Research shows that members of the neurodivergent community continue to face struggles with disabling workspaces, with the British Council for Offices (BCO) calling on landlords and occupiers to urgently design more inclusive office spaces.
One in seven individuals in the UK is classed as neurodivergent, yet these individuals’ needs continue to be neglected by businesses. With the workspace still holding barriers to their wellbeing, there is a clear link between poor office design and increased occurrences of burnout and unemployment among neurodivergent individuals.
1 in 7 in the UK are neurodivergent, but the community’s needs continue to be neglected in the workplace
The BCO’s latest report, Designing for Neurodiversity, examines how the neurodiverse community remains underserved and often unsupported in the current employment ecosystem, and in turn, outlines a set of principles that built environment practitioners can follow to make offices enabling environments, and the crucial role of more inclusive designs, offering concrete design recommendations for future regulations.
A significant principle of neurodiversity is the belief that it is not the pathology of the condition that causes barriers to societal inclusion or causes a disability; rather, it is the socio-cultural architecture of a society that is only equipped to support a small range of variability. Understanding the difference can help create a new framework for approaching design, and the ability to make society more just and inclusive.
The report integrates the health aspects of an office environment with how these affect access to employment for those who identify as neurodiverse. Specifically, defining an enabling work environment to be one that supports the mental, social, psychological, and physical health of those inhabiting the space. The characteristics of enabling spaces, include:
The BCO suggests the following methods for each stage of the design:
- Observation stage: Time should be set aside to observe people and place in order to fully understand the various and nuanced needs of the user.
- Prototype stage: Design concepts should be tested to ensure that they translate from concept to real-world application. This is also a good time to learn how to enable interactions and address blind spots.
- Maintenance stage: Improvements can, and should, be made over the long-term management of the building with the flexibility to enable quick changes to be made to accommodate new people or to adjust to changes in the needs of people.
Rob Harris, Chair of the BCO Research Committee, said: “In a time where macro-societal trends such as sustainability and the adoption of hybrid working continue to influence office design, it is crucial for future workspace solutions to benefit the lived experience of all occupiers, including those who are neurodiverse. While it is only one element of the employment ecosystem, office design can contribute to creating equitable and nurturing work environments. To be successful, design solutions must be inclusive, functional, and supportive of the wide spectrum of conditions which fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity.”
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