Narrative Box 2


First, let’s revisit the terms. Most familiar is accessibility: ensuring access to and throughout buildings for people of all abilities has been the law for more than 30 years.

Universal design takes that idea and expands on it, relying on seven key principles to create a building (or a can opener or software for example) that can be “accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability,” ideally in ways that don’t differentiate or relegate some people to a lesser status. It reaches beyond code and compliance to achieve a more intuitive and gracious experience for everyone. A common example is a building that is accessed via a gentle slope, as opposed to, say, a grand front stair with a ramp or elevator around back.

Inclusive design moves beyond the realm of physical characteristics that affect a person’s experience of their environment to acknowledge the full range of human diversity, from gender and culture to age and ability. Inclusive design centers on process, wherein a diverse set of voices inform design, the better to ensure a better response, i.e., one that meets multiple needs for multiple and distinct users. Inclusive design eschews assumptions about how people use a space in favor of asking them. (Imagine!)

“But!” Some may think, “Architects have always done that – they listen to owners, board members, facility managers and so on; they assimilate input from engineers, IT experts, builders, etc.” And we do. What’s different now is as simple as it is profound: we’re trying to fold in voices that have been traditionally overlooked.

Think of it as “designing with” rather than “designing for.” The inclusive design leader Susan Goltsman may have said it best:

“Inclusive design doesn’t mean you’re designing one thing for all people. You’re designing a diversity of ways to participate so that everyone has a sense of belonging.”