pedestrians and cyclists is rising, a woman with sight issues had her cane whisked away. In London, dockless e-bikes left on sidewalks are blocking access and leading to injury.

“In London, often streets cannot be widened in any way, so when you wish to include cyclists, you could do something with regards to the outer lane, but that’s impinging on motor traffic,” said Karl Farrell, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of the U.K. and Transport for All, who is featured in the London video at the link below. “Or you take away from the footway. There’s obviously a lot of pressure on main roads, and the problem is there’s so much motor traffic. It’s hard to resolve that in a hurry. Normally, it’s the footways that have to yield and take the pressure, and society is likely to ignore those people.”

The U.K.’s Equality Act, which bans discrimination against disabled users, clearly states that local planners should push forward with a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate claim.” But it can be difficult in practice, as interpretations vary in what is ultimately a complex environment. (Advocates also argue that models for bike infrastructure in the U.K. are based on examples from Dutch or Danish cities, which can ignore local realities.)

Bike activists tend to stress “subjective safety,” or how one experiences the street – but often only for cyclists.

Take, for example, this issue of cycling near bus stops. Bike riders could just go around the bus stop and enter the motor traffic lane, but that may discourage cyclists (and also slow down buses, which move more people). The bus stop bypass idea may be thought of as the proportionate response – except it also yields issues of accessibility.

As cyclists, walkers, bus riders and drivers duel over the same real estate, this give-and-take leads to disagreement, said John Dales, an urban designer and planner who advises City Hall on these issues. (So much so that in 2018, Westminster actually issued a temporary moratorium on new “shared space” plans.) Bike activists, he told me, tend to stress “subjective safety,” or how one experiences the street – but often only for cyclists. Similarly, disabled advocates can sometimes be quick to shoot down a project, if it doesn’t meet demands. And that, too, is problematic, considering the citywide goal for 80% of trips to be done by sustainable modes by 2041.

“Start with: We have a problem. It’s what we have to work out to solve,” Dales told me. He advocated for a reasonable adjustment approach: “It’s then the job of practitioners and public authorities to say, “OK, we hear that, we’ll do the best we can.’” (It’s not always that easy, he admitted.)

But cities should consider a third option, Dales says: “Nobody’s questioning the traffic on the route. It’s the bullet that nobody really wants to bite. In several of these high streets, it’s the logical conclusion that traffic will have to be reduced.”

By instituting things like congestion pricing schemes that reduce the number of cars on the road, Dales says, cyclists would feel more comfortable navigating around buses, more space can be given to pedestrians, and streets wouldn’t need to have expensive new design features installed. “That’s just where we’re headed.”

But how can cities be proactive, rather than reactive, to accessible design?

Activists told me that social-media-bolstered advocacy must be paired with institutional representation. The number of local “access officers” in London, who typically work on these issues, was cut dramatically during post-2008 austerity. (London does not have a designated “accessibility” commissioner, either.) That lands this work on the desks of busy planners and designers, who hold varying lived experiences.

“They’re designing things that are causing problems that they don’t even realize they’re causing,” said designer Ross Atkin. “There’s an expectation to follow the standards to build an accessible street. But if you’ve got a situation where the space and geometry is different, or you’re building something that didn’t exist when they created it, then the standard is very brittle. It doesn’t tell you what the next best thing is, because the standard doesn’t tell you anything about the needs behind the standard.”

Atkin is an urban designer who follows social model theory: that is, it’s the built environment and cultural norms that disable people, not the impairments themselves. (Social model theorists opt to use the phrasing “disabled people,” instead of “people with disabilities.” I followed that notion here.) He’s working to create an accessible city through assistive and smart city tech, like “responsive street furniture” that communicates with disabled users via Bluetooth, or plans that can be read by blind or partially sighted users, so officials can effectively consult beforehand. (He provided similar materials for CYCLOPS.)

What is needed, he said, is a codified method of compromise. Case in point: tactile paving. These textured street surfaces help those with sight issues navigate seamless curbs – a popular traffic calming measure. They also partially hinder wheelchair users. But without it, blind or partially sighted users are entirely excluded, which is a greater net loss. “The important thing is acknowledging that in some cases, you might be making things a bit more difficult for one group in order to include another group,” Atkin said. “It’s all trade-offs. What we want to be doing is making the best trade-offs we can.”

This is the idea behind a new street accessibility standard Atkin, Dales and others are helping to design for the City of London Corporation, the body that oversees a tract of central London called the Square Mile. It studies the journeys of numerous user categories through various experimental models. The criteria is a spectrum: easy, frustrating, difficult or uncomfortable, and excluding or unpassable. “You can model a street that wasn’t included on the route, and work out how accessibility would be to these different groups,” Atkin said. “From a standards perspective, you can say, “Well this is the first step that we’re going to get our streets to.’ We’re going to ensure that nobody is excluded by anything on the streets.”

For advocates like Farrell, a city isn’t truly livable to the growing number of disabled people in cities like him until its streets feel safe to walk down, no matter what condition. But often he feels overlooked by design and planning processes. While cities everywhere are more formally recognizing accessibility as a key pillar of cities, he said that decades worth of work from advocates shouldn’t disappear in the name of sustainability. Solutions, he said, will come faster if everyone works together.

“These near-misses or low-impact collisions, they’re not recorded anywhere. But these things are important in society,” Farrell told me. “People should feel free, and anyone that is in the modern categories of vulnerability shouldn’t feel vulnerable using things like bus stops or walking along pavements.”

“That’s part of the quality of life: life itself.”

Original at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-08-13/do-bike-lanes-have-an-accessibility-problem#that-jump-content

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Physical Distancing and Building Design After the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, structures and spaces have adapted to physical distancing requirements during the pandemic. Many of these adaptations are also practices that make spaces more accessible for citizens with disabilities. Governments are mandating new guidelines for how people arrange or move through buildings and other spaces. In the post-COVID-19 future, more people may recognize the value of adapting spaces to meet citizens’ diverse needs. Consequently, more architects may think differently about physical distancing and building design after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Physical Distancing and Building Design After the COVID-19 Pandemic

As essential businesses encourage physical distancing behaviours, some are creating protocols mandating how far apart people should be. For instance, some organizations have moved work stations so that workers are more than two metres apart. Likewise, in-person customer service providers are placing markers so that people know how far apart to stand in lines. In short, people out in public are learning to think differently about the spaces they travel through. Workers and customers need more open space around them. For example, organizations benefit from:

Moreover, these and other spacing requirements also remove physical accessibility barriers. Spaces with room for physical distancing also have more room for people to move through them with:

Accessible Building Features Benefit Everyone

Alternatively, features that make buildings accessible also help keep people safe during the pandemic. For example, automatic doors allow people to enter buildings without touching the doors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this feature helps to keep people of all abilities safe from the virus.

People are becoming accustomed to new requirements governing the physical layout of buildings. Likewise, people may also recognize that accessible building features benefit everyone. As a result, architects may start to think differently about the importance of including accessible features in new buildings they design after the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, they may choose to make aisles and doorways wider, increase colour contrast, and install automatic doors. In addition, they may also include more accessible features in their designs, such as:

  • Lifts or elevators whenever there are stairs
  • Accessible public washrooms
  • Good lighting
  • Visual fire alarms
  • Signage that includes:
    • Detailed information
    • Large print and Braille
    • Clear language or pictures

In the same way that people have adapted to physical distancing, they can also adapt to buildings designed in accessible ways.

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Universal Design in School

Our last article explored how an education standard could mandate an individual accommodation process for students with disabilities. In this article, we discuss universal design, a different way to make learning accessible for students. We describe what universal design is and how it makes school more accessible.

Universal Design in School

Universal design means creating products, services, and places that every person can use. When something is universally designed, creators are thinking about people’s accessibility needs during the design process. Thinking about accessibility at the design stage often saves time and money later, because retrofits are more costly and time-consuming than accessibility from the start.

Benefits of Universal Design


School spaces, lessons, and services outside the classroom can all be created using universal design. When school spaces and services are accessible from the start, students can start learning when their sighted peers do. For example, a universally-designed online database for accessible-format E-textbooks would give all students access to textbooks at the same time. Under the individual accommodation model, each student needing accessible books must find out whether each of their textbooks is already accessible. Then, the school must request access to alternate-format books, ask publishers to make accessible copies, or convert the books themselves. This process takes time, so students may need to wait weeks or months for their books. As a result, they may fall behind in their course work while waiting for books they can read. In contrast, universally-designed resources ensure that all students have timely access.


In addition, universal design ensures that students whose abilities and needs change always have access to lessons. For instance, someone’s ability to concentrate might change over time, or from day to day. Under the individual accommodation model, this student would need to ask for different accommodations whenever their level of concentration changed. Universally designed lessons would enable students to use different learning strategies at different times. This way the student doesn’t need to wait for new accommodations.

Accessibility for Everyone

Furthermore, universal design also allows more students to benefit from accessible features. For instance, Real-Time Captioning (RTC) gives students who are deaf access to word-for-word lesson content. A trained captioner records speech and it appears almost right away on a large screen. However, many other students could find visual display of a teacher’s words useful. For example, students learning English may understand written words more easily than spoken ones. As a result, they might understand lessons better by seeing the words as well as hearing them. Moreover, other students learn more when they can access content by both listening and reading. Therefore, teachers could help many students by making and showing written scripts of their lessons. If they used computers and large screens similar to an RTC set-up, they could make changes to their transcripts in class.

Universal Design and Accommodation Together

Universal design may not make every element of a lesson accessible to all students. Some students may always need a few individual accommodations. For instance, some students may need one-on-one guidance as they learn memory aids or organizational skills. Similarly, other students may learn best using Braille or Sign language interpretation. These accommodations will need to be arranged individually. However, universal design can make these individual accommodations easier to put in place. For instance, a regular classroom routine can support students as they implement memory or organizational aids. Similarly, students can access Braille more easily using accessible-format documents with a Braille display or Braille printer. Likewise, interpretation is easier when teachers are already used to staying in one place, to help students focus.

In addition, some students may be able to use a combination of individual accommodation and universal design in school. For instance, a student might read some textbooks in Braille and others as accessible e-books. Similarly, a student might use Sign language interpretation for some classes and captioning for others. Universal design in school means that students have more flexibility to learn in ways that are best for them.

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How Gaming Technology is Helping to Design More Accessible Homes

Lisa Calautti|Sep 10, 2019

A group of Perth university students and real estate agents have teamed up to design an accessible home using construction software inspired by the gaming industry, with the goal of raising awareness of the importance of creating universal affordable accommodation.

Created for a Town of Victoria Park-owned site on Boundary Road, Victoria Park, the project was initiated and managed by JLL project and development services, supported by architectural firm Studio Halton and software developer PropIntel.

Curtin University fourth-year construction and project management students used the Studio Halton plans to study how emerging digital technologies could improve design-to-construction workflows in the WA building industry.

Ryan D’Arcy, state manager at JLL project and development services, said he was currently in discussions with the WA Department of Communities and the Town of Victoria Park to construct the design to raise awareness about the importance of creating affordable accessible accommodation.

” ‘Accessible unit’ has a negative us-and-them narrative. In most instances, it translates to wheelchair accessible. Buildings should be designed in a way that can accommodate anyone’s needs with minimal changes to fittings and fixtures,” Mr D’Arcy said.

“There is an urgent need for the market to adopt a universal accommodation mindset across the board when designing residential environments.

“Through the use of immersive technologies and bleeding-edge construction delivery software, this initiative has demonstrated how universal accommodation that is, housing that suits anyone can be the default mindset. We believe any home can be designed affordably with universal accommodation principles.”

Mr D’Arcy said the goal of the initiative was to show how cheaply aesthetically pleasing, universal accommodation could be built, while also preparing the students for the future construction landscape.

“We hope our work will increase community awareness and increase the number of developments that can ultimately offer more living options for younger people with severe disabilities, many of whom may currently be housed in aged-care facilities,” he said.

“It will also help people transition from assisted living into independent homes.”

The three-month project was not only a great way to get fresh perspectives from the construction professionals of the future, but to start paving the way for the industry to recognise and act on these needs, Mr D’Arcy said.

“The focus was on learning outcomes, not speed. The home itself would take circa three days for someone trained to complete, with a few design iterations,” he said.

“The time savings are significant when you look at the how the digital workflow created from the 3D space is used to inform other actions i.e. calculating cost, populating quotations and other project documentation.”

The software, inspired by the gaming industry, allowed students to work within a 3D environment while any changes to specification, price and quantities were automatically updated.

Led by Jane Matthews, associate professor in construction management in the School of Design and the Built Environment at Curtin University, the students were the first to test the software, designed by Queensland-based PropIntel.

They were split into two teams with a sketch provided by Studio Halton, to model, view, cost and plan their projects.

PropIntel chief executive Troy Cavallaro, director of technology at Cairns builder Allaro Homes, said he spent almost a decade creating the software and has plans to offer it worldwide.

“PropIntel is a platform technology which provides the construction industry with an ecosystem for the different sectors,” Mr Cavallaro said.

“Architects, engineers, builders, suppliers and sub-contractors all have an interface that is fine-tuned for them. It all connects to a central database so we can really quickly share information on it and derive information from it.”

Original at https://www.domain.com.au/news/how-gaming-technology-is-helping-to-design-more-accessible-homes-878251/

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New Universal Design Guide Aims to make Public Spaces Pleasant for All

August 23 2019

UNITED STATES: When the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, it set forth expectations around how buildings and public spaces should be designed to accommodate limited mobility. Over the years, the guidelines helped create more accessible parks, buildings, schools, and neighborhoods, but for many architects, the rules stop short of ensuring people with physical and mental disabilities have a pleasant experience in those places.

That’s why the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) decided to create a new guide for “universal design,” a fancy way of saying design created with truly everyone in mind. The ASLA’s guide lays out best practices for designing neighborhoods, streets, parks, plazas, playgrounds, and gardens that are inclusive for people of all abilities.

Instead of building spaces that cater to specific disabilities or meet quantifiable requirements, the ASLA recommends broadening the definition of accessible design to the point where a spaces account for all possible use cases. “All public spaces should be physically accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical, cognitive, or mental ability. Specific areas of public spaces shouldn’t be designed for people with specific disabilities; all public spaces should work for everyone,” the organization writes in the guide’s introduction.

And it’s not always as complicated as it sounds. The organization lays out several simple examples that prove its point: parks with wide, sloped pathways; brightly-lit bathrooms, gardens with flower beds at various heights, additional benches on the sidewalk. If all this sounds like good design 101, you’re right. It turns out that designing a space that’s accessible to people of all abilities ultimately leads to better, more thoughtful spaces for everyone.

You can dive into the guide at https://www.asla.org/universaldesign.aspx.

Original at http://globalaccessibilitynews.com/2019/08/23/new-universal-design-guide-aims-to-make-public-spaces-pleasant-for-all/

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What is the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

The design of public spaces standard of the AODA outlines the need for newly constructed or redeveloped public spaces to be accessible for people with disabilities. This requirement may leave people asking: What is the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

What is the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

The Design of Public Spaces Standard describes ways to make communal spaces more accessible. Most of the spaces it covers are outdoors. For instance, there are requirements for accessible:

  • Recreational trails and beach access routes
  • Outdoor public eating areas like rest stops or picnic areas
  • Outdoor play spaces, like playgrounds in provincial parks and local communities
  • Accessible parking (on and off street)
  • Outdoor paths of travel, like sidewalks, ramps, stairs, curb ramps, rest areas and accessible pedestrian signals

In contrast, the Ontario Building Code covers rules for the accessibility of most indoor spaces. However, the Design of Public Spaces Standard includes guidelines for service-related elements like service counters, fixed queuing lines, and waiting areas with fixed seating. Finally, the Standard also covers the maintenance and restoration of public spaces.

Who does the Standard Apply To?

The standard applies to new spaces and buildings. It also applies to existing spaces undergoing major renovations. However, existing spaces that do not need major reconstruction do not need to comply.

Furthermore, public sector organizations, and private organizations with fifty or more workers, need to make all of these types of space accessible. In contrast, private organizations with fewer than fifty workers are only required to obey guidelines for accessible:

  • Recreational trails and beach access routes
  • Accessible parking
  • Service-related elements like service counters, fixed queuing lines, and waiting areas
  • Maintenance and restoration of public spaces

Why do we need the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

Public spaces are everywhere. We enter public space the moment we step out of our front doors to go anywhere, whether it is down the sidewalk to visit a neighbour, to the beach for a day of fun with friends, to the parking lot of the grocery store, or to the playground with our children. The Design of Public Spaces Standard brings us closer to a province where every person can take all these journeys.

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