(Metropolis is an internationally recognised design and architecture–concentrated magazine with a strong focus on ethics, innovation and sustainability in the creative sector.)
Nov 14, 2023, Metropolis Magazine: Embracing Differences: Understanding and Designing for Neurodiversity https://metropolismag.com/viewpoints/understanding-and-designing-for-neurodiversity/
METROPOLIS believes that when we are designing for neurodiversity, we are designing for everyone. Whether it be autism, ADHD, or sensory processing disorder, learning from different social and sensory experiences will create a more just built environment.
The importance of designing for neurodiversity has surged in recent years, often reshaping our approach to accessibility and inclusion. From the selection of materials, lighting, colors, and acoustics to the evolution of educational and workplace paradigms, designers and architects carry the responsibility of ensuring that everyone, regardless of neurological profile, is set up for success. In truly embracing neurodiversity—which includes a broad spectrum of neurological differences like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia—we underscore that these distinctions are not deficiencies but valuable variations of the human mind. Here, METROPOLIS explores the process of designing for neurodiversity and building a more welcoming world for all.
Coined by sociologist Judy Singer in the 1990s, the term “neurodiversity” challenges the notion of a singular norm and celebrates the natural variability in human neurology—including conditions like autism, ADHD and sensory processing disorders—as well as physical differences. As we become more educated on creating inclusive spaces that embrace all abilities, designers and architects are increasingly advocating for adjustments that improve focus, productivity, and comfort in settings like schools, workplaces, and beyond....
About 1 in 54 children has ASD, and an even broader segment of the population identifies as neurodivergent. The A&D industry has responded, shifting away from designing for the “average” person and embracing a more universal approach that accommodates a greater range of thinking styles. Designers have also stepped up to the plate creating everything from colorful kitchen tools and human-centered spaces to inclusive nonprofits and evidence-based design guidelines to address built environments for those on the autism spectrum....
How Can We Achieve Accessibility and Universal Design?
In the realm of design, accessibility entails creating products, devices, services or environments that can be used by as many people as possible. Though discussions around the topic have been ongoing for a while, a turning point in the conversation occurred when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. The landmark legislation not only outlawed discrimination based on disability but also required employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and enforced accessibility requirements on public accommodations. More than 30 years later, great strides in accessibility for architecture and design have been made, but there’s still much work to be done—especially in the technological and the building space.
By taking steps to foster independence and empower success for those with neurological differences, examples of truly accessible architecture continue to grow. Architects and designers are increasingly weighing concepts like acoustics, spatial sequences, and sensory zoning that encompass design elements like color, lighting, material choices, wayfinding, and technology. As the notion of designing for neurodiversity continues to evolve our ideas of inclusivity and accessibility, we can agree on this: There’s a growing aspiration for creating more inclusive environments where diverse minds and abilities harmoniously coexist.