The Power of Other: Lessons Learned
HOK’s Ian Rolston explores how understanding the history of inclusive design can help today’s advocates practice it more effectively.
History was never my favorite subject. Memorizing endless dates and facts about events unrelated to my experiences was painful. Until I fell in love—not with history, but with Gillian, my seventh-grade crush and the present-day love of my life.
Gillian’s passion for history helped reframe my perspective on the subject as a reflection of humanity’s evolving ideals, values, fears and aspirations. This was personally transformative. As Gillian did for me, the early advocates of inclusive design brought a different point of view and helped others see it more clearly.
Can you imagine the feeling of having to be escorted to a loading dock or service access as your arrival experience for your next meeting or hotel stay? The origins of inclusive design are anchored to the ground-breaking “barrier-free design” (BFD) push of the early 1950s. At the time, (BFD) focused on providing alternative but equitable means of accessing public buildings for “others” with physical limitations or impairment.
While the goals of BFD were admirable, advocates faced a persistent challenge that threatened to diminish its impact: shared values and good nature were not enough to enforce its mandate. Advocates of BFD recognized that the entire community—design professionals, private citizens and governing entities—first needed to truly value “others.” It may be said that laws are a reflection of what a community values. At the time, the ideals of the group had progressed beyond that of the law.
During the 70s, advocates made the ideological connection between BFD and civil rights, compelling government to create laws to support accessible design. As designers, we possess the unique ability to create spaces that augment one’s sense of being human, considered and cared for. On one of my current projects with HOK—The Goldwynn Hotel and Residences, in the Bahamas——all the property’s public washrooms use the “powder room” stall model. This includes a water closet, sink, mirror and appropriate lighting, with, most importantly, a floor-to-ceiling partition. This model addresses design concerns across spectrums including gender neutrality, privacy and design equity.
A sketch rendering of public washrooms at The Goldwynn Hotel and Residences, in the Bahamas; courtesy of HOK Toronto
Whether championing for change for autism, neurodiversity, bio-aware design or cultural diversity, advocates must connect their cause to a sense of humanity in order to establish shared values. Once those shared values are connected to commerce, education, government and the communities they serve, change will manifest. The resulting social capital will drive the discussion beyond law to create fresh ways of thinking that will impact generations.
We see this today in how views on race, religion or issues of equality are considered in society. Where law mandates and obligates observation, the ideals of shared values seek to exceed expectation because it is the right thing to do, regardless of who is watching. Access to technology and information largely drives this. Our shared stories and values connect us in powerful and often unexpected ways, enabling us to find commonality in our differences.
As an industry, hospitality has always been about creating moments of connection. These moments can now be shared instantaneously to drive brand engagement. Take, for example current immersive or transformational hotel trends. Each has been propelled by guests “gramming” and posting feeds of their authentic experiences with other cultures, places, activities and people. Social media has enabled guests and hoteliers to tell authentic stories of connection to a vast audience.
So in your work today, like the early advocates of BFD did, face every challenge by first addressing the human need, connect it to what matters and move the mountain. In the U.S., the tireless efforts of advocates for disability rights worked for many years to move a nation to pass the American with Disabilities Act in 1990.
Inclusive design approaches require us to grapple with our industry’s demands for designers to deliver faster and more cost effective design solutions, while balancing our responsibility as designers to create thoughtful diverse objects, spaces and places that inspire people to live better.
Remember, your results just might make history.
Next in our series we will explore:
Inclusive design solutions that address sustainability…
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