Designing schools that really work for students with disabilities will enhance the quality of the environment for everyone
Each new project brings its own challenges, and we currently have two special school projects for pupils with multiple and profound learning difficulties. In order to make sure we really understand the needs of students with disability we have spent a number of days with the teaching and support staff to understand the challenges and methods they use in delivering the curriculum to students with a wide range of disabilities.
This is a humbling and inspirational experience. The teaching and learning methods are truly “personalised” to each pupil’s abilities and needs and the staff fill us with admiration.
In addition, and with the support and guidance of these schools, we have spent a day either in a wheelchair or wearing a blindfold to immerse ourselves in the life of the school - an exercise which has given us tremendous insight into the daily experiences of some pupils.
We have spent a day either in a wheelchair or wearing a blindfold to immerse ourselves in the life of the school
It’s not until you’ve negotiated your way around a school with mazy corridors and stepped thresholds and tried to navigate across a playground that you can appreciate how important even the smallest details can be to students with mobility or sight difficulties.
This approach has helped us re-evaluate how levels, textures, smells and light can be crucial to the quality of the learning environment for disabled students. And when we reflect, if we as designers think about making inclusive places for people with disabilities, we will by default create places that are uplifting for us all - welcoming, comfortable, well lit, easy to access, and with sensitive consideration to material finishes, fittings and fixtures.
Through briefly losing an ability we have been reminded how we connect with our environment afresh.
Philip Watson is design director at Atkins