Intern Research – Inclusive Design: Design with Everyone in Mind!

Written by: Kristian Irving, Architectural Intern

August 7, 2023



What is inclusive design? It’s to provide a product or built environment that simultaneously benefits and enables a person to have an independent experience, to the greatest extent possible, regardless of their age, ability, race, culture, etc. The eight principles of inclusive design are equitable, responsive, flexible, convenient, welcoming, accommodating, realistic, and understandable.



So, who is impacted by inclusive design?

Everyone! From those with varying abilities, to people of different races, to those practicing different religions, inclusive design seeks to provide a top tier, equitable experience for each and every person.

Let’s explore eight different methods of inclusive design that go beyond The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Turnstone Interior Design
Turnstone Interior Design

Method One: Terminology

When communicating with clients on the design of a project, the language used should promote the humanity of each person, and should be terms that clients and end users are comfortable with. A few examples of these are:

    • Person with a disability
    • Wheelchair user
    • Person with visual impairment
    • Person with hearing impairment
    • Person of age/active ager
    • Accessible entrance

There are many other terms that can be used when communicating about inclusive design, but it’s always a good idea to talk with your client and find out what they are most comfortable with.

Method Two: Wayfinding

Color and texture are universal languages that enable anyone to navigate and understand a space, especially if the user has a visual impairment. Different textures and clear color changes on the floor can help guide the visually impaired more easily.

Parkview Noble – Therapy
Parkview Noble – Therapy
St. Rita's Graduate Medical Education Center Lighting Design

Method Three: Lighting Quality

How a space is lit can drastically impact the experience a person has within the space. Because everyone processes light differently, there are many ways to make this design element more inclusive.

    • Higher and variable light levels – providing more light can aid in seeing printed text or finer details. However, dimmability should be an option as well.
    • Daylight – access to daylight provides many health benefits such as greater alertness, visual acuity, and vitamin D production.
    • Glare prevention – automated shading devices allow people with any physical abilities to control daylight infiltration.
    • Indirect lighting – this method of lighting is a great way to minimize glare and shadows within a space.
    • Controllability – simplicity is key to allow easy access for anyone engaging with lighting control. Larger buttons, easily understood labels, and design goes a long way in providing accessibility.
St. Rita's Graduate Medical Education Center Lighting Design

Method Four: Signage

Signage throughout any design should be easy to comprehend, no matter a person’s range of impairment. Some elements of inclusive signage can be:

  • Contrasting color – allows for better visual communication; color blindness can affect this choice as well.
  • Lighting – using a material with a matte surface can minimize glare on signage, even with bright lighting.
  • Lettering / Braille / Symbols – Sans Serif fonts, light on dark backgrounds, raised materials, and specific symbols can help with signage comprehension.
  • Font size – depending on the intended visual position of a sign, lettering size can make a significant difference.
Fort Financial Headquarters Lobby
Fort Financial Headquarters Lobby
Pizza Hut Conference Nook

Method Five: Rest Zones

Providing areas for people to sit down and rest while still engaging in a space can make that space more accessible and welcoming to all people. Seating can help those with mobility impairments, children, or persons of age.

Pizza Hut Conference Nook

Method Six: Elevators and Ramps

When considering user experience, it is important to think about changes in elevation within or outside of the building. Here are some ways to make sure everyone can use the space to the fullest experience:

  • Celebrate elevators – make elevators easy to find and designed with finesse. If there is a grand staircase in the building, it would be considerate to make the elevators grand as well.
  • Comfortable slope – the ADA standard mandates that all ramps must have a minimum slope of 1 : 12, but a slope of 1 : 20 (less steep) can be much more comfortable and easier on the body for wheelchair users.
  • Multi-story ramps – comfortable ramps that flow to multiple stories can offer a unique experience and give everyone an equal opportunity to move through a space.
Taylor Student Center On-Campus Dining
Taylor Student Center On-Campus Dining

Method Seven: Restrooms

Depending on level of mobility, gender, religion, family size, or many other factors, a restroom that accommodates everyone’s needs can be a challenge. Here are some elements that can help:

    • Pod stalls – individual stalls with locking doors can provide more comfort and privacy for users.
    • Gender neutral restrooms – these restrooms can be helpful for many, such as caregivers who need to accompany someone of the opposite gender into the restroom.
    • Facing direction – the direction that a person faces while using the restroom can be a consideration. For example, it can be important for practicing Muslims to face away from Mecca while using the restroom.
    • Child seating – seating for children in a larger stall allows for guardians to keep an eye on the child while using the restroom.

Method Eight: Hearing Impairment

Loss of hearing can be a common part of aging. At higher severities of hearing impairment, individuals tend to rely more on visual methods of communication. Accommodations for loss of hearing in the built environment can include:

  • Automatic doors – helps individuals who communicate through signing not have to be interrupted.
  • Glare reduction – reduce eye fatigue.
  • Wall color – colors that contrast with skin tones can help signing and facial expressions be more discernable.
  • Eliminating reverberation – helps with feedback for hearing aids.
VacationLand Federal Credit Union - Operations Center and Branch
VacationLand Federal Credit Union - Operations Center and Branch

There are so many ways that design can be created to include and celebrate everyone. Architects, engineers, and interior designers have a responsibility to consider all angles of design to make better spaces for people of all abilities and backgrounds.

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