At WSP, Future Ready TM is our global innovation programme that aims to see the future more clearly and design for it today. We observe how trends intersect to create a bigger picture of some of societies’ most pressing issues and analyse them to create sustainable societies with lasting benefits. We’re motivated by exploring how we, as engineers and designers, can help to tackle intersectional challenges such as social and disability inequality, an ageing population and mental health through improving equity within the built environment.
To that end, we have written a report that explores the wider issue of societal understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity and non-visible disabilities; and how we as designers and engineers, can make a real difference to the way in which society perceives and understands cognitive difference in all its forms. By adopting a multi-benefit, full lifecycle view to designing the built environment, we can create spaces in which everybody feels safe, comfortable and crucially – happy to be in that space. Like designing for physical disability, designing for the mind requires us to firstly remove our perceptions and assumptions of what may constitute as a barrier or problem for somebody who is neurodivergent.
- By 2043 the population of 85+ is expected to almost double, and from resource availability to healthcare, an ageing population will bring with it many challenges. (Office for national Statistics, 2018)
- There are currently around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, which is projected to rise to 1.6 million by 2040. (Alzheimer’s Society, 2021)
- Mental health overall, is an indisputable significant stressor on our collective wellbeing, as it has been found to be the primary driver of disability worldwide (Lozano, R., 2012).
- 96% of illnesses that are non-visible (Wall, C. 2020)
- 1 in 5 of the population are neurodiverse. (ADHD Foundation, 2021)
- More than 4 in 10 adults said their well-being was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Office for National Statistics, 2020)
- People who feel that they belong less strongly to their neighbourhood reported feeling lonely more often. (Office for National Statistics, 2018)
- People living in cities have a 40% higher risk of depression, 20% higher rates of anxiety and twice the risk of schizophrenia (Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health).
It is clear to us that our changing demographics impact what we need from our built environment now and far into the future.
“Design must accommodate more people who are outside the average…because in reality, no one is actually average” - Avery Trufelman, 2016, 99% Invisible
Whilst the field of mental health research and everything it encompasses is growing rapidly, the application of this knowledge into practical, sustainable, and ‘delightful’ design solutions is an area of relative infancy. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we aspire to develop sustainable design solutions that continue to improve human experiences, foster social cohesion, and encourage positive social interactions within the built environment.
“people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference” - Scope, 2021
Beyond this, it is critical that to create inclusive places for everybody, that we gather as many thoughts, feelings and experiences of people with non-visible disabilities when designing, as we may not be able to notice these barriers ourselves.
Within the report we have shown four personas that represent a small cross section of neurodiverse individuals and their experience of the built environment. The characteristics and journeys we have referenced are based on a series of interviews that have been bolstered by secondary research. We sought first-hand experiences from individuals, carers and family members in addition to a variety of industry experts who have experience working with these neurodiversity themes. These personas highlight common experiences and challenges to outline opportunities for change.