Historically inclusive design has tended to focus on visual or mobility impairments, with minimal consideration for neurodiversity or hidden disabilities. Thanks to a series of high-profile campaigns by a number of charities and support organisations, things are changing. In the wayfinding world, the successful accessible toilets campaign by Crohn’s & Colitis UK is one that comes to mind. When it comes to inclusive design for cognitive impairments, there is still much work to be done.
I thought it would be useful to start with some stats…
- 1 in 5 of the UK population has a disability – that’s 13 million people.
- 2 in 3 of these is visible – which means that 9 million people have a hidden disability.
- With our ageing population these figures are set to keep on growing.
The 1 in 5 figure is for people that have a diagnosed disability. However, a third of the whole population will have a significant impairment at any one time, due to a short-term illness or accident. For example people undergoing cancer treatment; recovering from a major operation, trauma or injury; even expectant mothers.
But most of us are likely to to succumb to a temporary cognitive impairment, in particular situations. Bringing this back to wayfinding, unless you’re extremely zen, we’ve all been in situations where we’re running very late for a meeting, train, plane or event. Panic impacts on our ability to process information. We’re so distracted by the potential consequences that we can’t focus on reading a map, information or listening to directions. Let alone retain and act on that information. We run around like the proverbial headless chicken. As our usual courteous, empathic self, barges and snaps at anyone that’s unfortunate to get in our way.
Changing the Narrative
The message is very clear. An inclusive design approach is not about meeting the needs of a sub section of the population. We need to recognise that everyone at some time, whether through ageing, illness, injury or context is likely to be affected by physical, sensory and or cognitive impairments.
Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all solution. Adopting approaches that suit one community may impact negatively on another. We need to take a multi-layered approach and test it with a diverse audience. All of which takes time and money. We also have to accept that despite all best endeavours, we’re unlikely to be able to satisfy all of the people all of the time.