How do we measure the success of a project? Though there are many areas to consider, one of the most important is that everyone can use the design. Sometimes interchangeably using the terms accessible and inclusive occurs and while they are very similar, there are nuisances that separate them. Accessibility or accessible design is following and adhering to a set of guidelines, focusing on the outcome, or finished product. Each space created must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities as required in set guidelines published by government and industry groups that aim to ensure that spaces and structures are accessible to everyone. These guidelines create opportunities for MSA rather than restraining our design; they flex our creativity while embracing universal design.
Inclusive design focuses on the process for creating design for a diverse group of users, seeking to create spaces that provide solutions that fit everyone and welcomes all, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, or ethnicity.
Accessible Design – adapted for use by people with disabilities, “ability to access”, enabling access for people with disabilities.
Inclusive Design – including everyone, broad in orientation or scope, design method in which the design of a product, service or environment is usable for as many people as possible.
Accessible design and Inclusive design work hand in hand and meet where people and their environments interact. Inclusive design recognizes that solutions that work for people with a disability are likely to also work for people in many different circumstances.
At MSA Design, we never settle for “meeting the code or guidelines”; we strive to create a dynamic and diverse solution that will fit the needs of the users of today and in the future with all levels of abilities and challenges. We believe that all users should have equal access to the space, meaning no segregation or stigmatism occur in the environment. Spaces should be flexible and adaptable, as well as simple and intuitive in use. We strive to remove unnecessary complexities to provide a successful experience for all end users.
One of our most recent projects explored how to create a cozy and inviting shared space for children in ages ranging from under six years old to 11 years old. This was not solely an exercise in scale, but one with considerations for varying disabilities that pushed our team to find “exciting flexibility” in material, texture, and space solutions. Ramped areas and ledged seating provide full accessibility to all areas within the space. Interactive elements in the play areas incorporate materials to accommodate children of all abilities to stimulate the sense (touch, sound, sight), such as turning gears, moving beads, wood chimes, and bells. Organic design elements, including a tree canopy ceiling and moss-inspired carpet mimic nature to create feelings of calm. Involvement in the decision-making process of the spaces included educators, parents, and children who would eventually utilize the created spaces, further adding to the inclusivity of the spaces and a sense of ownership.
Going back to the original question, how do we measure the success of a project? Our spaces must respect and support all users and visitors. It is not enough for a space to be beautiful; it must be welcoming and open to all types of users. While there is a way to “meet the code” and create an accessible design, it is our purpose to create beautiful and dynamic spaces for each person through an inclusive design approach.