Architecture of inclusion

Assigning people with disability to group homes last century has meant a gap in learning for mainstream building designs. Building standards for disability access have both filled this gap and held back learning at the same time. Then there is the problem of few people in the architectural teaching community with lived experience of disability. So how can we get an architecture of inclusion embedded in educational institutions?

The architectural teaching profession updated their National Standard of Competencies to include Indigenous knowledge. However, designing with disability is yet to be fully included in their competency standards.

Who can design and evaluate professional development opportunities for architects without lived experience, but who must now demonstrate competency? Who teaches the next generation of architects through the university system? In short, who can speak for disability?

A long room with a long table with students sitting both sides. They are working on a design project.

Kirsten Day and Andrew Martel discuss the issues of developing competencies in their 2022 conference paper (p 129). They briefly cover the history of disability, regulation and architecture before moving on to current ideas of co-design. The new Livable Housing Design Standard in the National Construction Code is mentioned as a step in the right direction. This Standard provides basic access features in all new and extensively modified homes from October 2023.

The evolving nature of creating an inclusive society is yet to be reflected in mainstream architectural learning. Finding ways to attract a diversity of architectural students representative of the population remains elusive too. This is a situation where Universal Design in Learning has a role.

National Standards of Competencies

The authors list the competencies, but find they are not supported by legislation or university teaching structures. Nor are they supported by instructors with knowledge of disability or Indigenous knowledge. With very few people to draw on as experts with lived experience, who can set examples?

There is a fundamental issue with the education of architectural students and so the question becomes, is the training inclusive? Is the studio method suitable for a diverse body of students? Universal design principles should be applied to the physical layout of space and the type of technology used. And presentation techniques favour sight over all other senses.

The title of the conference paper is, An architecture of inclusion: Can the profession adapt to the diversity of design demanded by people with a disability? (Page 129 of the conference proceedings.)

From the abstract

From the 1840s, Australia encouraged the committing of people with disabilities to institutions and asylums. By the 1970s the preference was to house people in group homes. Consequently, knowledge of designing for people with disabilities within the architectural profession was low and teaching the design skills required within universities negligible.

The UN Convention on the Rights for People with Disability, and the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, have highlighted the need for education and knowledge among architects and architectural students.

The tendency has been to conform to existing regulations, rather than being a driver of innovation. New references in the National Standard of Competency for Architects around designing for disability require demonstrating these competencies by graduates.

This paper explores the difficulties the profession and teaching institutions may encounter around identifying people with lived experience working in architecture, or as design teachers. Issues around who is allowed to speak for—and engaging with people with an intellectual disability or neurodiversity pose serious challenges to rectifying decades of neglect.

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