Inclusive Design: a way of thinking about design

Guest Post by Andrea Kovich

In the way that many ideas evolve and build off each other, inclusive design has become the new buzzword for a design approach that embraces diversity. Closely related to Universal Design (which is also known as human-centered design), inclusive design is also about designing for a range of abilities. But whereas Universal Design is associated with disabilities and tends to be applied primarily to the built environment, inclusive design has a broader scope and is meant to pertain to all design fields—including the technological and digital realm. Accessibility is just one piece of the larger design puzzle.

One of the central ideas of inclusive design is that designing for people with disabilities will result in better designs that will benefit everyone. Considering the popular technological innovations that were originally designed to help people with disabilities—email, cell phones and texting have all been developed to facilitate communication with the deaf—this is not really a radical notion. What is radical is that Microsoft, a major global company, has wholeheartedly embraced the inclusive design philosophy.

According to Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Toolkit Manual, designing inclusively means “you’re designing for a diversity of ways for people to participate in an experience with a sense of inclusion.” Their methodology views design constraints, which can lead to exclusions, as an opportunity for creative solutions. To further bolster their new design mission, Microsoft has created a microsite with great resources to inspire and aid other designers—including several new videos that highlight the impact of design on people with disabilities.

Check it out at:


FYI: I love the Ed Roberts Campus

Guest Post by Andrea Kovich

Recently, I attended a conference at the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA. Dedicated to one of the foremost disability civil rights leaders, Ed Roberts, the campus is an international model of Universal Design and the home of several disability service organizations. There are so many things to say about the beauty of the building—the Universal Design features, the embodiment of the spirit of accessibility and inclusiveness, etc.—but I’ve decided to focus on one compelling design choice: the main ramp.

When a person comes through the front entrance of the building, he or she is immediately welcomed by a huge ramp that connects the first floor to the second. While there is also an elevator, the ramp is the most prominent method for vertical circulation. The easy slopes of the ramp runs are interspersed with level landings, meaning that the ramp is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it is designed to be ADA compliant.

The significance of this ramp, however, is that the design of it does more than address the need for vertical circulation. The usual solution for vertical movement between floors is a main flight of stairs and an elevator for accessibility, separating the users based on an individuals’ needs. But a ramp for everyone to use provides equity of experience. The ramp allows a person who uses a mobility device (or even a mother with a stroller) to have an uninterrupted conversation with someone who would normally use the stairs. It allows people to share the experience of moving through the space.

Accessibility regulations look at the location of the accessible route in relation to the general circulation path. But designers should ask themselves: is it necessary to separate these into two paths of travel? Are stairs and an elevator the best design solution, or just the more prevalent solution, because that’s what is usually done? What does my design communicate?

The ramp at the Ed Roberts Campus makes a powerful gestural statement by communicating a silent message to the user as soon as he or she enters: All are welcome in this building. A main set of stairs communicates a prioritization; it suggests that users who can use the stairs should do so and everyone else should go find the alternate route. But design can do more than meet the practical concerns of a space. Good design considers the intangible qualities that can enhance an environment.

Two Lavatories are Better than One; or, What Adding a Second Lav Actually Means

Having two lavatories in a bathroom can be a luxury—especially when you have two people that need to use it at the same time. The thoughtful designer, however, might not realize that adding a second sink to a bathroom in multifamily housing can have other design implications, since multifamily dwellings are covered by the Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines.

Requirement 7 of the section on Usable Bathrooms requires all fixtures in an Option A bathroom to have a clear floor space. For lavatories, the clear floor space can be positioned for a parallel approach, or a forward approach can be provided with the use of removable cabinets.

However, when there are multiple lavatories in an Option B bathroom (Specification B), only one must have clear floor space. As noted in the above figure, this would require parallel access to the bathtub (and 34” counters), but might be a good solution for adding a second lav.

Talking about the Basics

Wall bases can be both practical and aesthetically pleasing, providing a wall protection from damage or adding a distinctive architectural touch to an otherwise boring, flat plane. But, when it comes to accessibility, the wall base needs to be considered when measuring the clear width of an accessible route or the clear floor space at elements.

Since a wall base can mean an offset of an extra inch or so, a hallway that is designed to be 36” wide but has a wall base lining each side, might actually turn out to be about 34” wide after finishes are put in. The minimum footprint of a wheelchair—the measurement for clear floor space—is 30”x48”, so the critical measurement should be taken from the ground where the wheels will be.




This can also be important when designing for the minimum clear floor space at elements, such as in a drinking fountain alcove. The comment in the photo accounts for forward approach to the accessible fountain (and the water bottle filler), but it doesn’t account for the ¾” wall base. The 30” wide minimum requirement includes toe clearance.

Sometimes the basics of accessibility require a little extra thought about the realities of how a person might use something.