Beyond ramps and signs: design for neurodiversity

  • There is no ‘normal’ brain, but differences in how people perceive, think and act are predominantly considered as impairments or deficits that require fixing or, at least, management. The concept of ‘neurodiversity’ gives us an opportunity to apply universal design principles and investigate opportunities for mediating environments instead of individuals.

    The wiring, or neural pathways, of people’s brains begins before birth, but is dynamic across the lifespan, responding to illness (e.g. meningitis, vascular dementia), injury (e.g. stroke, motor vehicle accident), and various external stimuli. Universal design principles have been effectively applied to support people with limited sensory perception (e.g. people with low or no vision, people who are hard of hearing), but to be truly ‘universal’, our designs should also accommodate people with sensory sensitivities (e.g. dyslexia, ADHD, dementia, autism, bipolar).

    This session will explore places, products and communication strategies that present barriers and facilitators to inclusion for a neurodiverse population. It will highlight the value of evaluating ‘usability’ for individuals, as opposed to the ‘accessibility’ for populations. It will also provide examples of inclusive research and co-design that provides a means of building empathy and knowledge that can contribute to inclusive design and communication strategies. The session will also prompt discussion and debate about health and wellbeing in home, work and community environments that are increasingly hyper-stimulated.


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