Negotiating place: the challenge of inclusive design

In my more miserable moments I think we’ll never get it right, and people just ignore it, and building control officers don’t implement it, and we still see buildings where somebody says it’s accessible, and it’s not accessible at all. We’re still designing public spaces with cobbles, brand new public spaces with cobbles and seats that have got no arms or backrests, and they don’t understand that an older person can’t get up off a concrete stone bench. Why do they keep designing stuff like that?” (access consultant x)

As the geographer Doreen Massey writes, “The challenge of the negotiation of place is shockingly unequal.” (2005, 169). Despite – and sometimes even because of – the introduction of now taken-for-granted design features intended to make access to urban environments more equitable, our town and city spaces continue to frustrate, fail and ultimately omit many of us, from parents and children to people who are elderly, infirm and impaired.

Our research investigates why “they keep designing stuff like that”. Focusing on inclusive design – a niche approach that strives towards more accessible, flexible and democratic designs – we examine the underlying values, practices, and sticking points entangled in the challenge of designing and making more equitable products and places. To date, we have interviewed a range of professionals in the UK, including company directors, access consultants, architects, engineers, and educationalists. These conversations provide insight into the methods and tools used by these professionals, highlight the difficulties and limitations that they face, and offer a glimpse at the possibility that progress is being made.

Continue reading the full article, published in Discover Society Issue 12, here.