What is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive design makes places, products and services usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible. The result is designs that work for everyone, regardless of age, ability and circumstance. No costly retrofits, happy users, great designs. What's not to like?

Inclusive design (also called universal design and design for all) is a worldwide movement that responds to the realities of social and demographic diversity. It is based on the simple principle that designing for the widest range of people not only benefits the people who often get left out of the design process, it benefits everyone.

Applying an inclusive approach to all stages of planning, design and construction ensures that designs most closely meet the needs of the people they were created for, and that maximum flexibility is built in from the outset.

Inclusive design recognises the short-comings of traditional ways of defining disability as specific, usually permanent, limitations impacting a defined (and by implication separate) group of people. An inclusive approach understands how disabilty threads its way through all age groups and backgrounds and how the impacts are shared by friends and families. Some disabilities are temporary, some are linked with a health condition and many are connected with ageing. The bottom line is that in the UK about 1 person in every 5 is experiencing some form of disability in the wider sense.

There are legal obligations for employers and service providers to make reasonable adjustments to improve access for disabled people. In the UK these are now framed in the Equality Act 2010.

Removing barriers

Physical barriers to access, like steps and slopes, are well recognised, even if not always resolved. There is less awareness of the social and psychological barriers than can reduce people's motivations and abilities to use their environment. These barriers are diverse, but include issues like fear of personal safety and perceived risk of crime; feelings of not belonging or of being an 'outsider'; lack of confidence in an unfamiliar environment and feeling dependent on others.

Our approach to inclusive design:

The following principles underpin our approach to inclusive design:

Integration, not segregation

Segregated provision serves to reinforce feelings of difference and deviance from the norm. A core principle of inclusive design is to design for integration and equitable use. So, for example, making the main entrance to a site or building accessible to all visitors, rather than having a separate entrance around the side for wheelchair users and pushchairs.

Equality of experience

Technical accessibility (paths, steps, toilets etc) will determine if it is possible for people to get to and around a site, the experiences on offer will determine if people will want to. It is important that the overall mix of individual experiences add up to an equally good experience for all visitors.

Working with people

Too often designs are developed on assumed preferences and needs. Involving a range of users in site planning and development will help avoid costly mistakes and maximise the success of the design.

Flexibility and right to choose

If people are well-informed about what is on offer they will be able to make their own choices. This should not be limited to sites that are regarded as fully accessible sites that contain features that are barriers to some people will be accessible to others. Sufficient information is crucial.

Building on good practice

Good practice is advanced by learning from existing good examples of inclusive design. It helps to research and experiment to find out what works, and to share good design examples and solutions to common challenges.


Inclusive design in practice - examples of how we've used inclusive design in our work

Our work with the Eden Project - how we've helped Eden welcome visitors of all ages and abilities

Inclusive design toolkit - helping new building projects integrate an inclusive approach at all stages of design, build and management


Outdoor access design factsheets - free guidance

Access Chain - a tool we created for reviewing access from the user's perspective

Access statements - samples for you to use

Accessible information design - making your communication available to everyone is a crucial part of inclusive design

Our publications - for more information and guidance

Can we help?

Sensory Trust runs consultancy in inclusive design. Read more about our consultancy services >>