This Roundtable took place on 18 March 2021
This roundtable discussed inclusive design and how it can enhance opportunities for community engagement, particularly for those with special education needs (SEN).
Design, Review, Refine
The design process can often be difficult, particularly in education settings housing a spectrum of needs. From the outset, involving the right people at the right time can significantly influence this process. Perhaps as architects we may play a role in building our client’s confidence encouraging them to offer suggestions and challenge concepts. Sharing ideas and communicating feedback from previous projects and the opportunities that the environment afforded its users could help, as well as offering visuals so the client begins to get a feel for the potential of the space. This may spark innovation and curiosity. At the end of a project, post occupancy evaluation is a critical step which offers insight about what can be improved next time. Possibly implementing a similar step at the beginning of a project could help to address sensitive needs. An example of this could be furniture, such as a table. To you and I, this may not sound problematic. To someone else, this could significantly impact their learning and well-being. Although a shiny surface might be preferred by one group, the glare elicited from this could be irritable to another. Therefore, difficulty exists due to the spectrum of needs. If there was awareness and understanding of how materials impact users, then better decisions about furniture, fixtures and equipment could ultimately be made. Thus, using a ‘materials awareness’ document prior to delivering the design brief could not only be informative, but influential and cost effective. Of course, this would be an exhaustive list if you were to cover an entire spectrum of needs, however this could be efficiently summarised.
Schools are commonly the heart of their community and often house fantastic facilities ranging from libraries to gymnasiums to sensory rooms. Evaluating how and when these spaces are used could enhance community engagement and offer respite. Schools are closed during holiday periods; a time in which many families need support. Opening these amenities could enhance sense of community, well-being and inclusion. Further, campus schools which consolidate multiple facilities onto one site may also assist with promoting community engagement. This essentially creates an ‘education village’ where pupils are exposed to a variety of spaces and people, from pupils attending the school to members of the local community, as they journey through the building. While school hubs offer benefits and integration with the community, addressing the transition period between learning and employment for older students with SEN can remain a challenge. In the context of work experience, rather than offering this in an academic setting, why not build relationships with employers in the local area to offer first-hand experience? This may enhance confidence, ease the transition from learning to working and offer exposure to authentic employment demonstrating the life skills that this could entail. In doing so, stronger partnerships could be developed between a variety of groups: local authorities, academic institutions, employers, the community, parents and, importantly, young people. Of course, this is easier to achieve for older pupils than it is for primary or early secondary school age individuals. However, facilitating relationships and opportunities like this, in or outside of an academic setting, could become a significant element which could be included in an initial design brief. Overall, exposure to neurodiversity and SEN early in education can assist in reducing the stigma that comes with ‘being different’.
Taking time to engage with and gather input from a cross section of stakeholders could play a significant role in positively influencing a design brief. In doing so, this could help to extract information and awareness around the potential spectrum of needs, in turn better tailoring environments to enhance inclusion, learning and well-being.
Written by Holly Passmore, Thought Leadership Consultant, Step Connect2
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