First published in July 2023 and nine months into its implementation, many clients, project managers and designers are still unaware of the inclusive design overlay’s existence or how best to use it, as well as how to engage inclusive design professionals (or access consultants) to enrich the design process and enhance the end product. 

What is the inclusive design overlay? 

The RIBA Plan of Work is the established framework for the building design and construction process. The inclusive design overlay was developed to embed inclusive design across all stages of construction projects and empower each of the teams involved to contribute to creating inclusive environments. It encourages the project team to look beyond simply the application of building regulations and strive to apply inclusive design best practices (in the spirit of the RIBA Inclusion Charter) at each stage. 

Embracing inclusive design 

Inaccessible design can systematically exclude people. By designing with diversity in mind, we can remove accessibility barriers across places people work, visit, and live. Because inclusive environments respond to human diversity and differences, they offer dignity, autonomy and choice, and they also provide flexibility in use. 

Embracing inclusive design has many benefits: 

  • Inclusive environments are socially diverse and socially responsible. Inclusive environment principles very much align with the social considerations of ESG. 
  • Creating inclusive environments, whether by ensuring new build projects meet best practice standards or improving existing buildings, reduces redundancy and helps keep buildings compliant and sustainable for longer.  
  • Inclusive design also aligns with legal requirements related to accessibility and non-discrimination. These obligations can be addressed either by applying the minimum standards of the Building Regulations or by ensuring the built environment does not adversely impact the Equality Act aspects an end user or building owner may have. Although the Equality Act is not prescriptive, nor is it building legislation, documenting the inclusive design process is a critical form of protection. 
  • Incorporating inclusive design at the earliest possible stage avoids potential added costs. Addressing design issues on paper (or screen) at the concept or preliminary design stage is much more cost-effective than redesigning at the detailed design stage or retrospective work when a building is complete. 

Taking into account the points above, a building that has inclusive design at its heart can only add to its investment viability. Simply put, embedding inclusive design into any scheme is the right thing to do from a social, sustainability, cost, legal and investment perspective. 

The project team: size and complexity matters 

The overlay sets out inclusive design tasks applicable to the diverse range of built environment professionals involved with a project, with core project roles including the client, project management team, design team, construction team and other stakeholders. Alongside these core project roles, an inclusive design lead is referenced throughout the work stages; their primary role is to provide support and expertise to the other project roles. 

Depending on the size and complexity of the majority of projects, the inclusive design lead will be an independent inclusive design consultant (or access consultant) appointed to ensure environments are designed to be accessible and usable for all people, regardless of their abilities, disabilities, gender, faith, and other protected characteristics. 

As a specialist in the field of inclusive design, the consultant should be appointed at the earliest stages of a project to help define the project brief, set the inclusive design strategy, and provide specialist advice at each RIBA work stage to help design projects that are as inclusive as possible for everyone. 

However, where the project is smaller in size and does not require specialist inclusive design advice, a member of the project team with the appropriate scope and services could be identified as an inclusion champion. They will have the responsibility of ensuring the project is designed to be as inclusive as possible. 

How can Hollis help? 

As access consultants and building surveyors, we understand the built environment and how it interfaces with the people using it —how humans respond to o an environment and buildings within it, the varying needs of people (ages, abilities and neurodiversity), and how the built environment can better respond to them. This enables us to give commercial, pragmatic, and fully considered advice to our clients – ensuring developers, owners and occupiers address their statutory duties, enabling assets to maximise their potential and be truly inclusive and sustainable. 

We have a proven track record of providing project-based access consultancy services through each RIBA work stage, across a variety of sectors and project sizes. 

Should you wish to discuss the inclusive design overlay, its application, and the role of inclusive design consultant (or access consultant) in more detail, or if you have a specific project that you require assistance with, please contact Shaun Miller, Head of access consultancy service.