I’m a skeptic

OK — I just heard about a webinar that is coming this week:

Designing products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design: Dr. Sharon Joines at the Center for Universal Design of North Carolina State University, will talk about how universal design, sometimes referred to as “lifespan design” or “transgenerational design,” encompasses and goes beyond the accessible, adaptable and barrier-free design concepts. Dr. Joines will explain how Universal Design is an effective marketing tool as well as a design concept since products and spaces that are more universally usable are marketable to nearly everyone

Its sponsored by the Green Parking Council and you can go to their web site to get more information.  Conflicts determine that I won’t be able to attend the webinar but I had this little nagging voice deep inside asking questions.

Since my discussions in the UK with Helen Dolphin, head of the Disabled Motoring Group, I’ve been a little gun shy on this topic so I thought I would ask her opinion. Here’s how she responded:

Hi John, I am also a great sceptic of this. In the UK we have so called “homes for life” which have things like ramps instead of stairs but there will always need to be a need for adaptation. For example the needs of disabled people are so diverse, our Chairman who is a wheelchair user always requires a bath whereas other wheelchair users require a shower. The adaptations for someone with a visual impairment are very different to those with mobility difficulties or speech problems. There are also some people with mobility issues who find a few steps easier than a steep ramp. Taking my own house, I have a tiny button entry pad as I can’t use a key, not very accessible for a blind person. So I guess in short, there are of course some things that can be done like putting in a downstairs loo and not making the doorways too narrow but other adaptations are very disability specific and certainly not going to be needed by everyone.

I think her concern is that when we head down this path, we begin to go for a ‘one size fits all” and in doing so, of course it doesn’t. Its been my experience that whenever well meaning groups attempt to fix a problem, others pop up.  One that comes to mind is cost.  There is no question that disabled friendly environments cost more than the alternative. So if we require that booths used by valets be wheelchair accessible even though a person in a wheel chair could not be a valet, it increases the costs and money goes into a place where it well never be used, and diverted from places where access for disabled is needed.

One thing that meeting Helen told me is that there is more to the disabled than just blind or halt. Helen can walk (on artificial legs) but also uses a wheel chair — she can’t climb the smallest step, but can navigate well in the flats.  She has no hands but a prosthetic device on one arm that she uses to pick up some things.  She cannot use most any type of device that requires inserting keys, coin, or bills — which means she can’t pay for parking at any machine we currently use.  But, she can drive. Her dog is a great help, and can open doors (when they are adjusted for him), and certainly handles many ‘fetch’ and like tasks.

My experience is that disabled ‘adapt’ more to the world around them, than the world adapts to them.

All that being said, technology can help in many areas, and certainly in the area of collecting money through the use of contactless cards and the like. However we may have a way to go if we expect some disabled drivers to input their license plates and drop coin or insert cards into the machine.

There’s a lot to consider in this area.



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2 Responses to I’m a skeptic

  1. Paul Wessel says:

    Emerging technologies offer exciting opportunities for the parking industry: Do they do what they claim? Are they cost effective? Do they meet the needs of our customers? Do they give us a competitive edge? Finally, in an equipment market blessed with healthy competition, how do we help manufacturers design well?

    Here’s an experience that might prove useful: My family loves to use OXO kitchen products because they are smart, well-designed tools that get the job done. Fast
    Company Magazine
    recognized this about OXO, design and profitability:

    “Thirty of its products are part of the permanent collection at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York. “By bringing design back to the basics–efficient and comfortable performance–they’ve elevated it,” says exhibitions curator Matilda McQuaid. The payoff from that elevated design: OXO has been profitable since its first year; revenue has increased steadily, at a compound annual growth rate of more than 30% since 1991, to more than $100 million in 2004.

    …One of the company’s guiding philosophies, dating back to OXO founder Sam Farber, is universal design. A product’s function should be immediately apparent, and anyone should be able to use it.”

    Good design matters – and because it works, it sells.

    Sustainability in the marketplace and on the planet is about efficiency, economy and excellence. For parking and transportation technologies, our opportunity is to recognize that as we live and drive longer, the line between “abled” and “disabled” is blurring. Smart money acknowledges that. Multipurpose platforms that embrace personalized apps rule. Customized, integrated solutions will lead the way in the marketplace.

    Meeting the requirements of the ADA – which, by the way, are not yet completely clear for EV charging stations – is yesterday’s agenda; the future is about how the parking technologies we manufacture, purchase and deploy will be used by people with different physical abilities, languages, forms of transportation and other varied needs we haven’t focused on yet.

    Universal design helps us broaden our thinking about our market. And, since at some point in our lengthening lives, the odds are that each of us will grapple with a personal disability, that market includes you and me.

    The essence of the Green Parking Council is thinking about how we do what we do better. We’re a rapidly growing community of people and organizations with our feet firmly planted on ground while reaching for the sky. Please join us. See our EV
    charging, accessibility and universal design webinar materials and sign up for more news at http://www.greenparkingcouncil.org..

    • JVH says:

      Paul — Yes I attended your webinar and found it a tad predictable. Your disabled charging station presenter seemed all over the shop and made me wonder if he was reaching for a solution in search of a problem.
      The universal design presenter knew her stuff and certainly could generate a following from folks like me who are a part of that aging generation. I think she needs to be sure that she doesn’t impinge on the disabled folks — as Helen Dolphin pointed out in my piece above.
      You are right, of course, that good design means that products can be used my more people. I wonder if the Green Parking Council would do well in focusing on parking equipment and assist manufacturers in designing machines that can be used easily by more people, particularly those who have motor and eyesight issues. I know I have difficulty using many of the automatic parking equipment found in garages today. Just an idea.

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