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Design Planning & Creating An Inclusive Environment In Universities

The physical layout of the university campus and its facilities can significantly influence the learning experience, including how the students interact with one another as well as how motivated, focused and engaged they feel.

What Is Inclusive Design?

Inclusive design is for all – it describes an environment which caters for a diverse society, the widest range of people, and seeks to create physical spaces, products and systems which are accessible and functional for everyone. The more inclusive a campus environment is, the more people are able to access it, subsequently helping to expand and enrich university life – failure to create a more inclusive environment can lead to lower participation and less overall satisfaction.

Sometimes referred to as universal design, inclusive design should reflect the diversity of the student body and is a fundamental right which should be integrated into all aspects of society. Addressing inclusivity can help to remove some of the many barriers created within our society which negatively impact the opportunities of disabled and impaired people - this includes the university environment.

Inclusivity should be considered during the design phase of any physical space. It is the responsibility of the university to ensure that disabled students are not disadvantaged by the physical environment or teaching methods on campus. The built environment and university culture and practices should create inclusivity and cohesivity, rather than hindering any individual’s ability to participate fully in university life.

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Why Is Inclusivity So Important to Universities?

Inclusivity is progressive – allowing all students to fulfil their potential at university level is beneficial to overall economic growth and society as a whole.

Recent government initiatives have seen an increase in the number of students with disabilities attending universities, University Minister Chris Skidmore stated; “The figures from the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) out today show that in 2017/18 there were 26,100 more new students with a disability at English universities than in 2013/14 – an increase of 38% per cent.”

However, it is apparent that there is still room for improvement as the University Minister also stated that; “The number of students with a disability starting university is still below the proportion of working-age adults with a disability. So, I want us all to do more to show disabled students that going to university can be an option for them”.

How Is Inclusivity Created?

An inclusive learning environment is achieved by the implementation of various adaptations and considerations – it refers not only to the physical environment but also to teaching adjustments and the successful implementation of IT equipment and libraries to support Special Educational Needs (SEN). SEN describes a broad range of educational needs, including not only physical disabilities, but all types of learning difficulties and conditions such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD amongst others. Inclusivity is created when these additional needs are met and supported by the physical environment and teaching methods.

In terms of any physical design phase, every decision regarding use of space, access, furniture etc. has the potential to either include or exclude its occupants. Inclusive design covers different needs capabilities and aspirations, as well as ensuring that all occupants of a physical space are provided with equal opportunity and feel as though their contribution is valued.

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Inclusivity in Lecture Theatre Design

The lecture theatre is often a discerning feature of any university - in many ways, indicative of the overall status of the establishment. Its design should support students, reinforce inclusivity, health and well-being.

Considerations during the design and planning phase of the lecture theatre include:

  • Unobstructed circulation space
  • Good lighting
  • Colour schemes
  • Access
  • Materials used
  • Steps and ramps
  • Desk height
  • Seating layout
  • Integrated technology systems
  • Suitable signage
  • Non-slip floor surfacing
  • Visual contrast and materials

Ferco Seating Projects

Ferco have worked with a wide range of educational establishments to provide fixed seating solutions, suitable for use by students with additional educational needs by creating a seating plan which optimises the learning experience for all students. Ferco design learning spaces with fixed seating, which incorporate Designated Disabled Access (DDA) Spaces and can be fitted with gas-lift adjustable height Wrimatic tablets for wheelchair users, removable desks, as well as designated spaces and seats suitable for the ambulant disabled, which include armrests that open with a gate-like motion. The integrated Wrimatic tablet is suitable for use by both left and right-handed people.

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Ferco are able to provide highly flexible layouts, which create both new possibilities as well as assisting in solving practical problems. 3D layout drawings are produced to decide the most practical use of the learning environment and the positioning of specific DDA spaces.

All of our seating carries a worldwide five-year manufacturer’s warranty and complies with applicable legal, statutory, regulatory and occupational health and safety requirements.

Case Studies

Alliance Manchester Business School

The Alliance Manchester Business School underwent an ambitious refurbishment to create an inclusive learning environment, offering some of the most modern campus facilities in the world. Ferco worked closely with the Business School Estates team to install seating solutions in five different teaching spaces, this included four different products which were selected for their functionality and differing aesthetics – the Collaborative Wave™, ARC One with Wrimatic™ tablet, FT10 and ARC One Plus.

Cass Business School

One of the leading business schools in the world, Cass Business School tasked Ferco with providing a seating solution. Ferco chose the ARC One lecture theatre seat for the project due to its impressive features and versatility.

The University of Manchester

Ferco were asked to replace seating in two lecture theatres to create a usable and sustainable space for educational trends, the Athena provided the ideal solution for the project.

Contact Ferco for more information on creating inclusive seating plans at educational establishments.

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