Author: Sara Kassam – Head of Sustainability Development at CIBSE

At Build2Perform Live last November, CIBSE’s Inclusivity Panel hosted a conversation exploring how we can enable the inclusive design and operation of the built environment, for our own workforce as well as society in general. Sensitively chaired by Annie Marston, Associate Director at Hurley Palmer Flatt, insight came from panellists:

  • James Warne, Director – WMEboom
  • Liam Proudlock, NRAC Inclusive Design Consultant, CAE & Access Association Member – Proudlock Associates 
  • Pip Jackson, Access and Inclusion Manager, UCL 

It’s difficult to talk about some of these issues but we wanted to start the conversation and create a space to allow people to be open and honest.  The first understanding is that terminology varies, whilst some people use the term ‘disability’ others prefer ‘differently-abled’. Non-visual disabilities are also important to consider, especially in the engineering workforce.

People’s reaction to those with different abilities was an interesting place to start the discussion, speakers felt that how others saw them and then projected their own view of their disability has a significant effect. At best, assumptions tend to be made about what someone can and can’t do and at worst, people go into a panic!

What’s the best way to bring up a disability/impairment? 

This depends on the situation, people have different boundaries and levels of understanding. Resources often can help such as this RNIB How I See video. Speakers noted that people tend to feel an entitlement to know more about your disability. This can be fine if questions are invited but otherwise can be quite uncomfortable, particularly in a public arena. 

How do we integrate individual requirements relating to disability and inclusion into the built environment?

Firstly we need to take away the medical definition of disability. Disability lies in the environment rather than the person and that’s what inclusive design is about. Too often choices are made in design and construction that take away people’s dignity.

Currently, Building Regulations are nowhere near strong enough to make the built environment truly inclusive but they tend to be viewed as the brief rather than minimum standards. The accommodation of neurodiverse needs is not in regulation and accessibility for children is commonly forgotten. It is important to anticipate and plan ahead to make our buildings more flexible, for example, hoists cannot be retrofitted if there are services in the ceiling. Focusing on co-production rather than mere consultation is key when aiming for inclusive design.  As engineers and other professionals in the built environment, we need to stand up for what will be better for society and push clients to truly consider inclusivity. Inclusive design is often just better design that benefits everyone!  

What can we do as an industry? 

  1. Co-Production – this is essential, we shouldn’t expect people to do provide insight and experience for free on top of their existing work. We should finance and support differently-abled people to actively participate in design. 
  2. Inclusive employment – employing a more diverse workforce can help to improve the lack of empathy at the design stage (from client/designers/contractors). Train people not only in what the obligations are but on what more could you do?  
  3. Don’t judge people on their diagnosis – 1 in 7 people have a neurodiverse wired brain, we should judge people on how they use their brains. Learning is never over and the better workers in our field are those who learn more, it’s as simple as that.  

 Further Information

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