New Zealand’s Inaugural Universal Design Conference will take place in Auckland on 24 May. The conference is supported by Auckland Council, Lifemark, and the Ministry of Social Development. Universal Design (UD) is a design concept that aims to create environments, products, learning programmes and systems that can be used by as many people as possible. “Universal Design makes things more accessible, safer, and convenient for everyone….[It] is a philosophy that can be applied to policy, design and other practices to make products, environments and systems function better for a wider range of people. It developed in response to the diversity of human populations, their abilities and their needs” (IDeA Center, University at Buffalo, State University of New York). In the tourism, travel, and hospitality environment, using UD concepts leads to activities and attractions, restaurants, and cafes, and all forms of transport that are usable by all people, able bodied and those with a disability, seniors who are not as agile as they once were, travellers with heavy bags, parents with pushchairs and so on.
There are several good reasons to think about Universal Design in New Zealand. Firstly there is much talk in central and local government circles about inclusiveness and liveable communities but a lack of understanding of what this really means. Secondly, the rebuilding of earthquake-damaged Christchurch is a great opportunity to build a city for all people. Thirdly, New Zealand has a high rate of accident and injury. A growing population means that medium and high density housing is the way of the future. Finally, as with most countries, New Zealand’s population is ageing. In addition, tourism is a major industry in New Zealand, and already about 43% of our international visitors are 45 years old or older. Using universal design in developing our tourism industry is a must if we are to retain and grow this visitor sector.
The aims of the conference are to raise awareness of universal design and how it can benefit society and businesses, and to inspire individuals and organisations within the built environment industries to take the initiative and lead New Zealand towards creating places that are enjoyable and safe. The conference is aimed at people involved in the built environment industries (design, development and construction), business, planning, infrastructure, economic development, human resources, environmental design, residential facilities, community service, policy, strategy and anyone interested in creating liveable and inclusive communities.
Discussion topics will include UD theory, demographics and the ageing community, human rights, social and economic benefits, future proofing, local government policies, strategies and plans, housing, and commercial development, building codes.