‘Cognitively inclusive’ toolkit aiming to get design right

Sarah Waller CBE, an Associate Specialist at the Association for Dementia Studies, University of Worcester, and her colleague, Research assistant, Jennifer Bray, discuss the development, launch, and thinking behind a new ‘toolkit’ designed to help primary care facilities improve the physical environment for all patients – including neurodiverse individuals.

The Designing for Everyone toolkit has been developed to help GP practices and health centres improve their buildings and the physical environment of care for all patients, and particularly those who are living with dementia, learning disabilities, autism, or cognitive impairment. It is believed to be the first integrated resource of its kind to focus specifically on design principles to support those who are neurodiverse or have conditions like anxiety.

There is a growing body of evidence to indicate that appropriate design of the environment across a range of settings can promote independence, quality of life, and wellbeing, for older people in general, and in particular for those living with dementia.1 Until relatively recently however, less attention has been given to the possibility of developing supportive design for people living with other neurodiverse conditions that cause sensory processing difficulties.

Neurodiversity is a term increasingly being used to describe people whose brain operates differently from that of a neurotypical individual in respect of sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. It describes a wide cluster of people estimated at 20% of the population with different presentations linked to neurological origins — including dementia, autism, attention deficit, and hyperactivity disorders, Asperger's syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and Tourette Syndrome, as well as people with complex needs and mental health conditions that differ from that of a 'neurotypical' individual. 'Neurodiverse' therefore describes individuals rather than a specific condition, but currently there is no standard definition of either the neurodegenerative or neurodivergent conditions that should be included in the umbrella term, 'neurodiversity'. The British Standards Institute's Publicly Available Specification (PAS), Design for the Mind. Neurodiversity and the built environment, makes it clear that it does not focus on one condition, difficulty, or difference, recognising the diversity of human brains and that each is unique.2

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