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Open podcast – Inclusive design in the built environment

Christine Hemphill

June 28, 2019

Christine Hemphill

June 28, 2019

An beautifully designed accessible washroom

In our latest podcast, hosted as usual by Open’s Community Lead, Martyn Sibley, we investigate inclusive design in the built environment. From design crimes to aspirational products, we look at what makes physical space more enjoyable and usable for a wide range of people including those with specific access needs.

We have two great guests in this episode, the first in a 2-part series on the built environment.

The first is Ed Warner, the founder and force behind Motionspot, a built environment, beautifully inclusive design agency. Ed is also the newly appointed Government Sector Champion for Design of Accessible Spaces and Products.

Our second guest is Steven Mifsud who is the founder and Managing Director of Direct Access, the universal design consultants for Dubai Expo 2020. Steven shares his insights from having worked with a range of clients in the physical environment, most recently in Dubai helping deliver on Sheik Mohammed’s aspiration to turn Dubai into the most accessible city in the world by 2020.

Here is the video format

Or here is the podcast if you prefer sound only


Highlights from the episode

In case you don’t have the 28 minutes needed to enjoy this episode just now, here are my selected highlights to take away and consider how they may impact your work, home, design considerations or approach to inclusion in the built environment.

From Ed

Ed Warner from Motionspot shares his perspective that the built environment can be inclusive of a wide range of users’ needs while still being beautiful and aligned to the desired styling and design approach of the space. There are many examples on the Motionspot website to illustrate this point. Technology such as “smart spaces” providing digital connection and control of physical objects such as lights, doors and blinds or new alternatives to manage inter-floor movements in a step-free way, are making the combination of style and accessible function easier, using innovation.

Current physical space designs range from “inclusive design crimes” such as the grey-ish or plain white plastic products that would look at home in a 1950s hospital, through to aspirational products that anyone, with or without specific access needs would love to own, use and be associated with. The difference is in considering form and function. Product design is far more than just making something accessible. It is about creating products and environments that are delightful. Bathrooms are one of the most important spaces as independence is paramount there. Kitchens and suitable ways to move around fluidly between spaces, such as between floors, are also really important.

The best way to create such desirable and effective products and environments is co-designing with disabled people. This will generate a wide range of concepts that are functional as well as enjoyable to own and use. Co-design ensures that needs are understood and preferences are met.

The best way to create highly desirable products and environments is co-designing solutions with disabled people. 

Beautifully accessible design enables independence and provides pleasure. Ed feels that businesses in the UK are maturing from a perspective of “have to”, to “want to” regarding accessibility. They are beginning to see the commercial benefits of design that works more broadly for more people. Motionspot is keen to show businesses how simple it is to design inclusively from the start, allowing more people to enjoy the products or spaces.

From Steven

Steven Mifsud from Direct Access has seen many physical environments through his work conducting access audits. He cites lack of awareness and knowledge as some of the biggest problems. Once people are aware, there are often many relatively low-cost things they can do to make their space more accessible. Some examples are,

  • cleaning up clutter blocking specific use spaces such as accessible washrooms or lowered counters, or
  • ensuring customers can see service staff easily for those who need to lip read.

Often a common-sense approach to achieving workable and inclusive environments can be taken that is not too expensive, but makes the space much better for people with disabilities or other access needs. One of the business challenges in meeting the Equalities Act is showing that the business understands the issues and are taking a proactive stance to rectify these to a reasonable degree. Awareness, a plan and action are needed to fulfil these obligations.

Rapid change comes when there is desire for progression and a passion displayed from the leadership. In Dubai, these are both evident with the drive towards both inclusive public spaces and employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the region. Steven talks about how despite accessibility being universal as a need, appropriate solutions require cultural context to be taken into account. As an example, in Islamic countries the bathrooms must be designed taking into account the location of Mecca. Additionally in Dubai they have don’t use the terminology “disabled people” instead preferring “people of determination”.

Accessibility is universal as a need, but solutions are more regional as they require cultural context. 

Lastly, Steven would like to close the knowledge gap from an early age by putting disability on the national curriculum. This along with more disabled children in mainstream schools could help normalize differences and make more people aware of how to effectively communicate and design products and services that are good for all.

Would you like to know more?

If you are interested in learning more about accessibility and inclusive design in physical spaces and products, please contact us.

Open Inclusion are specialists in user insight, including experience assessments and co-design. We can assess your physical customer experience from a very broad range of perspectives including those with diverse sensory, physical and cognitively abilities and approaches. We also design and facilitate co-design workshops to generate and inform new concepts. For this we draw on our fabulous panel of over 400 people with a wide range of access needs, ages, interests, approaches, and styles.

If you have lived experience of disability or are over 65 years old and are interested in joining our panel you can sign up here. This wonderful group do paid, well-designed and highly regarded research where they share their perspective on places, service, experiences or ideas. Would you like to constructively share your perspectives also? If so, we look forward to hearing from you.

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