Why do we need inclusive design?

We find ourselves in an increasingly unpredictable global context, facing major issues such as climate change, migration, rural-urban shrinkage, social isolation and loneliness, growing economic disparities, increasing life expectancy and an ageing population.

As professionals, we have to respond to the new challenges of an increasingly diverse society by relying – still – on existing paradigms and standards. However, in the professional practice we often come to the conclusion that it is not enough to respond only to the needs of the majority, of the standard human, the one described in the norms.

Knowledge of standards and norms is mandatory for the design profession, but limiting oneself to ”recipes” when it comes to understanding the needs of the community, generates exclusion for various groups, often unintentionally.

There are many biases about human diversity and the needs of the people who use our projects. The lack of theoretical and practical resources amplifies the resistance we show as a profession to make accessibility and inclusion a regular part of the design process.

The lack of interest in human diversity in relation to architecture has made us irrelevant in the decision making process regarding accessibility of the built environment and future plans for improvement: architects are not being considered as relevant actors in accessibility strategies. What remains to be done?

In order to fulfil their role, architects/urban planners/landscape architects first need to understand the need for an inclusive approach to design, understand the benefits such an approach can bring to the community, how diverse and changing the human body is, and be aware of the impact of the built environment on society.

Although there are other countries with decades of experience in accessibility in the built environment, such as the US, UK and Japan, working models that could integrate accessibility into architectural education and therefore in design process have not yet been taken into consideration in Romania. The measures taken so far, which are clearly ineffective, aim for quick and unrealistic results. We should first build a solid theoretical base and train professionals before expecting to see inclusive cities. If not, our profession will become less and less part of a conversation in the global attention, and the results will remain at the same level: we aim in every strategy to make neighbourhoods or whole cities accessible in a few years, but we don’t have people professionally trained to develop the design requirements, the specifications, to design the solutions and then to know what to check.

It is important to design inclusively, thus solving the problems of the built environment. But in order to succeed in having an inclusive approach, we first need to change mindsets about human diversity in all its forms (age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, abilities, culture, education, profession, etc.). And for that, we need to know where we start from and how we should approach the issue by directly involving professionals, the community and civil society.

The real success in building an equitable society will come when the word INCLUSIVE is part of the definition of the word DESIGN and no longer needs a separate category for it.

Excerpts from “Inclusive Design: Empathy Exercises in the Design Process”, PhD. Arhc. Iris Popescu, AMAIS, 2023

Imagine alb-negru cu un bărbat așezat pe niște scări. Prin fațalui trec, în viteză, bicicliști în ambele direcții

© foto Iris Popescu 2022