Universal Design Conference: Accessible Neighbourhoods for pedestrians with sight loss

At the Universal Design ConferenceBe. Accessible was excited to be a Gold sponsor of Te Ao Tangata – Inclusive by Design. The Universal Design Conference was designed to get New Zealand’s thought-leaders thinking about four main areas: housing, neighbourhood, transport, and travel.

One of the neighbourhood sessions was led by Lui Greco, who spoke about 'Accessible Neighbourhoods for pedestrians with sight loss'. Lui resides in Calgary, Canada, and is the National Manager of Advocacy at CNIB, Canada’s primary provider of vision rehabilitation services since 1918. Lui works with federal bodies to remove barriers for people with vision impairments, in areas such as telecommunications, transportation, health, and financial services.

In this session, Lui spoke about an app that he is involved in developing to assist pedestrians to cross the road safely. He said, "intersection crossings can be extremely hazardous". This is due to a variety of reasons - kerb cuts alone don’t steer blind users in the correct direction, different crossings require different approaches to activate the button, and there are assumptions that the user has adequate mobility. Lui commented that in New Zealand, standards make sure that the audio prompt at crossings are easy to distinguish from any other potential sounds. "There is no way possible that you can confuse the audio signal with anything else".

The Canadian government is about to vote on legislating accessibility, and if this goes through there will be funding provided to improve on accessibility for facilities such as this. This is significant since the technology for safe pedestrian crossing hasn’t changed in 70 years! This also applies to other safety features such as being able to find the button, knowing how to activate the button, not being distracted by ambience, and having the button at a reachable height. The new technology 'Key to Access' allows pedestrians with vision impairments to activate the crossing buttons from their phones. The app only allows users to activate the button within five meters from the chosen crossing. This means that users no longer have to divert from their travel path in order to activate the button, making it easier to navigate the crossing. It also means they don’t need to worry about finding the button. Find out more about how the app works, click here. You may also find this Housing blog from the Universal Design Conference, where they explored how housing design enables safer communities.

Online voting to be trialed in 2019 local body elections

With local body elections coming up in 2019, nine councils across Aotearoa have committed to trialing online voting as a way of making democracy more accessible for all people. It offers a particular benefit for people with access needs, who often cannot vote with confidentiality under the current postal ballot voting system. The trial is dependent on changes to legislation. The Local Electoral Matters Bill is expected to have its final vote at the end of 2018.

The timing for this is just right, as 2018 marks 125 years since Aotearoa gave women the right to vote. Universal access to democracy is now reaching a new phase with the trial for online voting, by making the process itself, and the physical act of voting in an election, inclusive to everyone.

The councils who are trialing this are Auckland Council, Gisborne District Council, Marlborough District Council, Matamata-Piako District Council, Palmerston North City Council, Selwyn District Council, Hamilton City Council, Tauranga City Council and Wellington City Council. While Auckland is only offering the trial to a selection of voters, all other councils will offer it to all voters, but allowing postal voting to anyone who prefers that method.

The booth that was prototyped in 2015 by global design company On Minnie’s Study Tour in May 2018, Minnie and Megan visited the Smithsonian Design Museum to see the Access + Ability Exhibition. Here they came across an accessible voting booth. This booth was prototyped in 2015 by global design company IDEO, in an attempt to design a machine that works for all diverse needs.

As well as making voting accessible, the aim of the trial is to boost voter turnout, increase interest and participation in the election process and democracy. The current concern is that strong voter participation is necessary for a healthy democracy. Because

postal services are in decline, and in the face of decreasing voter turnout – both nationally and locally - councils are looking for effective ways to renew interest in elections.

Auckland Council’s research shows voters have a strong support for online voting, especially by people who are less likely to vote. Online voting is said to make elections more relevant to today’s society, with people now doing most of their activities online – from banking, to shopping, to booking appointments, to applying for jobs.

It is already being used successfully by countries such as France, Canada, Estonia, and Switzerland. In Aotearoa it is used by trade unions and large companies such as Fonterra.

Universal Design Conference: Future Neighbourhoods: Designing for Inclusivity

At the Universal Design Conference

On the 6th and 7th of September, Auckland Council hosted Te Ao Tangata – Inclusive by Design: Universal Design Conference. As Gold sponsors, Be. Accessible assessed the event to help make it fully accessible, and Minnie Baragwanath and Neville Pulman presented to the delegates about the work that we do. The conference focused on four key themes: Housing, Neighbourhood, Transport, and Tourism.

One of the housing sessions of the conference was about 'Future Neighbourhoods: Designing for Inclusivity'. Tricia Austin is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland. Tricia and her research team are researching Future Neighbourhoods as part of the MBIE National Science Challenge.

The purpose of the study is about "making new neighbourhoods and developing resources for developers to consider all user groups". Coincidently, all researchers in Tricia’s team had a type of disability story, be it a parent, partner, sibling and so on. The research looked at the Hobsonville Point housing development, and the safety of children as a focus point. They looked specifically at two factors: the entrance from the door to the street – can the resident see their neighbours, and identify if they have children they should be looking out for? Do these housing developments foster social relationships?

The other factor they looked at was shared external spaces, and whether they are safe for children and consider accessibility. Tricia commented that the back-service roads of this particular development serve as both road and footpath. The cars in these back-service roads are parked in different directions, and children are often playing on these roads where cars are reversing.

Tricia also talked about the design of the housings. The double storey houses are designed for families but carrying children and shopping bags up a flight of stairs with no shelter may prove quite a challenge! The apartment blocks don’t have lifts, and the single storey homes have narrow entrances that require a tight turning circle with pebbled paths on one side.

The team have also met with residents in Auckland’s Albany, New Lynn and Onehunga to discover why they chose high-density living, what do they view as ‘livability’ and their satisfaction and housing aspirations.

Ashleigh Williams reflects on her internship as a clinical intern

Be. Employed intern Ashleigh Williams The internship finished with a lovely morning tea with all the staff both clinical and lab attending.

During my 10-week internship I was working at Wellington Regional Genetics Laboratory, in both the clinical (genetic counsellors) and laboratory sides of the department.

While working in the clinic side I learnt what and how genetic counsellors do in their day to day work life. Working only on a Monday for them I attended staff Skype sessions discussing clinics the counsellors conducted with issues that arose during them. The main things I did however, was draw out pedigrees and end patient data into a computer algorithm that calculated patients’ probability of certain cancers inherited or not through family history. Both these jobs helped the preparation of the counsellors for their upcoming clinics. I also attended a few clinics with the genetics counsellors just sitting in and understanding how they conduct a clinic.

Then while working in the laboratory I shadowed a senior cytogeneticist in the process of what they do with all the samples that come into the lab. From this I leant how to harvest chromosomes from DNA, prepare them onto a slide for visualization, and how to karyotype those chromosomes to give a diagnostic result. Whilst there, George (the senior cytogeneticist) gave me a project which was in attempt to produce a new technique to help with analysis of chromosomes on the same day as a sample coming in.

Unfortunately, this project had many close attempted but didn't succeed. However, this result allowed the team to know the process they were doing was currently the fastest way. Furthermore, while working there I assisted in some administrative jobs, such as adding patient files to a database to be sent offsite. This was a big help to them as it is a huge task.

For now, I am currently finishing my Bachelor of Science degree down at the University of Otago and return back to Dunedin to do postgraduate studies.

With the help of Sarah and Jake this internship wouldn't have been possible! The work experience and knowledge I obtained out of this is incredible!

Posthumanism and disability

By Dr Suzanne Cowan

Posthumanism is a theoretical term that has informed my research and has some really interesting implications for disability.

Posthumanism insists that ‘human identity’ is always in flux, and changes with time and place. And this is where it gets interesting for disability, because historically, ideas of what it means to be human have often not included people with disabilities. The human, as it is classically understood in western culture, is drawn from 18th and 19th century ideals. Posthumanist theorist, Rosi Braidotti, describes the standard for what qualifies as ‘human’ as: male, white, urbanized, non-disabled, speaking a standard language, heterosexual and living in a reproductive family unit, and “… a full citizen of recognised polity”. So, then we can understand that human status is ranked according to how closely we fit that norm. When we move away from that norm of being ‘human’ we occupy a lower ranking and are more likely to experience discrimination and have to fight for our human rights. We are also more likely to be known for what we are not i.e ‘disabled’ than for what we actually are.

Not all of us can say, with any degree of certainty, that we have always been human, or that we are only that. Some of us are not even considered fully human now, let alone at previous moments of Western social, political and scientific history. (Braidotti, 2013, p. 1)

Posthumanism offers a different framework. It insists that human identity is always in flux; the scope is much wider and more equitable. It offers the fairly radical premise that human beings are not actually the centre of the universe or even of our own planet. In fact, we occupy a place in a rich ecology of intelligent beings including artificial intelligence, robotics, and reproductive technologies. This approach is radically inclusive and maintains we are living in an era caught up in a complexity of contemporary science and debates about the sustainability of our planet.

I would argue that we need a framework that values all life which has huge ramifications for how we move forward as a species, AMONG, other multi-species. The self, subject, person, citizen, is fully interconnected into capital, technology and communications that shift us to real and virtual spaces and places. We also have a response-ABILITY to develop an ethics that reflects this interconnectivity and systems that respect it. What this means is potentially a radical economic and ecological review. However, before we change the world (or perhaps we are already ARE changing the world) as people with disabilities with access requirements, we can look more deeply into our own conceptions of humanity or posthumanism.

Posthumanists challenge identity politics by holding that identity is fluid, every changing and ever evolving. And this is where it is contentious with identity politics and disability rights politics. As a minority group, people with disabilities should be entitled to equal rights and equal access to society but this is often argued for within a humanistic paradigm. As Braidotti says, humanist offerings come at a price: they are enshrined through a marking of those that count as human and those that do not. Hence, the ideology underpinning humanism perpetuates a hierarchy where people with access needs tend to be at the bottom. On the other hand, Posthumanism recognises that we need productive alternatives that reflect our interconnectivity as a species, valuing all life forms. This means not only shifting our understanding of the human, but re-thinking our relationships with our environments, our world and human and non human inhabitants on our planet. In doing so, we are forced to re-think our understanding of disability and what it means to be part of a much larger ecological continuum. Rather than the exception, and being defined in terms of what we are not we are always, already IN relationship.

As a paradigm for thinking about and understanding our place in the world posthumanism offers a radical departure from seeking out fixed categories to place ourselves in, in the hope of getting some recognition.