Building design: knowledge and attitude are key

Three men in hard hats stand on a building site looking at architectural design plans.As universal design followers know, building and construction standards do not ensure accessibility, let alone inclusion. Well-informed architectural design practitioners understand the benefits. So what is holding back the others? Lack of knowledge or attitude – or both? 

Matteo Zallio’s research in the UK throws some light on this issue. He found that poorly informed stakeholders think that:

      • ‘Inclusive design’ means architectural barriers or physical accessibility.
      • Very few know about cognitive and sensory inclusion and accessibility.
      • ‘Inclusion’ means referring mostly to the Disability Discrimination Act.
      • ‘Inclusive design’ is an extra cost.
      • ‘Inclusive design’ is just a regulatory obligation. 

The factors influencing these views were: cultural background, personal knowledge, geographical location and context, lack of understanding of terminology, and lack of focus and details in regulations. 

Well-informed stakeholders think that “inclusive design”

      • can be beneficial for clients and occupants;
      • guarantees and elevated baseline of access; and
      • is a gold standard for their business and an example for others as well. 

Factors influencing this group were: being exposed to contextual factors in their life, perception of the cost-benefit value, foreseeing a positive impact for the community, and awareness of contemporary social facts and events.

Inclusive Design Canvas

With feedback from stakeholders, Zallio mapped out these factors on an “inclusive design canvas”. It’s basically a matrix of six elements that can help designers think through the issues and solutions. The user journey, capabilities and needs are one dimension, and the other dimension consists of physical, sensory and cognitive aspects. The matrix is shown below and can be downloaded separately.

The three elements of the Inclusive Design Canvas for architectural design.

The elements of the matrix are discussed in detail in Zallio’s article, Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice.

Zallio found there were far fewer well-informed stakeholders than poorly-informed stakeholders. The issue was more pronounced outside major cities. Potentially, in the UK, this can be due to heritage factors, but it is also cultural make-up of these regions.  Having to consider more groups within the broader context of equity has diluted the needs of people with disability. 

Zallio is currently working on a post-occupancy evaluation tool for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA). The aim is to learn from current practice to improve design practice in the future. 


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