The concept of inclusion has become increasingly important in our evolving society. When it comes to architecture, the need for inclusive design has gained significant traction within the industry. Architectural and interior designers play crucial roles in creating spaces that are accessible and accommodating to all types of individuals. In this blog, we will explore the essence of universal design, redefining accessibility in architecture, and how to create an inclusive approach within the architectural process.
It is essential to define what we mean by accessible, inclusive, and universal design. Accessible design is a process in which the needs of people with disabilities are specifically considered and best practices from standards/guidelines are integrated. Universal design goes beyond mere accessibility and aims to create usable and enjoyable spaces for everyone, regardless of their diverse characteristics. Inclusive design refers to creating environments that all individuals can access, understand, and use to the fullest extent possible, regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability.
Think of it like centric circles where accessibility is integral and in the centre. Universal design ripples out next, with inclusive design as the largest circle. The three are intrinsically connected and encompass each other in many aspects. It is not just about meeting regulatory requiring, such as adding ramps and elevators to create accessible spaces. It is about fostering a sense of belonging and ensuring that areas are designed to accommodate the needs and preferences of the majority of users, promoting equality and dignity so that individuals can participate fully in their communities and engage with their surroundings, without barriers.
One common misconception is that accessibility can be addressed as an afterthought in the design process; however, this approach often leads to costly compromises or retrofits that fall on the building users. By integrating accessible design considerations from the initial planning stages, architects can proactively address potential challenges and create spaces that seamlessly accommodate the needs of diverse users. From the beginning, an inclusive and universal design approach should be an integral part of the architectural process as it provides significant cost-saving benefits.
To ensure that inclusivity is truly achieved, architects must engage in public consultations early in the process. This step allows architects to gather insights from diverse user groups, including individuals with disabilities, older people, and those with different cultural backgrounds. By listening to these stakeholders’ unique perspectives and needs, architects can develop designs that prioritize accessibility and accommodate a wide range of requirements, such as responsive and mobile-first design approaches.
“Collaboration among designers, subject matter experts, and diverse user groups during the planning stages enables integration of accessibility into the design, avoiding costly compromises. This leads to an optimal outcome for clients and users alike.” Ryan Bui, Accessibility Advisor
Collaboration among architects and accessibility specialists or experts is essential in achieving progressive accessibility, universal design, and architectural inclusivity. These professionals deeply understand accessibility standards and can provide valuable insights to ensure that design choices align with inclusive principles. By involving these specialists early on, architects can incorporate innovative design solutions that meet universal requirements and enhance the overall aesthetic and functionality of the space.
This multi-disciplinary approach to inclusive design is crucial to understanding how different identities, such as disability, race, gender, or age, intersect and affect individuals’ needs. Collaboration among designers, subject matter experts, and diverse user groups during the planning stages enables integration of accessibility into the design, avoiding costly compromises or retrofits. This leads to an optimal outcome for clients and users alike.
In conclusion, accessibility, universal design, and inclusion should not be an afterthought in architecture; they should be guiding principles from the start. They all offer a transformative approach that embraces all individuals’ diverse needs and preferences. By engaging accessibility specialists, involving diverse stakeholders, and considering the intersectionality of the three, architects can redefine inclusion in architecture and create spaces that are genuinely accessible, diverse, and empowering for everyone.