REPORT FROM VICE-PRESIDENT, ANT BURD
As I sit here and write this the ‘Beast from the East’ has now departed our shores and as a country we are slowly getting back to ‘normality’ – however one defines ‘normality’!
Since my last VP page, there’s been lots going on. Activity around Grenfell and Brexit continues to feature heavily in my diary; however, in February I had the privilege of attending the CABE Eastern Region event. It was an excellent event held in a fantastic location at Girton College, Cambridge. Over the course of the day we had the opportunity to listen to some great speakers including our very own President, a Past President in Michael Wadood, and a most insightful presentation on the CDM Regulations from the Reverend Kevin Fear of the CITB. A huge thank you to Regional Chairman, James Sizer, and all of the collective team that helped ensure its success.
I’ve also just learned our new Vice-President will be Jayne Hall, and on the Board we will be joined by Kevin Blunden and Michael Wadood. Many congratulations to the three of them and I really look forward to working with them.
One of the most important standards our all-important technical committee experts work so hard to help BSI develop concerns accessibility. An inclusive environment is one that works for as wide a range of people as possible – including, but not limited to, disabled people, the elderly, and children. In early 2015, we began revising BS 8300:2009 Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people. A primary goal was to move away from the use of language such as ‘for use by disabled people’ in favour of the broader vernacular ‘accessible and inclusive’.
It is inherently more desirable for the design of a space to account for a diverse range of users, rather than separate facilities for those with accessibility issues. As such, the newly revised BS 8300:2018 Design of an accessible and inclusive built environment, now in two parts, provides the information built environment professionals need in order to create an inclusive environment.
It has always been recognised that not all disabilities are physical, and that a person requiring an accessible entrance to a building might not necessarily be physically disabled. Previous editions of the standard provided guidance on design for auditory and sight impairments. The new edition addresses wider sensory impairments collectively described as neurodiverse conditions, which include (but are not restricted to) dementia, autism and learning difficulties. But there’s still considerably more to do.
The Helen Hamlyn Design Centre undertook a qualitative research study which explored how neurodivergent people experience the built environment, current best design practices, and the key challenges and opportunities. The study developed eleven design themes (summarised below) intended to form the basis for future guidance:
1. A need for clarity – ensuring information is clear and concise. Discussions focused around technology taking the place of human control more and more, and making things less intuitive.
2. It is essential to provide environments in which sensory aspects are modulated to suit a person’s preferences, and to eliminate their dislikes. In shared environments where it is difficult to personalise spaces, creating low arousal flexible areas where sensory stimuli can be added or taken away accordingly was suggested.
3. The correct layout. Too much space can lead to poor acoustics, whereas confined spaces can become imposing for people to circulate.
4. Flooring can create huge challenges for neurodivergent people. Sudden changes in colour, contrast and material can be barriers, as people may perceive these as an area of danger; conversely, correct use of colour and contrast may be useful in easing cognitive challenges.
5. Discussions around decoration, murals and painted scenes arose several times. People thought decoration might be aesthetically pleasing but confusing for someone who couldn’t distinguish what it was. Designing spaces with minimal decoration, so things can be altered according to the people using the space was considered good practice.
6. Signage needs to be much more consistent. There needs to be signs to find your way both in and out of buildings, as many autistic people struggle with ‘reverse sequencing’. Ensuring signage doesn’t involve too much written text and obscure imagery was seen as important in preventing difficulties with interpretation.
7. The research highlighted the need for familiarity in environments, where a person is able to learn layouts, so that they quickly adapt on the next visit. Predictability of a space can encourage orientation, but if items are frequently moved and changed it can cause distress.
8. Acoustics can profoundly affect a person’s level of comfort and concentration. Research indicated the need to control and minimise background noise, echo and reverberation.
9. In terms of safety, an understanding of what makes a person feel unsafe is important. It affects their sense of comfort, and discussions highlighted the need for an environment that supports a person to choose where they manage their own stress levels. This might be a quiet and neutral space to help a person to recalibrate, and a layout that has good sight lines and where a person can be unobtrusively supervised.
10. The transitions and thresholds between different spaces, and the ability for a person to preview what is going on before entering an area is an important consideration. This provides an understanding of what is about to happen, and can ease anxiety and uncertainty.
11. Lighting was regarded as the most important consideration for people who are neurodivergent. It has the ability to help people relax, focus, navigate and orientate throughout the day. The conclusion was that it needs to be controllable and adaptable to the person’s needs. Challenging aspects of lighting include flickering, too much glare, and lack of natural sunlight.
Millions of people in the UK are neurodivergent, and neglecting planning and designing in response to their needs isn’t going to be acceptable anymore. A person who may be starting their dementia journey is still capable of living independently and enjoying a high quality of life, so long as their needs are considered. Someone on the autism spectrum who has sensory processing and filtering difficulties can cope with environments where designs aren’t over-stimulating. Ultimately every planner and designer should be in a position to consider the needs of neurodivergent people and make rational decisions, by knowing the problems before suggesting solutions, and never excluding through oversight. This is why we need new guidance and standards in this space and why we are exploring with our stakeholders, including Government, as to how we can make this happen.
The diverse range of conditions and personal experiences of neurodivergent people means a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be implemented, though there are significant common factors which could be integrated into built environment design that will bridge barriers faced by people on a daily basis. The eleven design themes that emerged from this research are an important starting point in developing new guidelines.
That’s enough for now; hopefully Spring is just around the corner.
Ant Burd BSc(Hons) C.Build E VPCABE FCABE MIFireE FRICS