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New Built Environment Design Standard Addresses Neurodiversity Inequality

New Built Environment Design Standard Addresses Neurodiversity Inequality
26 October 2022

A new building design standard has been created to ensure that the built environment is accessible to both people with physical disabilities and neurodivergent people with sensory and information processing differences.

In response to a research study which explored how neurodivergent people experience the built environment, BSI, as the national standards body, has launched the first-of-its-kind-standard on the design of the built environment for a neurodiverse society.


"This PAS is an opportunity to ask everyone involved in the built environment to carefully consider this normal neurological diversity of humans rather than just meeting basic regulatory demands."

–Jean Hewitt
Technical Author of new PAS 6463 Standard


1 in 7 People in the UK are Neurodivergent 


Neurodivergence includes people with autism, ADHD, dementia, and a range of other sensory and/or information-processing differences.  With estimates suggesting that around 1 in 7 people in the UK are neurodivergent in some form, it’s clear that our buildings must ensure everyone is provided with an equal opportunity to work, live, and socialise comfortably.

The standard, PAS 6463, recognises that building designers and public planners have previously focussed on a neurotypical experience of the built environment. But a significant number of people find certain aspects of the built environment uncomfortable, distressing or a barrier to their use.

Certain features of buildings can cause “sensory overload”, where stress is caused by what feels like a bombardment of sensory stimuli. This additional cognitive load can lead to increased anxiety, fatigue and, in some cases, potential behavioural changes and poor mental health.

Many of these potential negative impacts can be eliminated, reduced, or adjusted through thoughtful design and management, the writers of the new standard argue.

Jean Hewitt, a senior member of the inclusive design team at Buro Happold and Technical Author of the PAS, said: “In addition to designing places to accommodate our diversity in form, size and physical ability, there is also a profound need to design for neurological difference. 

Since my first involvement in this area in 2009, I have hoped for some progress for the many neurodivergent colleagues, friends, and family whose lives are unnecessarily blighted by places that don’t work for them. Some have a formal diagnosis, but many do not; there are also many neurotypical people more mildly but regularly affected by environments on a day-to-day basis, perhaps triggering unsteadiness, migraines or experiencing extra daily stress through elements that are not intuitive or comfortable for them.

“My learning throughout the process of developing this PAS leads me to believe at least 30% of the population are negatively impacted by elements that could so easily be adjusted or eliminated during design, procurement, and management without any cost implications.

“This PAS is an opportunity to ask everyone involved in the built environment to carefully consider this normal neurological diversity of humans rather than just meeting basic regulatory demands – places should be comfortable for everyone to visit and use without encountering emotional distress or difficulty. I’m very excited to have been involved in developing this guidance to help make this the case for many more people.”

The guidance contained within the new standard, applies to buildings and external spaces for public and commercial use, as well as residential accommodation for independent or supported living.

PAS 6463, “Design for the Mind – Neurodiversity and the Built Environment – Guide” can be downloaded here.

Picture: a photograph of a semi-enclosed meeting area with soft lighting, a desk and comfortable chairs. Image Credit: BSI

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 26 October 2022


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