Neurodiversity in the built environment
|Neurodiversity is a biological fact: all brains are different. The neurodiversity movement advocates for acceptance and inclusion of people with different neurotypes. This includes autistic people, people with ADHD, people with dyslexia and so on.|
Neurodiversity refers to the wide range of differences in the manner in which the human brain processes information. It refers to alternative thinking styles, such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia.
The term neurodiversity was first introduced by the Australian sociologist Judy Singer. The term was further examined by the journalist Harvey Blume, who covered the subject in ‘Neurodiversity: On the neurological underpinnings of geekdom’, published in The Atlantic in 1998.
Since the introduction of the term, neurodiversity has become an aspect of diversity and inclusion recognised in the context of employment and the workplace. The alternative thinking styles associated with it are protected by the Equality Act 2010. The Act protects individuals against discrimination for issues including those sometimes referred to as 'hidden disabilities' and provides legal protection in the built environment, the workplace and in wider society.
 BSI guidance on neurodiversity
In October 2020, BSI announced plans to create the first set of guidance for the design of the built environment to include the needs of people who experience sensory and neurological processing difficulties and/or differences. This includes neurodivergent, neurodegenerative and other neurological conditions which may affect sensory processing and mental wellbeing.
PAS 6463, ‘Design for the mind – Neurodiversity and the built environment – Guide,’ will provide information for designers, planners, specifiers, facilities managers and decision makers on particular design features which can make public places more inclusive for everyone. The guide will include, in particular, an examination of the benefits of reducing the potential for sensory overload, anxiety or distress. It will address sensory design considerations including lighting, acoustics, flooring and décor.
The standard is being developed by a steering group of experts in the built environment, transportation, planning and neurodiversity fields. It is sponsored by Transport for London (TfL), Forbo Flooring Systems, BuroHappold and the BBC.
 Reducing excessive stimuli in the built environment
Workspace environments will need to change in order to support the needs of the neurodiverse workforce. Three physical attributes in particular will provide the neurodiverse community with a physical environment that is more accommodating:
- Lighting. Different light intensities have an impact on how every person handles a task. It can have a greater impact when neurodiversity is a factor, sometimes making it extremely difficult to complete tasks unless a suitable degree of visual comfort is provided.
- Flooring. For neurodiverse building occupants, excessive noise - or even certain types of noises - can elevate stress levels and disrupt (or even halt) productivity. Flooring can be used to manage excessive noise.
- Wayfinding. People with neurodiversity may process navigational information in a non-traditional way, so standard wayfinding may not be sufficient. Additional measures may include lighting and flooring effects.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Accessibility in the built environment.
- British Standards Institution BSI.
- Equality Act.
- People with disabilities definition.
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