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Invisible Inclusivity:  Raising the Bar within the Design Community

Kimberly J. Albritton, Allied ASID, CAPS

Focus Design Services     Lithia, Florida

Inclusive – Including stated limits or extremes; broad in scope.  

Is inclusivity, as it pertains to design, really such a tall order?  When seeking out a restaurant at which to dine, one never says, “Come, let’s go eat somewhere that has barely met the minimum requirements for cleanliness and food quality.”  As consumers, we demand the highest standards for the products we purchase, services we employ and establishments that we patronize.  Why is it then that we are content to accept the minimum standards for inclusivity in our public spaces and virtually no provision for such in our private spaces?  People are living longer than ever before and it is time for those responsible for our built environment to accept the social responsibility of designing spaces to meet this need.

Show Me the Numbers

To truly comprehend the levity of this problem, we must first reiterate a few demographic facts.  It is no secret that our world is on the cusp of a shift of epic proportion in the average age of the human population.  In the early 1900’s,  life expectancy was forty-seven years of age; today, that number has increased to an average of seventy-six years of age, with almost 80% of our population living past the age of sixty-five 1.   The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2020, the number of citizens over the age of sixty-five will be nearly 40 million.  Additionally, the number of people living with some form of physical challenge has also increased due to advancements made in the worlds of medicine and technology.  The question of whether or not there is a viable market for implementation of inclusive design standards can be answered with an emphatic “yes”.  But what is the design/build industry doing to meet this need?  Unfortunately, not enough.  

We still live in a world where minimum requirements are the standard in commercial spaces and residential dwellings are largely ignored in the legislative realm to appease builders focused on production building with little desire to learn to do things differently than they have always done.  An already over-burdened system of assisted living facilities is woefully unprepared for the onslaught of aging baby-boomers and their parents yet residential builders continue to pump out cookie-cutter homes designed with the one-size-fits-all mentality.  Opponents of standardized legislation governing single-family dwellings insist that inclusive modifications cost more to implement and that some home sites are unsuitable for these modifications.  The truth, in fact, is that minimum visitability features (i.e. clear passage of 32” through all main floor doors, a zero step entrance, and a main floor bath with ample maneuvering space for a wheelchair)

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