Build, Build, Build, but don’t build like before

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Group of teenage girls are walking down the school hall with books and laptops in their arms. They are talking and laughing as they walk and there is a female teacher using the printer.

Boris Johnson has called for the UK to ‘Build, Build, Build’, but Trudi Beswick is calling on the government and the construction industry to use this opportunity to re-consider exactly who they are building for.

Current building regulations only serve to improve accessibility for people with different mobility and vision needs. 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent, meaning that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. This includes Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. These conditions are not considered within existing Building Regulations – but they should. SEN interviewed Trudi Beswick, CEO of children’s charity Caudwell Children, about her thoughts on future building regulations.

What kind of building regulations should be in place to accommodate for people with mental disabilities like Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia?

Revised accessibility guidelines have to take into account a broader spectrum of needs, including the sensory experiences of a neurodiverse population. This will include (but is not limited to) the use of non-flicker lighting, acoustic sound management and wayfinding/signage.

But first and foremost, it should become a requirement to undertake meaningful engagement of future stakeholders which is representative of our naturally diverse society, and to be able to evidence how the needs of neurodiverse people have been met in each design element in the final building.

Should owners of older buildings also be ordered to add accessibility features?

I believe there will be many of the recommendations that can be implemented retrospectively with little or no cost to the business or building owners. For example, providing visuals of the inside of the building online or by email prior to visiting could be a significant aid for someone with a neurodevelopmental disorder. The removal of cluttered displays and signage could also create a more accessible environment at no capital cost. If the environment is such that it prevents a diverse population from visiting or using it then there should be a requirement to make reasonable adjustments to rectify it.

What kind of building regulations should be in place to accommodate for people with physical disabilities?

Within the Building Regulations Approved Document M and the Building Standards Institute BS 8300 code of practice there are extensive requirements to accommodate people with physical disabilitie. I believe that building regulations fall short in the recognition of a broader spectrum of disabilities and in enforcing representative stakeholder engagement in the design process which will ultimately create better environments for everyone.

Should funds or grants be available for these additions to be made to future buildings?

It is reasonable to provide grants to building owners required to make extensive retrospective adjustments but support should not be needed or provided for new projects. We have evidenced in the design and construction of the Caudwell International Children’s Centre that inclusive environments can be created without any significant uplift in the overall project cost.

As long as accessibility is identified as a priority throughout the design process, cost-effective solutions can be found for most design decisions. Once this approach to accessibility is widely adopted by the construction industry the market will adjust and accessible products and solutions will become the rule instead of the exception.

Should stricter accessibility guidelines also be applied to public terrain such as roads, squares and parks?

There are some strict guidelines that need to be adhered to in all environments but this is really about promoting a broader recognition and understanding of what accessibility guidelines should include. People experience the world very differently and the sooner everyone within construction, infrastructure and planning recognises a broader definition of accessibility the better the world will be for everyone.  

What kind of changes should be made to building codes for public terrain?

When planning the potential ‘user journey’ of people visiting the Caudwell International Children’s Centre, many of who will be autistic or be living with different hidden or physical disabilities, we consulted with experts through experience to discuss how they may feel before and during their visit. This insight has informed how to provide the required information before they visit and create the appropriate environments to enable them to manage their own experience accordingly. This same approach to stakeholder engagement could and should be adopted by designers planning any public space and would influence key design considerations like transition, people movement, signage, materials, lighting and sound. 

Trudi Beswick
Trudi Beswick

Trudi Beswick is the CEO of the children's charity Caudwell Children. She is also a board member of the Design in Mental Health Network - the British Standards Institution.

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