Emma Mitchell

By Emma Mitchell
Senior Workplace Consultant |

Universal design is creating environments and offices that work for everyone. This goes beyond accessibility or disability, and aims to make spaces inclusive for all; regardless of their age, ability or status in life.

Universal design is key to supporting an ever-diversifying population. There are times that we are injured, temporarily restricted or have an issue we may not want to disclose at work. It’s about creating spaces where we don’t have to ask, but spaces that are intuitive and can be personalised and adapted to suit our needs. A great inclusive design can enhance productivity and engagement, and provides a great work experience for everyone.

Removing adjustments

A lot of organisations are very good at accommodating reasonable adjustments for staff (such as chairs or technology); whether to facilitate their return to work after an accident, or as a permanent measure for new staff. While this helps them do their work, it can actually alienate them if they’re restricted to using one desk. This means having less choice over where and how they work, compared to their colleagues.

Barrier free workspaces

Designing a barrier-free environment means that those people who might otherwise have challenges in spaces are no longer considered “other”. Part of the universal design concept is to take away the need to request special treatment and single anyone out as unique. Universal design allows us to provide the same user experience to everyone, whatever their situation.

Here are a few tips from our workplace consultants on how to make your office inclusive for all.

Meeting spaces

  • Round tables are great, as everyone faces everyone which makes lips easier to see and more obvious when someone is speaking.
  • Integrate acoustic panelling into the ceiling to reduce reverberations in rooms with writable or glass walls.
  • A variety of sitting and standing spaces allows everyone to be able to choose a meeting area where they’re comfortable.
  • Soft open spaces (like high-backed sofas) can act as an acoustic barrier and create a more sensory space where people feel more relaxed.
  • Have ample space in rooms; allowing for people with wheelchairs, crutches or canes to move around comfortably.
  • Lever handles instead of twist doorknobs or handles – absolutely essential for those with arthritis or even just slippery hands.

Breakout and quiet areas

  • Often considered a “nice to have”, we’ve heard from disability charities that people often need a space to recuperate. A space that’s private but not necessarily completely closed is perfect, and a curtain can even provide adequate privacy.
  • A chaise lounge, along with a variety of other furniture to give the quiet room some flexibility.

Working areas

  • Use soft, plush carpeting over timber floors or tiles to help absorb excess noise.
  • Power on top of desks - to eliminate scrabbling underneath which saves time and any unforeseen IT problems when your colleague accidentally unplugs your PC!
  • Have enough space between desks to allow wheelchair users to use any desk, not just the end one.
  • Keep walkways clear and minimise clutter which someone with visual impairment may not register
  • Use visibly contrasting colours for flooring. If there is a minor change in level, or a step it can be perceived through visual cues.