Parliament: Interesting Speeches

Universal Design

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Given that the Dignity Party has amended state planning law to include universal design principles and that I recently had the pleasure of hosting Adelaide’s first universal design forum, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk further about universal design. Universal design, or design for all, is a way of ensuring that our homes, buildings, streets and appliances can be used by as many people as possible without the need for adaptation.

Universal design is not a new principle, so what has been holding it back? I think there are two widely held negative attitudes towards universal design: first, the perceived financial burden of creating accessibility; and, secondly, the idea that such design only benefits a few. On the financial side of things, research shows that universal design is either cost neutral or adds only a small amount—namely, between 0.5 of 1 per cent and 2 per cent—to an entire project cost and, in the context of building a home, a hospital or a community facility, this is a tiny investment in some really big changes. So, the investment is minuscule and there are huge savings to be made in preventing falls alone when we implement universal design from the outset.

The idea or attitude that universal design is not worth implementing because it only benefits a small amount of people can be refuted by the fact that it is, in fact, called universal design. The number of people with disabilities is, of course, increasing as our population lives longer—and we know that our population is rapidly ageing. Benefits, too, are there for everyone, whether they are using a mobility aid such as a wheelchair, wheeling a suitcase, a pram, moving furniture in and out of a house or wheeling a bicycle.

Universal design is not about me any more than it is about each and every one of us. I was invited to speak at the Universal Design Conference in Sydney and from that opportunity came the idea to host a one-day forum in Adelaide. The universal design forum was held at the Convention Centre on 26 October this year. In South Australia, now is the time to lock in practices that will provide ease of access for all now and into the future so that we can rapidly meet the changing needs of our ageing population, community, locals and tourists alike.

In 2012, I visited Norway where universal design was introduced as a planning concept in 1997. That puts Australia to shame, does it not? 1997—that is 20 years ago. When I was in Oslo I visited the Norwegian national parliament. The building happened to be undergoing major renovations but, notwithstanding this disruption, I was still able to enter parliament house through the same door as everyone else. That is, of course, just a tiny example of the radically different attitude to accessibility that is evident in Norway. The Norwegian government gets it: universal design is an enforceable, legal standard and they have an action plan for Norway to be universally designed by 2025, and long may the South Australian parliament follow suit.

I certainly do not believe the blockage to progress is the everyday person on the street. For some time, I have spoken with groups and mentioned that just four features would bring every newly built home toward accessible design. They are a step-free entry, wider doorways, a bathroom and toilet on the ground floor, and reinforced bathroom walls. Every time I detail those four features, the response is the same: people agree that it is necessary and they simply cannot understand why something so important is not happening automatically. Again, to futureproof our community we need to make it happen.

I believe we need to ensure that we achieve great change in the city and, indeed, in the state and nationwide. Universal design is not something that is niche, or it certainly should not be. It is not a speciality and should not be seen as one. It is a human-centred design that simply means making all places and spaces accessible for everyone to do everything. I look forward to working with all members of parliament to make sure that we finally, eventually catch up to the likes of Norway in making universal design a legally enforceable standard for the good of all South Australians, particularly given our ageing population.