11/1/2017 | Posted at 3:17 pm

Fostering an Inclusive Community

As we wrap up inclusive design month at GGLO, we’re reflecting on how we can use our experiences to help us design more inclusively. We’re continuing to push ourselves to go beyond incorporating only the minimum accessibility requirements, with the goal of creating holistic designs that build an optimal experience for everyone. Our industry has become very good at designing for the “mythical” average person, but we are challenging ourselves to design for people who have different or reduced functions, be it physically, cognitively, or even culturally. Between lunch & learns, project tours, special guests, and personal experiences, our staff has learned a lot about how we can make inclusive design a priority at GGLO.

With a goal of gaining a deeper understanding of accessibility requirements and the opportunity to experience everyday activities from a new perspective, we purchased two wheelchairs and two blind support canes. We quickly learned how difficult it can be to complete basic tasks, ones we usually take for granted; for example, getting a cup of coffee becomes much more challenging when you’re in a wheelchair and can’t reach a mug from the shelf that’s just a little too high. Maneuvering through doors and doorways can be very challenging when adequate space adjacent to the door is not available or the weight of the door is beyond what your upper body strength can overcome. The importance of handrails becomes obvious when trying to maneuver a space with a support cane and blind mask. These activities have given us a new awareness and understanding of how others may experience our designs, which we will use to make all of our projects more welcoming and inclusive.

We were lucky to have a national leader in accessible and inclusive design, Karen Braitmayer, FAIA take part in our activities this month. Our staff had the opportunity to attend a continuing education session led by Karen, which gave background history on the Civil Rights movement, the American with Disabilities Act, and the subsequent Inclusive Design movement. She gave inspiring examples of inclusively designed architecture and pushed us how to think beyond the code minimums when it comes to building design. She was generous enough to open up her own home for us to tour, which serves as a beautiful case study that not only meets code minimums, but exceeds them with smart design solutions altered specifically to her lifestyle as a wheelchair user.

In the spirit of outreach, we also organized a design charrette to come up with a simple inclusivity solution for a local non-profit. The hope is to continue to move this project forward in the coming months.

Ultimately, we want our projects to embrace diversity; the places we create should inspire and connect the whole spectrum of a community. A couple of the clear takeaways from this month include:

• Paying attention to small details that can make a big difference, such as designing waste bins into the casework of public kitchens to prevent them from being placed in knee clearance space post-occupancy
• Scrutinizing grading plans early in schematic design to ensure the main entrance to the building is sited to allow all people with abilities and mobility devices to enter the building without taking a longer or more indirect route

Overall, our objective is to get our designers thinking critically and creatively about design for people. This means thinking about it early and often throughout the design process. Just as sustainability is becoming the norm in our industry, we believe inclusive design should follow suit. Inclusive design month is our contribution.