Design and Nature: Considerations from Including Children with Special Needs

The Working Group on Inclusion explores the four key concepts of the Working Forum on Design and Nature through the lens of inclusion, with the goal being not only access but full participation!

Collaboration – When designing spaces, involve people from your community who have disabilities or family members with disabilities to best understand what really matters in terms of accessibility and participation.

Connection between indoor and outdoor spaces – The way people enter and exit spaces sends a message. If at all possible, no one should have to use a separate entrance. Structures and facilities should be built with the principles of Universal Design so that any person of any ability will be able to use it. Design for physical access with ramps and railings. Highlight differences in surfaces and heights with contrasting colors, to help those with vision challenges. Provide a way for those who are easily overwhelmed or over excited transitional spaces where they can more calmly or gradually move between different spaces and activities.

Pedagogy – Make certain that learning materials and spaces are accessible and if not, provide adaptations or alternatives. Insure that the environment combines comfortable spaces that support development as well as flexible spaces that will encourage exploring into the unknown. Natural outdoor classrooms can support children with a spectrum of abilities to discover and use different strengths and modes of learning. For example a child might be able to show what he or she knows using ‘loose parts’ and tools rather than relying on words. Accessible spaces designed for all children also create occasions for social development and new play partners.

Context – Work with local customs and values when making your space and materials accessible. What provides opportunities for inclusion or what creates a barrier may not be the same for all. Some communities place a higher value on independence, for instance, while others may focus on participation. What customs and values support inclusion?

Strive for a design that will give pleasure and happiness to all users. It is very important to first understand the principles of assessing and working with a child with special needs and then seek to reinterpret these principles through contemporary design, using the latest technologies in locally relevant ways. It is in the doing that the ideas come. Solving a design challenge in an inclusion setting is essentially taking what we know from our collective experiences and immersing ourselves in the world of children with special needs, to learn from them with their families, caregivers and teachers what works and what does not. In this way, architectural expression can grow from the inside out.


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