Universal Design, Inclusive Design, Design for All. We hear these terms almost every day, but where do they come from, what do they actually mean, and how do they apply to the world of design for the elderly and disabled? And what’s going on in Norway, whose government vision for the country’s entire infrastructure, is to be created according to the principles of ‘inclusive design’ by 2025?

Inclusion Design is all about people
In a world where Access For All is key, successful inclusive design is on everyone’s mind. What’s interesting about the concept is that it requires bringing real people into the design process very early on. Believe it or not, a lot of design today doesn’t actually involve the end user, which means that a lot of design decisions are made at a corporate and strategic level. Surprisingly few things actually get tested by real people, but inclusive design is here to change that.

What makes Inclusive Design so unique is that it takes testing to a higher level and insists that we need to change our whole conception of design and the development phase. It’s not about showing someone something you have designed and saying “do you like it?”. It’s about asking people how they are living their lives, what their barriers are, and what their concerns. The Norwegian Design Council’s 2010 publication “Innovating With People: The Business of Inclusive Design” explains:

“Design can be described as the process of examining a problem and creating a solution. Inclusive Design brings the perspective of real people to that problem, inspiring a multitude of viewpoints and unexpected ideas… people who make greater demands of a product, service or environment and therefore challenge it in ways beyond that of the average mainstream user.”

 

Before diving further into the results of Norway’s very interesting design strategy, let’s define some of the most common design terms:

Inclusive Design
The term was defined in 2000 by the UK Government as “products, services and environments that include the needs of the widest number of consumers”. It has a history stretching back to the social ideals in Europe that materialized after World War II, which include healthcare and housing for everyone. Inclusive Design is used within Europe and goes beyond elderly and disabled people to focus on other excluded groups and deliver mainstream solutions.

Universal Design
This term originated in the USA and has since been adopted by Japan and the Pacific Rim. It started with a strong focus on disability and the construction environment. Driven by the large number of disabled Vietnam War veterans, Universal Design was modelled on the Civil Rights Movement that promised “full and equal enjoyment … of goods and services”. It has been a driving force in establishing American legislation regarding older and disabled people.

Design For All
Closely related to Inclusive Design, Design for All started by looking at barrier-free accessibility for people with disabilities, but has become a strategy for mainstream, inclusive solutions. As highlighted by the European Commission, Design for All is about ensuring that environments, products, services and interfaces work for people of all ages and abilities in different situations and under various circumstances. This term is used in continental Europe and Scandinavia. Other terms are sometimes used with varying relevance to Inclusive Design. A few include Co-design, People-centered Design, User-focused Design and Transgenerational Design.

New legislation – new opportunities for Norwayst olavs hospital
Governments and policymakers are writing Inclusive Design into new laws and standards worldwide. Norway stands as a European flagship having taken Inclusive Design very seriously early on. The opinions of first hand users in the decision process was a real driver of innovation while building the St. Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim, which opened in 2010.

 

The hospital has received international acclaim for its innovative architecture that brings nature, the city, employees and patients together in an unconventional way by focusing on the patient’s needs. According to Chief Medical Planner Liv Haugen, speaking at the 2016 London Design Biennale conference, insights from first time wheelchair users led to the creation of rocky paths in outdoor areas for them to practice on. She added that it was something that landscape architect Trond Heggem said he would have never thought of – or been bold enough to suggest – without their input. More examples of inclusive design at St. Olavs Hospital can be found here.

Hotel chain inspired by chef’s allergies
The Scandic Hotel at Oslo Airport is another inspiring Norwegian example. Ever since one of their chefs became unwell from allergies, and they realized how ill-equipped their hotels were to deal with disabilities and allergies, inclusive design has been at the heart of Scandic’s design ethos.

The Norwegian chain now has a 135-point plan, which all new hotels adhere to. All rooms are now entirely allergy friendly and welcoming regardless of cognitive or physical abilities. Larger rooms for wheelchair users double up as family rooms with fold down bunk beds – and children enjoy many of the features originally designed for wheelchair users such as lower peepholes, hooks and hanging rails.

An inclusive society leaves no one behind
A growing trend amongst younger generations shows that labels are less important and acceptance of diversity is more common. We still have a long way to go before people with disabilities are no longer perceived as charity cases, but as individuals entitled to have their rights honored by society. Inclusive Design will play an increasingly big role in changing that and the benefits of this design principle are wide-ranging and can lead to greater social inclusion.

Successful social inclusion, according to the World Bank, is when marginalized and poor people are secured a voice in decisions which affect their lives and feel empowered to take part in society. More and more government buildings around the world will stand as beacons to all of us, that our generation is taking social inclusion to a higher level. As more and more buildings and products emerge, we as world citizens are a small step closer to constant reminders around us, that even though we look and live differently, we are very much the same and have much more in common than we think.

If you need a reminder of this here on your screen, watch this very moving viral video by danish Asger Leth:

Here are a few things you should keep in mind – perhaps you can make a difference too

1. View the disability community as a valuable consumer
2. Employ people with disabilities – they are ambitious and want to work
3. Increase disability representation in political settings
4. Integrate disability history in school curriculums
5. Promote social inclusion in schools
6. Employ more actors and models with disabilities in mainstream media
7. Provide college scholarships to athletes with disabilities