Inclusive Design and Well-being

This webinar took place on Monday 15 March, 16:00 – 17:00

Neurodiverse Conditions

1 in 7 people in the UK have a neurodiverse condition. Examples include autism, dyslexia and dementia. However, even when considered neurotypical, humans remain unique. One size does not fit all. We all function, learn, perceive and communicate differently. We all need environments which offer choice, flexibility, support and autonomy.

This presentation explored the importance of using a holistic approach when designing, managing and occupying the built environment.

Principles of inclusive design: 1. places people at the heart of the design process. 2. Acknowledges human diversity and difference. 3. offers dignity, autonomy, choice and spontaneity. 4. Provides for flexibility in use. 5. Provides buildings and environments convenient and enjoyable for everyone to use.

Principles of inclusive design



Nowadays increased guidance exists offering suggestions as to how inclusive environments can be designed to meet a spectrum of needs. However, there is limited guidance for mainstream schools, where the majority of pupils will be considered ‘neurotypical’. Key considerations were explored for addressing this limited guidance: sensory overload; lighting; familiarly; and opportunity to preview. Most guidance is currently directed at autism or dementia groups, however other conditions align with much of this guidance. Take migraine sufferers for instance. Similar to someone experiencing autism, migraine sufferers may be adversely impacted by certain patterns and lighting. Following this, overstimulation every day can negatively impact mental health and well-being, highlighting the importance of careful consideration when designing the built environment. Biophilic design can help to reduce distress associated with sensory overload, where natural colours and materials can be integrated into the design such as pastel colours and wood.

Publications and Guidance

In 2016, the British Standards Institution (BSI) appointed the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design to conduct research offering design guidance tailored to neurodiverse conditions. Entitled ‘Design for the Mind’, the research involved interviewing neurodivergent people about their experiences of the built environment to gain understanding about sensory differences. Findings indicated layout, acoustics, lighting, safety and decoration as some of the problem areas. Building on this research, BSI recently developed a publicly available specification, titled ‘Design for the Mind – Neurodiversity and the Built Environment’. With sponsors including BuroHappold, the BBC, Transport for London and Forbo Flooring Systems; the guide is targeted at a diverse audience including architects, planners and building managers.

Learnings from Covid-19

Some of Covid-19’s safety measures have benefitted those experiencing neurodiverse or physical conditions. Technology has contributed to this significantly. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was suggested to open doors with our elbows. However, this excluded individuals with mobility difficulties for example. Automatic doors have greatly assisted in addressing accessibility. In the context of education, virtual learning has meant that subtitles can be implemented as well as providing the option re-watch lessons with the ability to control speed. However, a downside to this is lack of social face-to-face interaction. Some children, for instance with autism, benefit from exposure to social situations as this is a skill needing continually refined. Mask wearing is another issue: it can hinder communication and processing of emotions. Those experiencing difficulty with this can no longer lip read with voices sounding muffled.

A holistic approach may lead to the development of more appropriate learning environments, particularly in mainstream settings, enhancing not only learning, potential and well-being but also, importantly, inclusivity.

Holly Passmore - Thought Leadership Consultant Step Connect2

Written by Holly Passmore, Thought Leadership Consultant, Step Connect2

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