01372 360 663 info@chawtonhill.com

When it comes to designing a new building, or retrofitting an old one, you’ll understand the importance of putting inclusive design principles at the heart of what you do. It is no longer enough to add a wheelchair ramp to the front entrance and assume your job is done. Whilst a ramp will make the building accessible for wheelchair users, accessibility does not always equal inclusivity.

Accessible design meets the minimum mandatory requirements for access and facilities for those with disabilities. These are covered in the Government’s statutory guidance document Access to and use of buildings: Approved Document M. Inclusive design looks beyond this, creating spaces that work for the needs of everyone. The aim is to enable and empower those that use a building going beyond a one-size fits-all solution. A helpful starting point here is the RIBA’s Inclusive Design Overlay.

In this article, we’ll cover some of the ways the built environment can embrace inclusive design principles.

What’s Covered

By its very definition, inclusive design needs to cover the needs of the population. It can be tricky to pin down exactly where to focus efforts, in order to design a building that works for all. However, most design approaches agree there are three main areas to consider:

  • Abilities: This covers a wide scope of physical and intellectual abilities, plus factors such as age, body type, medical conditions and physical fitness.
  • Gender & Sexuality: Male/female and LGBTIQ+ identities.
  • Faith & Culture: Covers differing cultural and religious needs.

The first step is to understand the demographics of your users (and potential users) and what their varying needs may be. For example, if there is a large Muslim community in your area, you may consider designing spaces that can be used as prayer rooms. If you expect your user base to be elderly, or less steady on their feet, handrails may play an important part in the design.

The Principles

1. A people first approach:

By putting users at the heart of your designs you can remove barriers and improve access for all. It is important to include as many people as possible in the design stage. Having a diverse team can help us see issues we may not have considered.

2. Acknowledge diversity and difference

The environment needs to meet as many needs as possible. This can be tricky, but identifying barriers early in the design process can help. Think beyond accessibility requirements and consider what barriers may be experienced by people with learning difficulties, mental ill health, visual impairments and hearing impairments.

3. Offer Choice

It is not always going to be possible to design one solution that suits all users. Even within one group, users will not be homogenous and their needs may vary. Avoid aiming for the minimum targets and consider the variance across your user base.

4. Flexible Use

The best way to achieve this is to truly understand how the building will be used. Consult with the client and end users, discover what happens now and what the space might be used for in the future. Consider design changes which can serve multiple purposes. For example, ramps instead of staircases can make buildings more accessible for wheelchair users, those pushing prams and carrying large luggage.

5. Convenient and Enjoyable

By removing barriers, you can create an environment that is easy to use for everyone. How will users move around the building? Is signage sufficient? Give users the confidence in your space and they will be able to make effective, independent choices about how they use it.

If you apply these principles to your designs, you’ll find your buildings become accessible for more users. Find out how we can help support your next project by getting in touch.