Category Archives: Inclusion

Working Sensationally

Working Sensationally imageUnderstanding the role of senses in workplace design

Drop-in and meet Steve Maslin on 24th May, during Clerkenwell Design Week, at Edge Design/ Pledge Chair’s Showroom First Floor, 21-22 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0DY

Workplace is the context in which we expect people and their minds to function – but are we taking account of the impact that the sensory environment has on people’s minds? It is not uncommon to find workplace design decisions resolving around simplistic imagery or cost savings. Could we better inform the design process by a greater awareness of the user experience?  How many employees or customers are stressed or at risk of leaving the journey you are taking them on?

A sales pitch might include words like “trendy” or “value engineered” but are we actually removing real lasting value – derived from how people experience the business environments you design or operate? You might even, make reference to terms such as “lean”, “agile”, “smart” or “activity based” workplace or equivalent trendy retail strategies.   But are you creating an illusion?

Step Back

How about stepping back from these trendy terms for a moment and paying attention to what your senses (and the senses of those about you) are telling you? What could your senses be telling you about your work environment? Did you also know that much of that which takes place as a consequence of our senses is not in the realm of our sensory organs but in how our brains function whilst processing sensory information? How effectively do our brains function then if our senses are struggling with the environment that we find ourselves within?

Take an opportunity to step back and spend time in the workplaces you are designing or your employees or customers are using? You may already be one of those “captains of industry” who work amongst your staff.  Is the sensory experience, that you and those around you are exposed to, conducive to you doing effective work? Maybe, you can cope, at least for a time… but how about others? Are you all the same? How about those who tirelessly work on thankless tasks requiring great concentration, but our stressed out by the environment they are working in? Chances are you’ll find out a lot by just talking to colleagues. You might find it a struggle for a start, because you may have managed them subconsciously without stopping to think what is actually happening.   As such, it might even help if you listen to individuals with accentuated experiences.

Design Opportunities

We can deduct from what we know of sensory and physiological needs that interactive, adjustable and comfortable chairs and tables are necessary if we are to expect workers to function fully, as are optimised acoustics, good background lighting and good task lighting. But what are the neurological reasons and what else is there that we could be doing? For example could, we being taking more care of how we arrange, inhabit and treat space and do more to foster the curious relationship between productivity, memory and our visual field?

Call in:

Steve Maslin will be available to draw on insights gained from his look at the relationship between the design of built environments and people’s physical sensory and neurological needs on 24th May, during Clerkenwell Design Week, at Edge Design/ Pledge Chair’s Showroom First Floor, 21-22 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 0DY.   He is also contactable on: 07825 447709, and via

About Steve

Steve is known for blogging, teaching and conferences speaking for conference, such as Workplace Trends, on the relationship between the people, their minds and their environments. Clients have included BskyB, HEFCE, BUPA and Parliamentary Estates. He will be available to meet those interested in exploring the issues.  Steve is Director of Building User Design, an Architect, a Design Council CABE Built Environment Expert and Senior Research Fellow at the Schumacher Institute.



Enabling Education

A Call for Strategic Education Design Thinking

SchoolThe voice of concern regarding provision for children with additional needs seems to have been somewhat eclipsed in recent months by the debate as to whether all our schools should become academies or not. However there was, not so long ago, significant concern when the coalition Government implemented their model flat pack school design. In part this was because the design fell short of standards that we would expect of inclusive school provision.  Before that there was also concern as to what form additional / special educational provision should take.  None of these concerns have particularly gone away!

Does the Government understand the issues sufficiently in order to improve opportunities for children who, for one reason or another, find education a struggle?

Thinking Strategically

In my professional life I have conducted numerous suitability surveys and access reviews of educational premises, including mainstream and special schools. In many cases I have seen a lack of strategic thinking. Although I am an Architect and now a Consultant Member of the National Register of Access Consultants, for 6 years I was previously employed by social services as a supply Group-worker.  Having worked with adults with learning difficulties I observed the deficit in social education that some adults with and without learning difficulties have acquired as a result of being educated separately when they were children.  We need to think strategically and beyond utilitarian, piecemeal responses to the issues if we are ever to provide all children with appropriate facilities staffed by appropriately qualified teachers.

Mainstream Inclusion v Special Schools

On one hand, some have believed that the policy of educating children with additional educational needs in mainstream schools has failed. Some even hold that including children with additional educational needs (particularly children with autism) in mainstream classrooms can lead to “a form of abuse” through a form of unintended educational neglect.  At the same time, many in the broader disability rights movement have campaigned for greater inclusion in mainstream schools and have accused special schools of failing their students.  It seems obvious that both options have their problems and don’t seem to be providing children with adequate learning facilities.  Some parents are forced to decide which alternative would be better for their child.  Others aren’t even fortunate enough to have a choice, as there may not be enough specialist schools in their area. The National Autistic Society said in 2008 that of the 90,000 autistic children at the time, most had to learn in mainstream schools as there were just 7,500 specialist places.  Yet, historically, special schools have struggled to provide the level of curriculum-based staff and practical resources that mainstream schools are able to provide and have also struggled to prepare students for the mainstream world owing to a lack of social opportunities that “segregated” education has led to.  Conversely the lack of support, resourcing and specialist facilities within mainstream education has made the provision for additional educational needs within mainstream schools that much harder.

Personal Experience of Enabling Education

Over 40 years ago my parents were told by my infant school head teacher that of the two children they had at the school at the time – “one would go far and don’t expect too much of the other one”. The “other one” was me!  However, my parents recognised that there was more to my difficulties and sought out additional help.  Known to one dyslexia pioneer, as “one of the early boys”, I benefited from early diagnosis and an open-minded junior school head teacher who was willing to learn about dyslexia.  I eventually received the support I needed within the mainstream junior school I attended – together with other children, who were also struggling.

Struggling without Adequate Facilities

A few years later, that same junior school that I went to was approached by a local hospital asking whether children with Spina Bifida could be taught at the school rather than at the hospital. The school agreed but were not provided with the appropriate facilities associated with incontinence that some of the children experienced! It took some careful political manoeuvring to obtain local authority support to address this issue!  You would have hoped that with the arrival of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act and the Later Equality Act those things would have improved!  But despite all the best efforts of some, we’re still having the same concerns in more recent times, that we had over a quarter of a century ago, such as “staffs are emptying tracheostomy tubes or changing nappies, often lacking appropriate training.” (Reference: BBC News Item Tuesday, 16 May 2006).

Many have grave concerns with regards the Government’s approach to school design. One perceives that the children that will suffer are the ones with additional needs!  Then we wonder why poor working cultures develop in our institutions that we all know should have been consigned to history.  (Reference: Our children and teachers deserve better: RIBA slams Gove’s flat pack approach to designing future schools; 02 October 2012).

Hubs and Co-location Satellites

Despite the failures cited above, providing adequate facilities doesn’t require a special school separate from mainstream education. There is a much better solution which involves combining the benefits of both types of school in the form of properly thought out co-location.  However, it necessitates maintaining and not diminishing the standards for school design as seems to be currently happening.

The risk is that inclusive provision in mainstream schools will be undertaken as a tokenistic gesture without substance and appropriate provision, leading to parents having to seek out alternatives to mainstream provision. It is however possible to design an approach to additional educational needs, that provides both the specialist facilities of a special school together with strong physical and organisational integration within a mainstream school.   Perhaps the most effective organisational structure consists of a central support hub (containing both senior and mobile staff) to assist satellite bases with their own specialist staff.  These bases then support the mainstream schools to which they are affiliated.  Obviously, the mainstream schools need to be carefully considered for their ease of access, transport links and educational ethos.  Each satellite can be geared to a particular group of pupils offering support for their particular need whether; physical, visual, hearing, neurological, language, emotional, behavioural or social.  The support hub(s) can even be based in one or more of the mainstream schools within the network of support.

The hub and satellite set-up works very well and enables children to venture into the ‘mainstream world’ – offering opportunities for them and other pupils to benefit both socially and educationally. If however, a child needs greater support than the mainstream environment can offer alone then there is no reason for not adjusting the child’s timetable to receive more specialist support in a supportive and specialist satellite base. In addition, mainstream teachers are provided with the necessary specialist support that enables them to attend to the class as a whole without neglecting the child with additional needs.

In essence the strategy is the equivalent of providing a special school within a mainstream school. This is sometimes referred as co-locating.  However, it is important that they are seen as one entity so as not to reinforce differences – even if there is an internal sub-division, linked by a door – for the purposes of providing children (with any social, emotional and/or behavioural difficulties) space in which their needs can be met.

Examples of Co-located Inclusion

Some forward thinking schools have already moved towards this method of teaching. Kingsweston School, Bristol has a satellite base for autistic students with the local Oasis Academy in Shirehampton.  This initiative is part of the mainstream school but provides specialist facilities and staff.  It was envisaged that some student’s will spend a significant amount of their time within the mainstream environment, whereas some children with more severe difficulties will spend most of their time in the specialist satellite base.

Hazel Court School in Eastbourne is a special school for children with severe learning difficulties – 70 per cent of pupils are autistic –on the same site as a mainstream school. The school has the best of both worlds offering specialised staff and facilities such as a hydrotherapy pool, soft play area, access to two dining halls, an assembly hall, sports facilities and a library situated in the mainstream school.  Half the children attend lessons in the mainstream school and children from the mainstream school also help with classes in the specialist unit.

Educational Benefits for Everyone

Experience has shown that children with additional educational needs gain from learning in mainstream environments. Pupils in mainstream settings equally benefit, learning respect and acceptance, and grow up without the “awareness impairment” that many in mainstream society have developed towards others whom they perceive as different from them.  We need to start thinking strategically and begin to addresses the best of both worlds rather to argue between two extremes.

A Call for Real Inclusion

It is reported that about one child out of every five requires extra help in school because of a particular or additional educational need. However, additional/special needs are educational terms which include vastly different challenges from a language difficulty to multiple and profound difficulties.  It would be unreasonable to expect a mainstream school to provide the correct care and support for each child’s need without appropriate support and resources and equally it would be a shame to remove a child completely from the opportunity to interact with children in a mainstream setting and the opportunity to receive the education that mainstream schools can provide.  Surely by now we should recognise that the two worlds can work together.

Let’s stop debating about which form of educational management or provision is better and create environments where the best of both mainstream and special school worlds can exist together. That’s real inclusion!


Steve Maslin RIBA, NRAC Consultant, FSI


Leadership: Are you flying?

FlyingI’m told that it’s essential to understand what the numbers tell you when flying and that without reading what your instruments are telling that you can easily deceive yourself as to your whereabouts.   However flying also requires being attuned to what one’s senses are telling you. I believe that workplace leadership is similar. For example, when Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed his stricken aircraft on the Hudson River, he will no doubt have looked as his instruments but he was also attuned to what was necessary to make the necessary decisions.


Gerd Gigerenzer’s “Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions” makes interesting reference to this incident. He also draws attention to the need to not only understand what numbers are telling you but what they won’t necessarily tell you or what you could have reasonably deduced from using your senses not only in emergencies but also over time.   Gerd even illustrates how poor understanding of figures and insufficient attention to good judgment, can even create curious and potentially dangerous illusions, as can – not paying attention to numbers. Read what he says about the “turkey illusion!” Yes numbers are important but what are the numbers in front of you (and how you are reading them) not telling you?

OK, so your business might not be heading for a dramatic crash, but how many of your employees or customers are equivalent to being airsick, cramped, stressed or at risk of leaving the journey you are taking them on? Despite this, it seems that many workplace decisions resolve around simplistic figures derived from capital cost savings and not value derived from those doing the work in the place that they have been provided with.


Could you be creating an illusion for yourself? For example, capital costs tend to be easier to calculate than revenue value – especially value derived from wellbeing. Nevertheless, common sense tells us that even a moderate long term improvements have the potential for paying for themselves and not just in direct and easily quantifiable terms.   Despite this, how many times has one paid attention to short term savings – rather than what one’s senses are saying? Next time perhaps when someone offers to “value engineer” a project for you, you might consider whether what they may actually be doing is removing value and actually only engineering cost?

You might say, “ah but Steve, our business is flying with the current trends of workplace strategy.” You might even, make reference to trendy workplace terms such as “lean”, “agile”, “smart” or “activity based” workplace strategies that your advisors have told you about.   However, is what you are getting still an illusion? Are you in reality following a predetermined course set by others?

Using Your Senses?

How about stepping back from these trendy terms for a moment and paying attention to what your senses (and the senses of those about you) are telling you? I’m not advocating that you ignore figures – indeed they are very important, but again – what is the particular set of figures in front of you not telling you?

Apparently one particular aircraft was designed with a performance range that equated with the straight line distance to a particular destination, but that it was not effective in service. This was because its range did not take account of operational circumstances that would prevent straight line flight to its destination. Measures of effectiveness (informed by what one’s senses are telling you) whilst requiring more thought than simplistic and limited performance measurements will usually yield important and more profound business insights.

Understanding Your Senses?

What could your hearing, sight, touch, smell and even taste be telling you about your work environment? Did you know that we also have sensory functions to do with time, position and balance as well? You might imagine that most of these senses are important to flying aircraft, but have you stopped to think about their impact on work? Did you also know that much of that which takes place as a consequence of our senses is not in the realm of our sensory organs but in how our brains function whilst processing and integrating sensory information?

How effectively do our brains function then if our senses are struggling with the environment that we are working with? I would suggest that it’s worth reading “Living Sensationally: Understanding Your Senses,” by Winnie Dunn to understand more of this subject.

Understanding Others?

Might I suggest that you take the opportunity to step off of your “flight deck” and spend time in the workplaces your employees or customers are using? You may already be one of those captains of industry / organisation who work amongst your staff. Is the sensory experience, that you and those around you are exposed to, conducive to you doing effective work? Maybe, you can cope, at least for a time… but how about others? Are you all the same? What about the diversity of staff?

How about those who tirelessly work on thankless tasks requiring great concentration, but our stressed out by the environment they are working in? Chances are you’ll find out a lot by just talking to colleagues. You might find it a struggle for a start, because you may have taken your senses for granted – since you may have managed them subconsciously without stopping to think what is actually happening.   As such, it might even help if you take on board individuals with accentuated experiences… and not just sensory but physical ones too.

Gaining Insight?

Take my Research Director at the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems, Michael Clinton for example, who has used a wheelchair from childhood; oh – and by the way – happens to be an aeronautically trained engineer and held a pilot’s licence! If you were being honest about stereotypes, you might have easily assumed otherwise!? Even so, I too could also shed some light on challenges that I have faced, even though these experiences wouldn’t be immediately evident to you by just looking at me – only by getting to know me.

Because of these experiences, Michael and I have taken one of his aeronautical discipline’s terms – that describes a set of criteria expected of an aircraft to keep it in the sky – the “Envelope of Performance.”   We have come up with what we might describe as the Clinton-Maslin “Envelope of Need.”

You might have heard of the Maslow “Hierarchy of Need,” however the Clinton-Maslin “Envelope of Need” is different if not similar sounding, in that it’s about refereeing to the people’s accentuated and acute experiences and applying it to the design of built environments and services to the benefit of all. What is more, in the workplace context identifying an “Envelope of Need” is also likely to identify insights into effectiveness and not just performance.

Economics as if People Matter?

Still not convinced that taking notice of what your senses are telling you have anything with the economics of your business? Did you see the “Credit Crunch” coming?   Were you aware that E.F. Schumacher, the economist and author of ”Small is Beautiful, a study of economics as if people mattered” identified the unsustainable activities that would ultimately to lead to the “Credit Crunch”, decades ago? What did his book advocate? Essentially it was this: to take on economic activity “as if people mattered”… I rest my case.

Where now?

So what can you do about this? Well, I my Research Director and others within the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems network include attention to the “People Matter” part of work life. Our network includes those specialising in facilities management, human resources, organisation, design, communication, occupational psychology, sustainability etc.

Ultimately we can tailor what we do around you and your organisation to work on that which has impact on real value and how you brand sits within the market place.

For example, I undertake stakeholder engagement, property/service design reviews and can advise you on project briefs and designs from the perspective of the users. I can also arrange for sensory awareness training to help you and your staff better understand how senses affect how you, your employees and customers function.

Others in are network are able: to devise controlled experiments; risk assess human factors; advise you on organisation and sustainability; or take change and design forward.

Over to you: what do you want to do and how might we be of help..?


Steve Maslin RIBA, NRAC Consultant, FSI


Clear as Daylight?

eyeValuing daylight and views

Many office, industrial and retail premises are deep plan buildings, and whilst some have views out and an element of daylight can be achieved, the question could be  posed – what are the benefits of daylight?  At the same time it seems prudent to also ask the question – what is the value of views?  This is because one suspects that daylight alone may not be the only determinant factor as to the value of openings in the envelope of deep plan buildings.

Anecdotal Evidence

On two occasions when I have visited deep plan premises, the most notable observations made employees related to daylight and views out. One member of staff expressed how much she found having no visual connection with the outside world depressing and that when she worked nights, she found that the disconnect with the outside world and not seeing the setting and rising of the sun particularly difficult.  One might describe her comment as akin describing her experience as “doing her head in.”  Whilst visiting another deep plan building, one member of staff expressed how pleasurable it was to work in a building that provided daylight and even commented – “in how many [of the kind in question] could you look out and see sheep?”  One can surmise that from these comments pleasure and enjoyment is expressed by staff, able to achieve a connection with the outside world.  One can only suppose that this significantly affects wellbeing and motivation.


It has long been suspected that was a strong correlation between people’s wellbeing and there connection with daylight and the outside world.  In the 1980’s the seasonal mood varying effect of reduced natural lighting levels was as giving rise to the instances of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD syndrome and this

It has also been discovered that levels of alertness, within the populace in general, are biochemically interconnected with natural daily changes in light colour output  The discipline of Environmental Psychology has also carried out studies into the relationship between people’s wellbeing and their connectivity to the natural environment.  BREEAM assessments even award credits for views out of buildings in recognition of the reduction on eye strain, offered by allowing the eye to periodically re-focus on long distance views  Meanwhile, some lighting manufacturers have even developed bio-dynamic lighting containing programmable colour diodes so as to correlate with circadian rhythms and optimise human productivity.  Furthermore the work of Dr Jean Ayres  and more recently Dr Zoe Mailloux and Dr Winnie Dunn would suggest that we have differing sensory processing needs and respond to environments in different ways.  These needs include the visual sense and how they interact and integrate with other senses.  For some, these sensory processing needs are known to be more acute than others.  It also turns out that our visual field also plays an important part in our memory.    Pleasant visual fields could also quite possibly establish themselves in our longer lasting emotionally anchored memories.

What would one suggests is done?

I would suggest owners of deep plan building commission a survey of their staff and customers to elicit, what to them, are significant environmental factors affecting their wellbeing at work, whilst independently surveying their environment.  Survey exercises could be used to collate other data of benefit to businesses when considering staff wellbeing, customer experience and store design. One would suggest that such a study did not focus on lighting and views alone, as this could give rise to prompting answers to closed questions.  I would then suggest that a range of pilot projects be put into effect best practice design as deduced from academic research and staff engagement, by incorporating changes within new premises and implement changes to existing premises as and when opportunities present themselves.

What could the results of improvements be?

I would anticipate an increased sense of staff wellbeing, motivation, retention, loyalty and productivity through greater alertness and reduced risk of downward shifts in mood and mental health.  One would also suppose that which benefits staff – could also be identified as improving the customer experience either directly as a result of daylight and views or indirectly as a result of happier staff.  Implementation of changes could also further any Community and Social Responsibility agendas.


Steve Maslin RIBA NRAC Consultant

Director of Building User Design



Research Fellow the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems


Senses and Service connect us to Place

PlaceI was asked by Glass-House Community Led Design to join their debate around “To a more Ambitious Place” and the question “is our view of Place too short-sighted?” and was one of their speakers at their Bristol event 11th February 2015 which was written up by Maja Jorgensen in their Blog. As a continuation to that debate I post the following:

I’d like to begin by referring to couple of blogs I wrote a while ago “Sustaining Sustainability” and “Engaging Sustainability” about the need for achieving a broader and long term perspective to project preparation.  It is therefore encouraging to hear that in Wales the role of Place Coordinators is to build productive relationships and to help break down the barriers between communities and services.  Even though their role isn’t about urban design it’s worth reflecting that we usually get caught up with just the designer’s notion of Place and lose sight of what should be behind Place at a societal level.  Moreover, we tend to take for granted the very means by which we connect to Place at an individual level, namely our senses.

Frequently the word Place is used in a coupled or compounded form and connectivity is implied, such as Places of Worship, Workplaces, Dwelling Places and the Market Place.  But what makes Place really work on a societal level?   For example, a Place of Worship may arise through a movement and a mission (passion for service) and start to enfold a membership, and yet too easily becomes a monument!   The very place that was intended to facilitate service becomes an “idle idol” – drawing attention to itself and not the purpose for which they it was built.  Without serving a purpose, passion and connecting with people, places cease to function as they were intended.  Furthermore, some historic and even modern environments (that we are inclined to cherish) still present physical barriers because we put the fabric of Place before people.  But what about the sensory / neurological barriers that people encounter?

I have been taking particular interest in what I refer to as “Design for the Mind” and towards this I recently wrote “Place Working vs Open Plan” in which I sought to make the connection between our sensory needs and the tasks we undertake in the Place of work.  I believe that similar observations can be applied to urban realms and other Places albeit with different design solutions.

The work of Dr Jean Ayres  and more recently Dr Zoe Mailloux and Dr Winnie Dunn would suggest that we have differing sensory processing needs and respond to physical and social environments in different ways.  These needs are significantly influenced by vestibular, proprioception and tactile comfort and activity, the ability to access stimulating sound or cut out extraneous noise and our need to be able to choose locations with different degrees of human presence, outlooks, lighting, smells and even associations with taste.  For some these sensory processing needs are known to be more acute than others.  It also turns out that our visual field also plays an important part in our memory as with the act of going from place to another tends to wipe our memories; relocation from one place to another tends to be more difficult in older age.  Familiar environments tend to support memory and orientation.  Positive human presence can also help make us feel secure.  We need therefore to take more account of the dynamics that makes us feel stressed, calm, insecure or secure. For many our psychological needs go unnoticed, since many of us learn to “make do” – but at what cost?

I believe that we could be achieving better places, if we paid attention to Service Design principles and really paid attention to people’s physical, sensory and neurological needs – by engaging communities and those who provide inclusive design support.


Steve Maslin RIBA NRAC Consultant

Director of Building User Design



Research Fellow the Schumacher Institute for Sustainable Systems


Design for the Mind

Have you ever stopped to wonder why much of the general guidance on access, seems to extend not much further than a brief mention of way-finding when access relates to people with neurological needs, and wondered whether there was more to the subject?

Yes there is more to the subject but, one usually has to hunt for it.  Dementia Services Development Centre and the National Autistic Society are amongst those who have developed understanding of the subject but this isn’t general knowledge.

Design for the Mind image

The Centre of Accessible Environments published a fuller version of this blog as an article of mine in their Autumn 2012 issue of Access by Design.  More recently a number of us have been providing advice to the development of PAS 1365 “Code of practice for the recognition of dementia-friendly communities,”  a document sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Society..  Which is soon to be published by the British Standards Institute.  However…


The Need for Collective Guidance

For some while now, there has been a growing recognition that something needs to be done in order to address the current lack of collective guidance on this subject of Design for the Mind beyond one area of diagnosis.  Ultimately, it would seem to make sense for BS8300, the most recognised source of information on access and inclusive design to be updated.  Nevertheless, due to the lack of the attention given to the subject of design and the mind, it would seem to make sense to approach any upgrade in an incremental way, starting with guidance and then later extrapolating what aspects of that guidance warrants being incorporated into standards documentation.  Once the subject has achieved sufficient exposure on its own accord, then it would make sense for BS8300 to incorporate relevant neuro-diversity access standards into BS8300.

Relevant to Everyone

What ought to be emphasised is that there are neurological and psychological aspects of built and information environments that affect everybody to varying degrees, but that for some people their experiences are more acute.    In some circumstances the built and information environment can become disabling to those endeavouring to access them.  What then ought to be the approach to any guidance? It is suggested that the overarching principles of any guidance ought to be from a universal design approach, relevant to everyone – but more particularly to:

  • Enabling people to achieve participation, activity, enjoyment, wellbeing and fulfilment
  • Enabling independence and choice within everyday environments (where they live, work or visit) for people with neuro-atypical experiences
  • Enabling independence and choice both within and beyond safeguarding environments for more vulnerable people with neuro-atypical experiences
  • Recognising the needs of people providing personal assistances and support

Engaging with the Audience

In formulating guidance however, it can be forgotten that the pursuit of inclusion is as much about informing and enabling those who are unawares – as it is about including people with particular needs.  It is important to provide as much tangible information as possible about the subject as generalities and the lack of tangible information tends to hinder the subject being taken seriously. It is therefore important to identify and seek to address key target audiences in a way that understands the nature and the needs of these audiences.  It can be too easy to assume that listeners will automatically agree or understand.  I believe it is therefore important to ensure that one engages with the issues that motivate these audiences.  For example if one inspires imagination and creativity then one is likely to engage design disciplines, or if one emphasises efficiency, productivity, wellbeing and desirability then one is likely to inspire resource and commercially minded disciplines who want to retain quality staff and/or attract customers.  Guidance and standards on design for the mind should also be a tool that enables and assists disabled people, access consultants, access officers and educational support officers to convey the issues to their audiences in a way that helps them advocate what to do or enables them to do their job.  One would also suggest that the process of procuring design services is also addressed in a way that follows former Public Sector Equality Duty guidance with regards to procurement, information, engagement with stakeholders, analysis and briefing others.

Bringing Guidance Together

It makes sense for any guidance/standards to be developed in such a way as to bring together as much information on the subject together in one place.  Yes, there are disparate sources of information pertaining to different subjects and different environments, but they are not usually in the places where key decision makers will look.  By bringing information into one place, it is anticipated that greater consistency and efficiency will be achieved, both in terms of funding the development of guidance/standards and in their implementation. Environments for which it is anticipated guidance/standards documentation will be developed include all mainstream environments and more highly supportive environments.

Subject Areas

There are four main areas for which I believe guidance and standards needs to be developed.  These are:

  1. Sensory, Social and Spatial characteristics of an environment:

  • It is becoming increasingly apparent that spaces and the sensory and social processes that go on within spaces can have a significant impact on how people function within a particular environment. Environments dominated by sensory and social signals that pose a person particular difficulty will render that environment particularly unpleasant and in some cases inaccessible.
  • The way people manage socially within a space relates to how well they are able process the social signals within that environment (and the sensory signals that come along with socializing). A space or group of spaces will have significance in terms of how well an environment enables or disables social dynamics, proxemics (personal space), defensible space (in which people feel secure) and run-off space( in which people can let off steam or “find their own space”).
  • Whilst it is advisable to minimise sensory and social signals that cause difficulties within an environment in general, it is not always possible to achieve sensory environments that will be sufficiently suitable for one particular person’s needs. As such the key aim is to create environments in which people are able to either adapt a space to suit their needs or find a space in which they can manage their needs.
  1. Orientation (in time and space) within an environment:

  • Some people are familiar with the concept of way finding. Many then only really understand way finding as being about signage.     However when one looks at the subject from the perspective of orientation, one can begin to perceive that there is more to the subject than signage alone. On a spatial level orientation has much to do with architectural legibility, the senses, complexity of journey and the act of place-making along routes.
  • Yes way-finding also involves signage and there are certain features in signage design that can aid or hinder people with neuro-diverse experiences. However, orientation is not just a directional need but one where time is taken into account. The more individual’s memories are reinforced the more people are likely to remember not only where they are but other functional aspects of their lives. This can have particular significance for people who are experiencing memory loss. What is particularly fascinating is that the spaces that we occupy have much to do with what we remember subsequently, even if what we remember has nothing to do with wayfinding
  1. Safeguarding within an environment:

  • I believe that safeguarding starts with considering a person’s wellbeing. Safeguarding however can also imply means by which support staff remain accountable for that person’s wellbeing and then how the design enables both wellbeing and accountability. Sadly many people with neuro-atypical experiences historically found themselves “held” in institutions whilst posing no threat to themselves or those about them, to the extent that their freedoms were curtailed unnecessarily. Yes, some people with neuro-atypical experiences are also vulnerable individuals with higher support needs and in certain circumstances, those providing support, need to know that they can remain accountable for someone’s whereabouts as well as their wellbeing, without imposing unnecessary restrictions on that person’s freedoms. However a very careful balance needs to be struck.
  • Whilst the careful use of doors and ironmongery does come into design, safeguarding must not be seen as just about “lock and key” but about a joined up approach surrounding wellbeing and accountability. Nevertheless, if there are inadequacies within the physical safeguarding features within a design, they will often lead to greater restrictions being imposed on a person through staff not wanting to “let someone out of their sight” for fear that they may wonder off and out of the premises without anybody noticing. In other words if the balance is not right and the design is too lax the implications will usually be counter-productive and neither conducive to someone’s wellbeing nor their safety.
  • A final point to note on the subject of safeguarding is the psychological implications of inadequately designed environments on family members and upon support workers. Safeguarding of wellbeing is not necessarily solely about a person with a particular need, but also about the wellbeing of those about them as well! One wonders what happened to the psychology of staff found guilty of abuse at Winterbourne View?
  1. Neurological and psychological aspects of physical and sensory interactions:

  • There is much in the way of anecdotal accounts of features in design that can make a difference to how specialist environments operate for people with neuro-atypical experiences. For example, some people find:
    • highly reflective floors confusing, perceiving them to be wet and slippery
    • locked doorways distressing – so if a door leads only to a store then don’t draw attention to it
    • some ironmongery confusing or poses them risks
    • audible and visual fire alarms un-conducive to their safety during emergencies

This shortened list of anecdotal points doesn’t stop here and whilst design guidance and standards would aim to capture as of these observations as possible, it is worth noting that many of the design issues come to light when those involved in the commissioning and designing a particular environment, consult those who will use that environment, either as someone with neuro-atypical experiences or someone who provides support.

People with neuro-atypical experiences may also have mobility, sensory and metabolism related needs. As such it makes sense to be aware of the extent to which people’s needs are also met and summarised by:

  • Logistics: The physical and time demands of journeys within a built environment
  • Legibility: The overall degree of sensory clarity and orientation provided by an environment
  • Resources: The availability and characteristics of facilities within that environment
  • Ergonomics: The layout and detailing of features and facilities.


In conclusion, accompanying any guidance and standards on design for the mind, there is the need to understand the significance of management and information strategies.  This is a whole subject in its self, but includes subjects such as:

  • Virtual access, especially for those people for whom direct access to an environment is particularly difficult. This can be the result of very distressing sensory overload created by some public realms and public transport.
  • Outreach access, is where those providing a services visit those for whom who find both direct and virtual access difficult.

As you will see there is a reasonable amount of understanding around this subject already.  There is still a need to develop research around the subject.   What is key is for a joined up approach from government departments and charities concerned with the wellbeing of people with neuro-diverse experiences.  A summary was recently put together for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism which is as follows:

Summary: Why Support a British Standard’s Design for the Mind Publication?

Reaching the Audience

The access standard, BS 8300, is one of the most widely recognized and bestselling BSi documents within the construction industry. There is an opportunity to accompany it with a neuro-diversity access design guidance and standards and then to revise BS8300.

Collaborative Cost Savings

The proposal is to pull research efforts and guidance pertaining to different neuro-diversity experiences and different environment types into one place and to invite collaborative funding and participation from government departments (DH, DfE, DWP, HMCS, etc), charities and other interested parties.

Enabling of Work, Wellbeing and Education 

People with some neuro-diverse experiences can find accessing work, education, health and other services particularly difficult. The application of design for the mind strategies will reduce the cost to individuals and to government arising from unemployment and stress caused by environments that currently make little or no provision for the mind.

If you are interested, please contact me.

Place Working vs Open Plan

“Place” is a concept often used in architecture and urban design. But how often do we apply it to our working environments?

The issue is that most open plan offices pose challenges because of the disruption to our need for “place.” I believe this is because of the sensory conditions that they tend to impose on us – which maybe is being interpreted by some as a lack of “privacy” – perhaps for want of an alternative explanation? These challenges are arguably made even worse by some of the more draconian workplace regimes that require all staff to hot desk and/or conform to clear desk policies.

The work of Dr Jean Ayres would suggest that in order to function effectively and in tune with our personal sensory integration needs, we need to be able to find a place that suites us or adjust our environment to suite.

Our needs vary – but are significantly influenced by:
– physical comfort,
– our ability (or not) to cut out extraneous noise,
– preferences for access to daylight (see,
– our commonly held preference for access to views of the natural world and…
– our need to:
– adjust artificial lighting intensity position and colour;
– adjust what is in our visual field and to reinforce a sense of familiarity and recollection to aid our memory (see

It therefore goes without saying that workplace commissioners and designers ought to be doing all they can to address or at least mitigate the challenges posed by over simplistic and deterministic workplace strategies and to engage with our all-too-human sensory processing needs. Needs which it seems that we seem to forget and not necessarily realise could be laying behind our stress levels and attrition on our productivity.

For some these needs are known to be more acute than others (see For the rest of us, these needs could be going unnoticed, since many learn to make do. But at what cost to our health and the organisations we work for?

We can deduce from what we know of sensory integration and related neurological processes that interactive, adjustable and comfortable chairs and tables are necessary if we are to expect workers to function fully, as are optimised acoustics and good background lighting combined with good task lighting. Nevertheless we also know that some workplace environments downplay the need for access to daylight and the natural world. Do we achieve good productivity without these? I doubt that we do…. Academics such as Dr Ben Wheeler of Exeter University for example, are studying the relationship between wellbeing and access to nature. WGBC’s “Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices” would also indicate that many of these issues are significant.

However, I believe it’s the curious relationship between memory and our visual field that we could be doing more to address in design. As with the act of going from one room to another tends to wipe our memories, perhaps clearing desks or the lack of constancy when hot-desking doesn’t help either? I certainly know it doesn’t help me nor others that I’ve talked to. Would it therefore make sense in environments (where workplace managers might themselves be struggling with the sensory implications of what they perceive as clutter) to utilise desks designed in a contemporary response to the bureaus of old? With such an option, employees wouldn’t need to clear desks but only need to pull covers over their work space.

In the case of hot-desking, I sincerely believe it would be very wrong to expect all workers to hot-desk without providing an alternative as some workers would find the lack of workplace predictability very stressful. Nevertheless, what might help some to maintain their sense of visual continuity and memory in workplaces is the use of personalised trollies? Such trollies could be stowed away over night, rather than expecting workers to clear desks into lockers.

In conclusion, I believe that there are many ways that we could be achieving better working environments, if only we didn’t get carried away by trendy concepts but really paid attention to people’s physical, sensory and neurological needs and the relationship between these needs – known by some as sensory integration needs.