The Ingredients of a Great Design for Building Inclusive Schools

An inclusive school is a school that welcomes and accepts students of all backgrounds and identities. The inclusion of diverse students in schools can provide many benefits for their communities. These benefits include:

  • Promoting healthy, active lifestyles

  • Creating a greater understanding of diversity and cultures

  • Delivering higher educational attainment rates

How can we design schools that are inclusive? What are the key considerations we must make when designing special needs schools, and building inclusive schools that include classroom design for students with disabilities?

Creating an Inclusive Environment for Learning and Play

Children come in all shapes and sizes, with different abilities, and disabilities. It is our responsibility to design environments that are inclusive of them all. 

In the process of inclusive school design, we wish to foster a culture of empathy and understanding when it comes to children with disabilities. Doesn’t every child have the right to learn in an environment that suits them best?

What Are the Key Elements to Consider When Designing a School Building?

Designing a school building is quite different from designing any other kind of building. It must be designed to meet the specific needs of its occupants:

  • We must consider the budget, and whether it will be public or private funded

  • We must also design the school building for the number of students expected to occupy it

  • Rooms will have different uses, so this must also be considered

  • The location of the school will also impact design

Then there are bathrooms, internal and external play areas, access, heating, and lighting… the list is without end.

3 Keys to Inclusive School Design for Students with Disabilities

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 7.3 million students in the United States (around 14%) are considered disabled.

It’s not enough to have a school that is physically accessible. If the school is not designed to be inclusive, it doesn’t matter how many ramps are built or how wide the doorways are. The building needs to flow so that students can move easily from one part of the school to another.

Designers are required to understand how inclusivity can be achieved in the design of schools, and architects are needed to consider how different ways of moving through space can affect different learners. Here are three important keys to inclusive school design for students with disabilities:

  1. Create spaces that all students want to exist within 

Institutions look at many factors when they are trying to create spaces for all students. 

The first factor is the physical space of the institution, which includes how well it is designed, how safe it feels, and whether there are enough recreational facilities available to the student body. 

The second factor is academic life on campus, which includes how much variety there is in class offerings and what kind of resources exist to help each student succeed academically. 

The third factor is social life on campus, which includes how active the student body is outside of classes and if there are enough opportunities for interaction with others

  1. Make sure spaces are universally designed and accessible

Designing spaces to be universally accessible is one of the main goals. This includes making sure that it is safe for wheelchairs, ramps are built into sidewalks, bathrooms are wheelchair accessible, or that low counters are used instead of high counters in the kitchen.

Inclusive school design tips such as using textured materials, using color-contrasting, or making diagrams more inclusive can also help schools achieve the goal of creating universal spaces.

Universal design also means considering gender identity by using gender-neutral signage and universal restrooms, while places like universities use inclusive school design tips to make sure their space is more welcoming to students with disabilities or other differences.

  1. Create an environment where all students feel like they belong and have a sense of ownership over their learning space

The argument has always been that children should be allowed to learn in the environment that best suits their needs. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s that schools started revisiting their ‘one size fits all’ approach to designing schools.

Inclusive school design is an evolving and proactive approach to addressing the social and emotional needs of students. With the aim of making all students feel like they belong, inclusive school design seeks to break down physical and social barriers in their environment.

The most important thing that we need to remember is that it’s not about designing a space that looks or feels different. It’s about designing a space where everyone feels comfortable, safe, and welcome.

The Importance of Positive Parental Involvement in Transforming Schools for All Kids

As architects, designers, and planners, we have the power to create more inclusive schools ─ spaces that facilitate the participation of every student in the community. 

Inclusive design is a process that involves understanding and respecting diverse learners, then designing an environment suitable for all. The starting point must therefore be to seek input from stakeholders (parents and teachers) about what they want their school or workplace to be like. We must ask what their priorities are, listen carefully to their preferences, and translate these wishes into guidelines for the design team.

The Importance of Creating an Inclusive Environment for All Students

To create a safe and inclusive environment for all students, schools should be designed for students with different body types and learning abilities. When designing inclusive schools, we must:

  • Validate that the goal of our project is in line with inclusivity

  • Collaborate with stakeholders to ensure our design meets the needs 

  • Ensure we create safe and welcoming spaces

  • Design our schools to give students a sense of belonging and ownership

At ACB Consulting, we are committed to helping improve the communities in which we live, work, and play – including how they are conceived, designed and created. To learn more, contact ACB Consulting.

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