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. 


Design toolkit for social inclusion

Inclusive Signs Toolkit front cover.
Front cover of the Toolkit.

Social inclusion is a complex topic mainly because it’s not something you can make and touch. It requires a new way of approaching design that avoids bias, stereotypes, and established methods. Emilio Rossi has developed a card-based toolkit to generate creative inclusive design concepts. It’s titled Inclusive Signs and is based on a visual card system. One set has a different picture or symbol, and the second set has text labels. The cards are used to stimulate creative thinking in brainstorming sessions.

A short video on the welcome page of the online version on the toolkit provides a great overview of the basic concepts. 

The first part of the handbook explains the background and how to use the the toolkit. The second part has 180 cards and a worksheet. The toolkit is useful for both design practitioners and educators. It would also be good in co-design processes. The goal is to stimulate deep reflections on social inclusion in all design processes.


Although disability is one of the topics, design for social inclusion goes further. It tackles issues of social wellbeing, rights, human values, and inequalities.  Designers often struggle to create inclusive products and services beyond access codes. Rossi says moving beyond access codes is crucial for enabling solutions.

The key is gaining insights in the design conception stage. “Otherwise designers will continue to use biased concepts in their creative practice. That is, designing what is known, rather than what may work.”

You can download the 120 MB PDF document.  The 60 descriptive cards have current keywords relating to social inclusion. The aim of the 120 visual cards is to stimulate reflection, emotion, and lateral thinking. The images provide both negative and positive representations. 

Designers should find the content of the toolkit interesting even if they don’t use it in practice or teaching. 

The online version of the Toolkit is also available in several languages. Below are three examples of the text cards.

Card reading shared visions and ideas.

Card reading yes, with, together, visible, for all.

This card reads, participation.

Essential elements of co-design

Ayoung man with a black beard and hair is talking to someone across a table with coloured paper and pens. We need elements of co-design.Co-design in an academic context is part of participatory action research, or PAR. It’s used to understand, inform and change the design of policies, programs and services. But what are the essential elements of co-design? As we know, community engagement or consultation is not the same as co-design. Including diverse stakeholder and user perspectives is essential for developing best practice.

Gabrielle Brand and her team have identified five core co-design principles in the field of health education. Briefly they are: inclusive, respectful, participative, iterative and outcomes focused. These principles apply in other fields too. 

Core co-design principles 

Inclusive: Key industry stakeholders and consumers are involved from the initial proposal design. That includes the development and framing of learning focus to final educational outcome and delivery.

Respectful: Health care consumers are considered “experts by experience”. All input is equally valued in design, development and delivery of education.

Participative: The research process is open, responsive and empathetic in co-creating education. It generates new understandings of health and healthcare experiences.

Iterative: A cyclic, collaborative process that takes time. It embraces movement towards a shared education vision. It includes the risk of failure.

Outcomes focused: The focus is on achieving a shared educational outcome co-created during the co-design process.

Brand and her team used conversational interviews transcribed verbatim for analysis. The data were analysed in an organic iterative approach to develop shared understandings. Artefacts were also used in the process for eliciting sensory triggers for participants and for developing vignettes. 

The article details part of a vignette to explain how it was used with learners. It’s based on a mother of an adult son with a psycho-social condition. Members of the research team benefited from knowing they had valuable and legitimate expertise on a research project. 

Title of the article is, A research approach for co-designing education with healthcare consumers. It has a mental health education focus, but the methods are applicable in other fields. 

One of the issues with co-design and PAR is passing ethics approval processes. When an ethics committee labels particular groups as ‘vulnerable’ they apply different approval criteria. However, including the voices of a broad range of people involves the participation of vulnerable groups. 

The end result of this kind of research is to “transform hierarchical health care relationships towards a more humanistic model of care”. The same could be said for architecture and other design field. 


Context: Community and consumer involvement in health professions education (HPE) is of growing interest among researchers and educators, particularly in preparing health care graduates to effectively learn from, and collaborate with, people with lived experience of health issues. However, to date there has been limited direction on methodological approaches to engage health care consumers in the research and co-design of HPE.

Approach: In this paper, we describe the background to our work with health care consumers including the five core principles for successful co-design (inclusive; respectful; participative; iterative; outcomes focused) and how to apply them as a research approach in HPE.

We introduce the use of arts and humanities-based teaching methodologies including engagement, meaning-making and translational education strategies to illustrate how this research approach has been applied to reframe mental health education and practice in Australia. Furthermore, we share some reflective insights on the opportunities and challenges inherent in using a co-design research approach in HPE.

Conclusions: For the consumer voice to be embedded across HPE, there needs to be a collective commitment to curriculum redesign. This paper advances our understandings of the educational research potential of working with health care consumers to co-design rich and authentic learning experiences in HPE.

Co-design research approaches that partner with and legitimise health care consumers as experts by experience may better align education and health professional practice with consumers’ actual needs, an important first step in transforming hierarchical health care relationships towards more humanistic models of care.

Assoc Prof Gabrielle Brand is based at Monash University Peninsula Campus.

Book review: Stories about the neurodiversity movement

Front cover of the book, Autisitic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement.The Commons Social Change website features a new book which is a collection of stories about the neurodiversity movement. The collection gathers the voices of both activists and academics. The introduction explains the approach to commissioning the chapters. 

Book title: Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement: Stories from the Frontline.


The first book to bring together a collection of neurodiverse contributors to talk about events that shaped the movement, and which they themselves were involved with. Focuses on activists’ direct experience effecting change for people who identify as autistic rather than abstract accounts that reflect on autism’s social construction or essence.

Provides a one-stop shop for readers interested in the history and ideas of the neurodiversity movement and how these ideas have shaped production of expert and especially lay knowledge about autism. Gathers a collective of autistic activist/academic voices and engages in current theoretical debates around knowledge production and epistemic authority within (critical) research on autism.

This book is an open-access publication and licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license and indicate if changes were made.


This edited collection offers a historical overview of the autistic community and neurodiversity movement through first-hand accounts. While the awareness and impact of the movement have grown, apparent misunderstandings persist. Therefore, the editor introduces the neurodiversity movement, documenting concepts via the scientific literature, community activists and advocates, and the contributors themselves.

This covers the terms neurodiversity and neurodiversity movement, the breadth of the movement, the rhetorical basis of its advocacy in neurological differences, its overlap with and divergence from the medical model, and its emphasis on self-advocacy. Then the introduction explains the approach to commissioning and editing contributing chapters, the historical background to the subject matter, and how the chapters fit into themes of gaining community, getting heard, and possibly entering the autism establishment.


Introduction, Steven K. Kapp

Gaining Community

Historicizing Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn for Us”: A Cultural and Intellectual History of Neurodiversity’s First Manifesto, Sarah Pripas-Kapit

From Exclusion to Acceptance: Independent Living on the Autistic Spectrum, Martijn Dekker

Autistic People Against Neuroleptic Abuse, Dinah Murray

Autistics.Org and Finding Our Voices as an Activist Movement, Laura A. Tisoncik

Losing, Mel Baggs

Getting Heard

Neurodiversity.Com: A Decade of Advocacy. Kathleen Seidel

Autscape, Karen Leneh Buckle

The Autistic Genocide Clock, Meg Evans

Shifting the System: AASPIRE and the Loom of Science and Activism, Dora M. Raymaker

Out of Searching Comes New Vibrance, Sharon daVanport

Two Winding Parent Paths to Neurodiversity Advocacy, Carol Greenburg, Shannon Des Roches Rosa

Lobbying Autism’s Diagnostic Revision in the DSM-5, Steven K. Kapp, Ari Ne’eman

Torture in the Name of Treatment: The Mission to Stop the Shocks in the Age of Deinstitutionalization, Shain M. Neumeier, Lydia X. Z. Brown

Autonomy, the Critical Journal of Interdisciplinary Autism Studies, Larry Arnold

My Time with Autism Speaks, John Elder Robison

Covering the Politics of Neurodiversity: And Myself, Eric M. Garcia

“A Dream Deferred” No Longer: Backstory of the First Autism and Race Anthology, Morénike Giwa Onaiwu

Entering the Establishment?

Changing Paradigms: The Emergence of the Autism/Neurodiversity Manifesto, Monique Craine

From Protest to Taskforce, Dinah Murray

Critiques of the Neurodiversity Movement, Ginny Russell

Conclusion, Steven K. Kapp

Download Full Book
Autistic Community and the Neurodiversity Movement: Stories from the Frontline

The above text is reproduced from The Commons Social Change website. The book is also available on the SpringerLink website. 

AI for captioning

A speaker stands at a lectern and captioning sceen is behind his right shoulder
Dedicated captioning screen close to the speaker.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can take captioning to another level claims Microsoft. AI for automatic speech recognition removes the need for a human captioner for lectures in universities and elsewhere. The Microsoft AI blog article and video below focuses on deaf students, but more people are taking to captioning on their phones for convenience.

Captioning helps all students by adding another layer of communication and this point is made in the article. The captioning is turned into transcripts and students have a reference to read after the lecture. They can also have the lecture automatically translated into several languages.

This is a detailed article and covers automatic speech recognition, translations, and a growing demand for accessibility. This technology is not expected to take over from Auslan or ASL as they are languages in their own right. However, this is another example of how technology is helping humans by taking over from humans and bringing the advantages to more people.  

Note on the image at the top: The image shows Dr Ger Craddock at the inaugural Australian Universal Design Conference in 2014. A captioner sat in the room to caption real time. Speaker names and place names were given to the captioner beforehand to prevent errors.


Getting a mind-shift with design students

four photos of students experiences barriers in the built environment.
Figure 2 from the study

Societal stereotypes and assumptions about people with different levels of capability are difficult to shift. It takes more than a disability awareness exercise which is easily forgotten when students graduate. Students need to be immersed in the issues. So how can you get a mind-shift with design students?

A paper from Europe presents a case study of a practical teaching method where students identified real barriers to access by observing people with disability encountering barriers. From this, the students also created design solutions. The learning took place over three weeks which allowed students to be fully immersed in the issues.

The learning activities were conducted as an outdoor simulation in collaboration with a higher-education institution, a clinical centre, and people with disability.

This was much more than a disability awareness exercise that is easily forgotten when students enter the real world of architecture and design. The process was about getting a mind-shift to understand and to create with an inclusive approach. 

The title of the paper is, Experiential learning approach to barrier-free design in architectural education. It proposes a method involving different stakeholders, simulation, mapping and creative design. It has some nice images to illustrate points and student designs. The paper comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina which has recently commenced their accessibility journey.  

Architecture students attitudes

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilThe attitudes of architecture students to universal design is the focus of a Deakin University study. It builds on previous work (Design 4 Diversity) in 2010 on inter-professional learning for architecture and occupational therapy students. The findings of this latest study show that while architecture students viewed access to public environments favourably, there was a mixed response in relation to private homes.

Reasons not to include universal design features in homes included cost, client desires and restrictions on creativity. For example, “Over-designing for the sake of making the residence accessible in the future, just in case, is an unnecessary cost”; and “Private homes should be designed to the individual”; and “Legislation restricts design, resulting in negative impacts the ‘requirements’ did not intend”. These reasons are not referenced in evidence and indicate an attitudinal bias.

The study used a quantitative approach and applied statistical techniques to the data. The first part of the document covers the history of universal design, and there is an extended section on methods and statistics. For followers of UD, the Discussion section is of most interest. 

The authors of Students’ Attitudes to Universal Design in Architecture Education, are Helen Larkin, Kelsey Dell, and Danielle Hitch. Journal of Social Inclusion, 2016.

Similar papers

See also Hitch, Dell and Larkin from Deakin University, who also review some of the related literature. The title of the article is, Does Universal Design Education Impact on the Attitudes of Architecture Students Towards People with Disability? Published in the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All.

Researchers from the University at Buffalo presented their research on the incorporation or otherwise of universal design in architectural education at the 3rd International Conference on Design Education Researchers. “Universal Design in Architectural Education: A U.S. Study” was published in The Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference for Design Education Research Vol 2, which has many other articles on the topic of design education.


Compliance, heritage and accessibility: A case study

A busy street in Sri Lanka with a tuk tuk and pedestrians. Compliance, heritage and accessibility. War damages buildings and transport systems. It causes them to fall into disrepair and become inaccessible. Sri Lanka is one such example. But what to do? Sri Lanka is committed to disability access in their re-building process. However, they have a complex web of building compliance, heritage and accessibility to navigate. A universal design training program for built environment practitioners is a good start. 

Penny Galbraith summarises the training process and the historical context in an article. She explains how the technical training was devised and delivered. Workshop scenarios were key to the success of the project. 

More than 80 delegates attended the three day training. They comprised technical staff responsible for compliance with regulations, architects, engineers, town planners, transport operators and civil society organisations. The aim was for participants to understand the concept of universal design as a means of problem-solving the issues. This is because a strict compliance approach was not going to ensure accessibility. Consequently, the emphasis of the training was on design not regulation. 

War also increases the level of disability in the population. Many injured people are excluded from work and education. Superstition about disability as a form of punishment for wrongdoing in a previous life exacerbates the discrimination and stigma. While an accessible built environment can’t change attitudes, it can minimise barriers to work, a social life, and education. 

The intent of Sri Lanka’s accessibility regulations is commendable. However, in practical terms, the regulations and regulatory process make this difficult to achieve and compliance levels are low. Universal design thinking encourages creative problem-solving which involves users in the design process. 

Playing catch-up with investment also allows an opportunity to avoid mistakes and to learn from the journey travelled by other countries towards removing barriers in the built environment. 

The title of the article is, A universal design approach to addressing the inaccessibility and disrepair of the built environment in Sri Lanka. It is downloadable from the Design for All India Newsletter, October 2021 (article 3). Note that this publication uses a large bold font which is not easy on the eye. 


The combination of accessibility regulations, a rich architectural and cultural history, and recent civil war poses considerable challenges for remedying a damaged and run-down built environment. Sri Lanka has a commitment to removing barriers in the built environment for people with disability and as such has a set of robust regulations that are prescriptive and retrospective. However, drafting and translation errors have made it difficult to achieve these objectives. Consequently, there is a poor level of understanding and compliance with regulations leading to a seemingly intractable combination of difficulties.

A project funded through the aid program of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs sought to overcome these difficulties through a training program. It was decided that a robust understanding of universal design principles would provide participants with different ways of thinking about the problems and solutions. Lessons from Australia were shared including whole-of-journey transport planning. Community and industry engagement was a central theme to taking more strategic and universal design approach to solving complex problems.

Penny Galbraith is a director of CUDA.


Universal design as critical design

Four pictures of workshop outcomes explained in the article. Universal design as critical designWhat happens if architecture, interior design, engineering and product design students spend a week together to investigate the design of the built environment by making it impossible to use? By turning design upside down and deliberately creating designs that were impossible or difficult to use, students learned about universal design. This method is known as ‘critical design’.

A paper by Ann Britt Torkildsby describes a week of critical design workshops that provoked reflection, awareness, empathy and action among the next generation of designers involved in the built environment. The paper provides details of the workshops and the processes, and the outcomes for the students and their designs. The picture above shows four of the designs discussed in the article.

The students felt the workshop was a great learning experience. Although the workshop method needs some perfecting, it shows that students approach universal design in a more thoughtful way. 

Editor’s note: I liked the narrow doorway with a sticky floor that made entry difficult. The designs went on exhibition so that others could experience first hand the difficulties and frustration people with different disabilities might have with a design. Critical design is a real challenge to design problem solving. 

The title of the paper isEmpathy Enabled by Critical Design – A New Tool in the Universal Design Toolbox. The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication. 

Finland Universal Design Conference: Selected papers

Selected papers Finland Universal Design Conference front cover.The 5th International Universal Design Conference was held in Finland earlier this year. This is a relatively academic affair and papers are published in an academic book. That’s great for other academics but not so good for practitioners who want the bottom line. So it’s good to see a more consumable version of 25 selected papers.

The original papers from the conference were published by IOS Press Ebooks, titled, Universal Design 2021: From Special to Mainstream Solutions. It runs to 400 pages and is open access. Each paper is downloadable separately. However, it is a lot of scrolling to find titles of interest.

The Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Universal Design, is in one document with shorter versions of the original papers. The content covers the breadth of physical and digital environments, health and education. It also shows how far universal design thinking has come in the last ten years or so. 

The papers are grouped into the following themes:

      • Design guidance
      • Accessible cities
      • Urban design
      • Accessibility and universal design
      • Access to culture and mobility
      • Environments for older people
      • Sensory environment
      • Wellbeing and health
      • Higher education
      • Digital tools
      • Assistive devices

The conference attracted delegates and speakers from 20 countries. This is a good document for introducing new people to the breadth of universal design.

The call for papers closes 31 October for the next conference in Brescia, Italy in September 2022.

Diversity and Inclusion in the Design Studio

aerial view of three people at a desk looking at a set of construction drawings. Diversity and Inclusion Design Studio.We live in a complex and fast-changing world – the pandemic has told us that. Designers have to keep up and that means design educators also need to keep up. But it’s not just content that matters, it’s the way it’s taught in the design studio. So, universal design meets universal design for learning. Understanding indigenous ways of knowing is just one aspect of diversity and inclusion for teachers and students. A book chapter explains.

Experiential learning is a popular way for students to practice skills and apply knowledge. In their book chapter, Sandra Abegglen and Fabian Neuhouse discuss their interdisciplinary design studio course. Bringing together planning and architecture students is not new. However, bringing them together with a traditional Knowledge Keeper is different. This makes it cross-cultural as well. 

The authors describe the setting for the students, the methods and the task scenario. The intention of the course was to engage with Indigenous ways of knowing and living. In this way students could develop proposals that pay respect to traditional stewards of the land. Considerations for accessibility and inclusion were also part of the task. 

Lessons Learned

At the end of the chapter, the authors offer their reflections. 

“As instructors and researchers, we aim to enrich the quality and breadth of learning for our students. We also strive to create learning experiences that meet the demands for future professional practice. … Students learned a lot about Indigenous culture and cross-cultural approaches to design through the inputs of Hal Eagletail, Tsuut’ina Elders and Indigenous design professionals. They learned to work with others, and to appreciate different views and approaches. At the same time, through their projects, they explored what it means to develop ‘inclusive’ design proposals.”

“The outcomes demonstrate that a cross cultural approach in both course instruction and course content supports an inclusive practice. It is a setting that all learners can access and participate in meaningfully, modeling the idea of UDL and projecting it through studio practice onto the work produced by students.”

In our studios, Universal Design was implied and fostered through UDL practice, challenging the traditional one-size-fits-all model. However, for this approach to be successful, instructors need to actively support and foster collaboration and, especially online, allow enough time for a meaningful exchange.”

The title of the book chapter is, Diversity and Inclusion in the Design Studio (chapter 4). It’s open access.

The title of the book is, Incorporating Universal Design for Learning in Disciplinary Concepts in Higher Education Guide. You are likely to find other chapters of interest. 


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