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On the 20th November Communities Minister Stephen Williams set out the gauntlet . . . encouraging all the major professional bodies to do more to promote inclusive design and projects that respond to end user needs. Its a great idea, and one which we hope will be seen through to the end.

All too often inclusive design and accessibility issues are not properly understood by project teams. Most design teams lack the knowledge to get it right and more importantly they never really sit down and work out what the legal obligations of the client are, let alone explain them to the client (who incidentally carries the can if the team get it wrong!). Often there is no discussion about the benefits of inclusive design, in terms of reducing the risk of a claim for discrimination, achieving BREAAM credits or simply that fact that inclusive design is good design! Even when these issues have been addressed during design when it comes to the crunch of ‘value engineering’ the dreaded question is always put on the table “is it statutory?” its a difficult question because of the way that the Equality Act works, being enforced by disabled people themselves rather than centrally. This means project managers and design teams make decisions which effectively attempt to balance user needs with ‘risk’. Its often the short term thinking that wins out here with the perceived more cost effective options being chosen. In these circumstances at least there is a discussion about it and a conscious decision is made. On most projects there is no discussion!

It does not have to be this way. With the right advice in place as part of the design team there can be clarity, at the very least, with better quality outputs and reduced risk for the client. We work with design teams to make sure clients are making informed decisions in view of the benefits as well as the risks. We set clear objectives and provide guidance for design teams to follow so that the people who own the risk (aka clients) are actually engaged in making the decisions.

So. Lets see if the professional bodies can work together to make an impact and help raise awareness of the need for inclusive design and greater engagement with end users. There due to announce their plans in February so we will keep you updated.