Roughly one out of every four Americans identifies as having some kind of disability. That’s roughly 86,294,000 people, or close to the population of the three most populous states in America, California, Texas, and Florida, combined. This number escalates even further when you add people with temporary injuries, like those using crutches or wheelchairs, or parents pushing strollers through our communities. As our baby boomer population continues to age, we can expect an increase in age-related disabilities as well. Inclusive design isn’t just a matter of social responsibility; it’s also an economic opportunity.
One of those 86,294,000 people happens to be my daughter. She was born with a limb difference which means she has no left hand. As a mother of a child with a disability, I want to do everything I can to build communities and places where my daughter and people like her can thrive. I’m not alone; many of my coworkers have neurodivergent children, family members with physical disabilities, or aging parents with cognitive decline.
The people we care about are what made Sizemore Group take up the mantle of being leaders in inclusive design and planning. It’s what makes us push for inclusivity to be at the forefront of every project we take on and what drove us to give three separate speeches on the topic to audiences of our peers nationwide in 2023. We believe in designing communities that go beyond the ordinary and embrace the extraordinary diversity of individuals that make up our society. Statistics make this commitment a viable business decision, but the personal connection makes it real.
The cause of inclusivity is more than just an altruistic pursuit. Embracing inclusive design principles comes with a clear economic upside. The disposable income of the disabled community is nearly $500 billion, a sum we collectively leave on the table without establishing the right kinds of accommodations. Creating inclusive environments also allows businesses to tap into a much larger talent pool. Consider this: 72% of individuals have reported that they would consider leaving their current job to join a more inclusive work environment. Moreover, when we invest in inclusive environments, we reduce the burden on social programs and improve the overall quality of life for everyone.
Currently, inclusive design is regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a monumental achievement for the disabled community. However, the ADA is a document that sets only the minimum requirements and has only seen one minor update in its 33-year history. While it’s important to acknowledge the significance of the ADA, we see it as a starting point and believe we can and should do even better.
At Sizemore Group, we’ve had the privilege of working with clients who share our vision of creating communities that go beyond the ADA, communities that are truly built for all. Let me share an example:
The Killebrew District
Located in Clarksville, Tennessee, the Killebrew District spans 310 acres and is envisioned as a community-centered, one-stop shop for families, centered on education. Our clients, parents of a daughter on the autism spectrum, have spent their lives making choices based on the places and spaces that accommodate (or don’t) individuals on the spectrum. Their goal is to create an inclusive community where accommodations for those with autism and other disabilities are not just considered but celebrated.
This mixed-use community centers on two school districts, a private school with a renowned autism program and a public school campus, offering K-12 education. The intent is to provide greater access to education and services for families who have neurodivergent members.
Surrounding the school is a main street district with restaurants, retail, and family-focused support services like medical centers and therapy providers and after-school activities like dance and karate. A sports and entertainment district provides family-friendly activities while being aware of the needs of individuals on the spectrum. Sensory pods are scattered throughout the district to provide a space for individuals who may need a calming/low-stimulation space. These pods can also serve as a wellness break space or a place for nursing mothers.
Housing accessibility is also a key consideration. The project includes a mix of housing typologies ranging from multi-family to single-family to small lot affordable housing for teachers and an inclusive neighborhood specifically designed for families with a member on the autism spectrum.
The inclusive neighborhood is designed for families with a member on the autism spectrum. It features “L” shaped homes facing an internal courtyard, and attractive fencing that connects the homes to provide security for wanderers. Not only does this prevent a neurodivergent individual from wandering into the street, but it also allows for wandering into a shared community space – an inclusive environment.
Access to nature is also very important as there are many proven benefits to nature enhancing mental and physical health. The site sits on the Red River and much of the natural land adjacent to the river is preserved for inclusive nature-based education and activities. A nature center designed for all will welcome residents, students, and visitors to the site. Additionally, horse stalls for onsite hippotherapy are being considered.
Connectivity is paramount, with sidewalks and trails designed to be inclusive, allowing for at least three people to walk side by side. This enhances the safety of those on the spectrum who may wander and need caretakers to walk on either side of them, while also enhancing wheelchair accessibility, as well as consideration for individuals who may identify as deaf and need the extra space to communicate with sign language or read lips. Enhanced landscaping at key connection points shields noise and visual stimulation.
Employment opportunities are also considered, with plans for a bakery designed to employ neurodivergent individuals. This can provide a potential long-term financial stream for individuals on the spectrum, supporting self-sufficient living opportunities.
Key takeaways for Inclusive Design:
Safety and Security: Design housing to provide an extra level of safety and security for families who have neurodivergent family members.
Connectivity: Connect family-focused amenities with wide sidewalks and trails. Consider landscaping that can limit noise and visual stimulation.
Diverse Services: Provide services and amenities that support various individuals and families, such as access to occupational, physical therapy, or hippotherapy.
Access to Nature: Incorporate access to nature as a therapeutic and mental health amenity.
In conclusion, inclusive design is not just a professional responsibility; it’s a personal and moral one. It’s about creating communities where every individual, regardless of ability, can thrive. At Sizemore Group, we’re dedicated to pushing the boundaries of design to ensure that our communities are truly built for all, exceeding the standards set by the ADA and embracing the diversity that makes our world so rich.
Let’s continue to design a world that is not just accessible but welcoming to everyone. Together, we can create spaces where every person can realize their full potential and contribute to the vibrant tapestry of our society.