Universal Design Conference 2021

‘Thriving with Universal Design: Everyone, Everywhere, Everyday’

As one of many events to fall victim to the 2020 Melbourne lockdown, the Australian Universal Design Conference was finally given the green light, and able to go ahead earlier this year on the 17-18th May. Taking place at the Melbourne Showground’s Victorian Pavilion, the event was the 4th Universal Design Conference hosted by the Centre for Universal Design Australia after experiencing much success with their previous events. Access Consultant, Stephanie Loria from the Melbourne office was fortunate enough to attend this year’s event, with the theme being “Thriving with Universal Design: Everyone, Everywhere, Everyday”. The theme’s purpose was to prompt attendees to think about the many ways universal design can be utilised and applied. Indulged with morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and barista style coffees to keep our minds sharp throughout the day, the event saw a healthy turn out of attendees from a diverse range of backgrounds including design, local council/government areas, practitioners, students, and research backgrounds.

Topics surrounding the days discussions included the built environment, accessible tourism, parks and recreational areas, the ageing population, dementia friendly community design and smart cities. Many speakers presented over the two-day event, some of whom were locally based, some flying/driving in from interstate and even international speakers who were unable to physically attend but presented virtually over zoom.

With 2-3 presentations run at the same time, Stephanie has provided a summary of 3.

Victorian Health Building Authority – Turning universal design theory into a reality – On behalf of the Victorian Health Building Authority (VHBA), General Manger Stefano Scalzo addressed the undertakings of the VHBA, as to how they will promote and enable universal design in the built environment. The VHBA have become the first government authority in Australia to launch a stand-alone universal design charter and policy. The purpose of this was to establish a formal commitment which has been endorsed by executive leadership, to achieve compliance beyond the minimum standards. The design charter aims to have Tenders integrate universal design from the start of a project instead of trying to piece it together at the end. This charter is a collaborative effort between five government departments and is based on seven principles; Equity; Respect; Participation; Sustainability; Responsibility; Awareness and Collaboration. These principles were driven by a human rights perspective and aims to cater design to be inclusive for all people of all abilities, different cultural backgrounds, all genders and sexuality, and religious backgrounds.

Smart Cities – The recent effects from the Covid-19 pandemic have seen the need and demand for technology increase dramatically as we found ourselves working from home. This enabled us to stay connected to family, friends, and colleagues. However, the concept of digital transformations has been a hot topic long before the effects of the pandemic. Presenting from Washington DC, via zoom, James Thurston, Vice President, Global Strategy from G3itc, presented on the topic of ‘Smart Cities’. As James explained, technology is advancing in all aspects of our lives. The term ‘Smart Cities’ is defined as the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to enhance the livability, workability, and sustainability of our everyday lives. To name a few uses, a Smart City relies on technology for mobility, social services, digital payments, and citizen engagement. However, people with disabilities generally have less access to technology, so how do cities know their technology is accessible? With the covid pandemic accelerating digital transformations, many challenges were seen to arise including the lack of awareness, policies, solutions, and commitment for inclusive change. It raises the questions; does a ‘Smart City’ have a business plan in place? How does the city’s leadership support it? and how do they drive for greater inclusion? This is where the development of the Smart Cities for All Toolkit comes into play, aiming to eliminate the digital divide and improve urban environments for everyone.

Accessible Tourism – Providing accessible facilities within tourist destinations is one that is often forgotten. However, research shows the demand that is in place for such facilities within Australia. Findings show that Australian travellers with a disability accommodate for 7% of the population (1.3 million Australians) and travel in an average group size of 2-3 people when including carers and family members. This represents 14% of the population (3.4 million Australians) and estimates that the spend of a travel party of such size is $8 billion – this is approximately 10% of total domestic spend in Australia per year. So why is accessible tourism often overlooked? ‘Accessible’ can mean different things to different people. Some people may find a place to be inaccessible due to the tangible (physical) barriers that they may encounter. Others may find themselves faced with intangible barriers such as finding it too stressful to organise a trip or not knowing the types of accessible facilities that are on offer that will meet their needs and abilities. So, what can we do differently? There are many improvements that can be made to overcome these barriers faced by people with a disability whilst at the same time, providers can improve their place in the market. This can include providing a broader range of accommodation, better access at airports and public transport, greater information on transport and tourism websites, more toilets/accessible toilets and above all – greater promotion of inclusive/accessible travel that is available.

The takeaway messages from this year’s conference are very much what we strive to achieve as access consultants in our field of work. As an organisation, Architecture & Access promote the universal design philosophy and goals within all stages of the design process for the inclusion of all people in the community, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.

Share
Posted in Access Consulting