Simone West covers some unanswered questions from our Social Value Live session on delivering neurodivergent-friendly spaces

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Neurodiversity refers to a natural variation in the human brain, encompassing individuals with autism, dementia, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and more. These individuals often have unique strengths and abilities but tend to navigate their surroundings in different ways and can experience challenges in traditional built environments. 

During Social Value Live, we held a session focused on designing and delivering neurodivergent-friendly spaces. Our three panellists – Clive Hall, director at BDG Architecture + Design; Riëtte Oosthuizen, planning partner at HTA Design; and Simone West, inclusive design advisor at TfL – explored the importance of sensory-friendly design and discussed the design elements that can help neurodivergent individuals thrive.

The live webinar proved to be hugely popular and the Q+A session at the end could not possibly answer all of the attendees’ questions. However, Simone West kindly agreed to answer a few additional questions below.

What are the first steps we should be taking when designing inclusive spaces?

Firstly, it’s important to ensure someone in the team has knowledge about inclusion and how the environment impacts neurodiversity. The person should own inclusion from the beginning to the end of the project so that there is an understanding of decisions recorded throughout.

Also, you must ensure regular inclusive design reviews occur throughout the design process. This includes impacts of procurement and value engineering and when on site.

Meaningful engagement with stakeholders which feeds into the review process is also an important first step.

Regarding triggers for neurodiverse individuals. Can you share your references?

The research utilised for PAS 6463:2022 on designing for the mind is referenced within the document.

Can you summarise the research on colourful crossings? Is it a good or bad idea?

The research is not yet complete. I believe TfL will make this public when it is completed and on the basis of the research we hope to decide whether and what suitable parameters are for colourful crossings. Colour and pattern in the built environment are complex and there are likely to be other questions still to answer around other uses.

What methods do you utilise to understand user experience for post-occupancy evaluation?

Whilst the value of post-occupancy evaluation is known, unfortunately, it is often not considered a priority when budgeting for a project, despite the potential long-term gains.

I would advocate for post-occupancy evaluation and I think this can be measured through qualitative and quantitative research.

Firstly, does the environment deliver on the physical characteristics of a neurodivergent-friendly space? And secondly, what do occupiers/stakeholders experience? The specific measures depend on the project and whether measures can be taken prior to work to give clarity of impact.

Incorporating flexibility can be difficult when limited on space. What advice would you give for projects with a small footprint?

Space is always valuable even when there appears to be a lot. It is about understanding the benefits provided. For example, colour, wayfinding, pre-site information, reduction in noise and many more characteristics can be at no extra cost. They simply require early consideration.

Other items may require space. For example, choice of route or quiet spaces. It is difficult to say specifically for all projects and as long as neurodivergent stakeholders are engaged and the benefits are explored then the client or design team can prioritise from an informed position.

>> Also read: Inclusive building design helps clients demonstrate their commitment to people and planet