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:


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.

CASI 2017 Summer Seminar


If you are licensed in the State of California, this is a great opportunity!  Earn 5 AIA LU/HSW Credits for this seminar on Accessibility Requirements for Large Assembly Facilities in California (click link to view more info and registration).

This one webinar could fulfill your annual requirements for license renewal!



Let’s meet up!

I’ll be speaking in various locations across the country in the next few months.  Let me know if you want to connect for a cup of coffee/tea if I’m in your neighborhood.

Karen will be presenting at the following conferences:

Dwell on Design 2014, Los Angelos, CA – June 21, 2014

AIA National Convention 2014, Chicago, IL – June 27, 2014 – FR 304 “Why Are ADA Compliant Toilet, Bathing, Dressing and Locker Rooms So Tricky?”

ABX 2014, Boston, MA – October 28, 2014