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The Language of Human Factors Design

Rick Zimmerman is an architect with over 50 years education, training, and experience in ergonomics, human dynamics and human factors design

A Single Term Illustrated

The term "Side Reach" illustrated in the ADA.

The term "Side Reach" illustrated in the ADA.

Learn the language of Human Factors Design

Like any other expanding field of study, human factors design has generated a vocabulary of contextually specialized terminology. Following are various words, phrases, concepts, entity names, etc., used throughout these articles, accompanied by the contextual meaning or reference ascribed to each:

Accessibility The quality of being able to be accessed by, and used by, those with disabilities, as well as by those without.

Accessible Design Design directed toward making spaces, buildings and facilities accessible to and and usable by those with disabilities, as well as those without.

Accessible Units (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act and its successor documents.) Dwelling units (homes, apartments, hotel rooms, etc.) able to be accessed by, and used by, those with disabilities, as well as those without.

Accident Reconstruction The process of investigating, analyzing, and modeling the way in which an accident occurred or progressed, with an aim toward defining causes and effects. (Accident Reconstruction is a label often applied to such ‘accidents’ as vehicle collisions. Incident Reconstruction may be a more apt label where causation is not likely to be purely accidental.)

Accident Statistics, Actuarial Data The statistics used to determine the various sorts and degrees of risks associated with a human activity, such as driving a car, crossing a street, climbing stairs, etc. See the chapter on accident reporting and prevention information sources.

ADA (See Americans with Disabilities Act).

Ambient (White) Noise Ambient noise is generally background noise, such as voices, traffic, weather, etc., that is typically present in a given setting. White noise is typically continuous, randomized, and/or near-constant low-level background noise that is specifically crafted and employed to mask other more disturbing sounds, or to contribute a calming and non-specific effect.

Ambulatory Accessible Units (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act and its successor documents.) Dwelling units (homes, apartments, hotel rooms, etc.) able to be accessed by ambulatory individuals with limited disabilities, as well as those without.

American Institute of Architects (AIA) The primary professional, fraternal, educational, and advocacy organization for licensed architects in the United States.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A private, non-profit organization that promulgates voluntary consensus standards for a range of products, processes, services, and systems across the United States.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) A 1990 Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities in most aspects of public life: jobs, schools, transportation and all buildings or spaces open to the general public.

Anatomy The physical and physiological structure and composition of the typical human body and its constituent parts.

Appurtenance Under building and zoning codes and other such regulations and standards, an appurtenance is any item directly associated with a building or other structure, such as a yard, parking lot, drive, walk, ramp, patio, garage, outbuilding, shed, fence, or other such accessory element. Typically, such appurtenances are regulated along with the building or structure with which they are associated.

Arrest To bring to a stop, as to arrest one’s fall or loss of balance.

Assistive Device Any device designed, made, adapted, or implemented to assist one in performing a particular task, such as a wheelchair, motorized chair, scooter, walker, rolling walker, cane, and/or an assistance or guide animal.

Autonomic Involuntary or unconscious.

Human Factors Design touches on health care as well as architecture

Bariatric Dealing with the presence, treatment, and accommodation of obesity.

Biocompatible Not harmful to living human tissue, typically referring to surgical implants or prostheses, and their materials.

Bioengineering The application of engineering design and analysis to biological systems and biomedical technologies.

Biomechanical Engineering The application of engineering design and analysis to mechanical systems, devices or aids to assist biological systems.

Biomechanics The science of movement of living bodies, as manifest by muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments.

Biomedical Engineering The application of engineering design and analysis to biological systems and biomedical technologies.

Biometrics, Biometry Human body measurements and calculations, such as height, weight, body type, age, gender, strength, gait, balance, grip strength, visual acuity, hearing, ability/disability, etc. and their analysis.

‘Black Letter’ Law Well-established legal principles or rules that are no longer reasonably disputed.

Building Code(s) Regulations specifying standards for design and construction of buildings and other structures, and their appurtenances, usually promulgated by a state, region, city, or quasi-public body.

Case Law Collected past legal decisions or actions of courts of law and/or juries that establish a precedent or agumentative basis for future court or jury action.

Coefficient of Friction (COF) A measure of the relative friction between two surfaces, typically calculated as ranging from 0 to 1, with lower values allowing the two surfaces to freely slide across one another, and higher values preventing such slippage.

Comfort, Human Comfort, Physical Comfort The conditions of temperature, humidity, daylighting, light levels, light color, indoor air quality (IAQ), sound types and levels, and degree of disruption pleasing to a substantial majority of humans. In certain settings, such as prisons, autistic housing, psychiatric wings, and elder care facilities, for example, social, emotional and/or psychological comfort may also be critical.

Contrast, Visual Contrast The degree to which an element appears distinct from its surroundings, typically as a function of light vs. dark, or varying colors. Adequate contrast is critical to warnings and the perception and identification of hazards.

Correct, Self-Correct To correct oneself without outside assistance, as in arresting one’s fall by grabbing a handrail or regaining one’s balance.

Degrees of Freedom (DOF) , Range of Motion (ROM) Range of Motion and Degrees of Freedom are two different ways of referring to the total extent of the potential range of motion (or freedom) of a human body part, such as the reach of the outstretched arm, or the rotation of the torso around the spinal axis. Both are useful in assessing the accommodation of human activity to our built environment, machines, devices, furniture, etc.

Disabled, Differently Abled, Handicapped Having any of a number of physical or mental conditions that limit movement, senses, activities, abilities, and awareness. Three out of four people will endure some form of disability (physical, mental, social, emotional, psychological, physiological, and/or developmental) for at least some portion of their lives. Disability typically falls along a spectrum, with individuals varying in type, combination, degree, and duration of disability(ies).

Ergonomics The study and science of understanding human efficiency in work environments; designing workplaces to human capability and limitation.

Expert Witness One recognized by a court of law as having expertise in a particular field bearing on the case at hand. Such expertise must typically be beyond the discernment of an average person, being based on specialized education, training, experience, and knowledge.

Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq. Commonly known as the Fair Housing Act (FHA), Titles VIII through IX of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibit discrimination in housing — its sale, rental, and financing — on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sex, disability, pregnancy, and families having children.

Forensic Science The application of science to criminal and civil laws and cases.

Foreward Reach The limit of an average standing or seated person’s comfortable foreward reach, often specifically referring to the disabled and/or those in wheelchairs.

Guard In building design and construction, any device, component, or structure that prevents a person’s fall from a roof, balcony, deck, mezzanine, elevated platform, etc.

Geriatric Relating to the elderly.

Handicapped, Disabled, Differently Abled Having any of a number of physical or mental conditions that limit movement, senses, activities, abilities, and awareness. Three out of four people will endure some form of disability (physical, mental, social, emotional, psychological, physiological, and/or developmental) for at least some portion of their lives. Disability falls along a spectrum, with individuals varying in type, combination, degree, and duration of disability(ies).

Handrail, Railing In building design and construction, any device, component or structure that provides a handhold along stairs or ramps and/or prevents one falling from such stairs or ramps.

Haptics The use of technology to impart senses of touch and motion in digital and/or virtual reality (VR) devices or situations.

Health, Safety & Welfare (HSW) Most US-licensed architects are required to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public by their actions. Also, the primary purpose of many building codes is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public by their proper application.

Hearing One’s physical aural ability, as affected individual physical characteristics, as well as by the presence and prominence of sound privacy, ambient (white) noise, audible warnings, alarms, and vibration alarms.

Human Dimension(s) The human dimension is a holistic view of how humans function in an environment. Human factors design embraces a wide range of types of human dimensions to ideally suit human needs in the built environment.

Human Dynamics Statistical study and analysis of how humans move, individually and in groups, to better the built environment.

ICC A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities Currently the most widely accepted building code standard of accessibility in the US. This document is the evolutionary successor to the very first accessible design and construction guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. See also International Code Council (ICC).

Imperceptible Impossible to perceive.

Implantables Biomechanical and/or biomedical devices with all or some portion implanted within the human body.

Incident Reconstruction The process of investigating, analyzing, and modeling the way in which an incident occurred or progressed, with an aim toward defining causes and effects. (Accident Reconstruction is a label often applied to such ‘accidents’ as vehicle collisions. Incident Reconstruction may be a more apt label where causation is not likely to be purely accidental.)

Independent Testing Agencies/Organizations An agency, organization, company, laboratory, or individual that tests building products, components, materials, or assemblies according to agreed requirements. Examples include ASTM International, Factory Mutual (FM Global), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL). In architecture and construction, the ratings and approvals of such independent testing agencies are often used to establish a minimum base standard for a particular building product, component, material, or assembly.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) The air quality in or immediately around buildings and other structures.

Industry Regulations (or Standards) Regulations or minimum acceptable standards for building products, materials, components, or assemblies developed by interested trade groups or industries.

International Code Council (ICC) An independent building code development organization consisting of members throughout the building design, construction, and regulation industries. The ICC was formed in 1994 from the merger of three of the largest pre-existing code development organizations in the US. Many US states have adopted the ICC roster of building codes.

Human Factors Design often concerns motion

Kinetics The study of the realtionship between motions and forces in physical, mechanical, and engineered systems.

Kinesthetics The study of human body motion and the percetpion of human body motion, both conscious and unconscious.

Manufacturers’ Standards Minimum acceptable standards and/or recommendations for the use, application, assembly, maintenance, etc. of building products, materials, components or assemblies, developed by the manufacturer of same.

Mitigation The reduction of the severity or seriousness of a safety hazard or an outcome, typically an injury.

National Safety Council (NSC) A non-profit public service organization promoting health and safety in the US.

National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) Known as the National Bureau of Standards until 1988, NIST is a laboratory and non-regulatory agency of the US Department of Commerce devoted to innovation and industrial competitiveness.

Normal, Reasonable and/or Prevailing Standards; Standard(s) of Care One who has pursued the appropriate standard of care has proceeded with the same reasonable caution as would a prudent person under such circumstances.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standards The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the US Department of Labor was created in 1970 to ensure safe and healthful working conditions throughout the US by providing training, education, and assistance. OSHA regulations and standards are extensive and cover virtually every type of work environment.

Pediatric Relating to the health and medical care of infants, children, and adolescents.

Peer Review, Peer Standards A review undertaken by, or standards developed by, those within one’s own professional or peer group.

Perception Seeing, hearing, or becoming aware of something by way of the senses.

Perception Time The time it takes for an average person to perceive a hazard, risk, obstacle, etc. In normal traffic situations, a typical vehicle driver’s perception time is approximately 0.75 seconds.

Physiognomy Facial features or expression, especially when considered indicative of character or ethnic origin.

Premises A building or structure and all its associated land and appurtenances, considered in an official and/or regulatory context.

Premises Liability The body of law dealing with personal injury caused by an unsafe or defective condition on one’s property or within or associated with one’s building (premises).

Proprioception One’s perception or awareness of the position and/or movement of their body and its parts.

Prosthetics, Prostheses Any artificial body part.

Human Factors Design affects how we build our buildings

Railing, Handrail In building design and construction, any device, component or structure that provides a handhold along stairs or ramps and/or prevents one falling from such stairs or ramps.

Range of Motion (ROM), Degrees of Freedom (DOF) Range of Motion and Degrees of Freedom are two different ways of referring to the total extent of the potential range of motion (or freedom) of a human body part, such as the reach of the outstretched arm, or the rotation of the torso around the spinal axis. Both are useful in assessing the accommodation of human activity to our built environment, machines, devices, furniture, etc.

Reaction Time The time it takes for an average person to begin to react to a perceived hazard, risk, obstacle, etc. In normal traffic situations, a typical vehicle driver’s reaction time is approximately 0.75 seconds.

Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), reasonable accommoidation refers to a change or assistance offered to the disabled to enable them to access or use a facility (such as an adjustable desk for the wheelchair-bound). Under many building codes, reasonable accommodation may mean an alternative remedy that will meet or approximate the intended effect of a building code requirement, without meeting the exact letter of that particular building code requirement.

Recover Return to a normal state of health, stability, safety, etc.

Reflectance The degree to which a surface reflects light that strikes it, from a reflectance of 0% (a ptch-black surface) to 100% (a mirror). Surfaces with moderate to medium reflectance may make the environs safer, while those with high reflectance may cause glare and eyestrain.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 The first disability civil rights law in the US, which governed federally assisted programs and facilities, and led to the eventual enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Robotics The application of science, engineering, and technology to creating machines that replicate or substitute for humans.

Safety The condition of being protected from or unlikely to encounter danger, risk, harm or injury.

Side Reach The limit of an average standing or seated person’s sideways reach, often specifically referring to the disabled and/or those in wheelchairs.

Slip-Resistant (Non-Skid) Slip resistance describes the relative frictional forces between surfaces that prevent slips or skids.

Sound Transmission Coefficient (STC) A numbered rating scale that describes the ability of a building component of floor, wall, ceiling, etc. to reduce the transmission of sound, measured as the drop in decibels of volume through that component.

Standard(s) of Care; Normal, Reasonable and/or Prevailing Standards One who has pursued the appropriate standard of care has proceeded with the same reasonable caution as would a prudent person under such circumstances.

Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS) Developed in 1984, the UFAS set forth design requirements for accessibility at Federal facilities.

United States Access Board An independent Federal agency created in 1973 to insure access to Federal facilities. The United States Access Board assists in developing and maintaining accessibility standards for the use of all.

United States Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) An independent Federal agency created in 1972 to promote the safety of consumer products and to develop uniform safety standards.

Universal Design The design of facilities and products to be accessible to all individuals, regardless of disability, age or other limiting factors. There are generally considered to be “seven principles of universal design”, though different sources vary in their inclusion, labeling and description. Those principles typically include any of the following:

- Equitable Use: useful to people with diverse abilities.

- Flexible Use: accommodates a wide range of abilities and preferences.

- Simple, Intuitive Use (Perceptible): specialized knowledge, training or experience is not required of the user.

- Predictable Information (Stable and Predictable): necessary information is readily and easily communicated.

- Tolerance: chances of error in use and adverse results are minimized.

- Low Physical Effort (Efficient): a minimum of strength is required; a minimum of fatigue is imparted.

- Cognitively Sound: readily understandable use.

- Ergonomically Sound: well suited to the human body.

- Approach Afforded: appropriate approach area size and space is provided.

Virtual Reality (VR) A simulated experience that may be similar to, or completely different from, the real world.

Vision, Sight A measure of one’s visual acuity, as also affected by the prominence, perceptibility, size, contrast, clarity, legibility, placement, symbols, etc. of that viewed.

Visual Contrast, Contrast The degree to which an element appears distinct from its surroundings, typically as a function of light vs. dark, or varying colors. Adequate contrast is critical to warnings and the perception and identification of hazards.

White (Ambient) Noise Ambient noise is generally background noise, such as voices, traffic, weather, etc., that is typically present in a given setting. White noise is typically continuous, randomized, and/or near-constant low-level background noise that is specifically crafted and employed to mask other more disturbing sounds, or to contribute a calming and non-specific effect.

Zoning Code(s), Zoning Ordinance(s) Rules that define how property in specific areas may be used, and the physical parameters or features that govern such use.

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 02, 2021:

Architects would be well versed with all of these terms in order to build safe buildings.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on August 01, 2021:

Is this an original article? I see no mention of ergonomics.

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