Designing an Inclusive Future

Written by: Catriona Wall, FemEng Committee Member, University of Glasgow

Designing an Inclusive Future

Inclusivity is creating a safe environment for everyone of different ages and abilities. It means giving them the confidence and ability to undertake day to day tasks in a similar manner and ensuring everyone has access to the same opportunities and the same abilities to participate.

Inclusivity could include installing ramps for wheelchair users, installing tactile paving in order to alert those who are visually impared to a nearby crossing, designing clear face masks so users with hearing impairments who rely on lip reading can still communicate or designing a chess set which allows a user with hand tremors to place the pieces without knocking them over.

One thing that struck me during the COVID-19 pandemic was mask wearing. It is now the law in the UK to wear a mask in indoor settings such as shops, restaurants (when walking to / from your table) or even bowling alleys. This law applies to everyone aged 11 or over with an exception for those who are exempt. People often prove they are exempt from wearing a mask by displaying a sunflower somewhere on their person; usually in the form of a sunflower lanyard. This displays that they have a hidden disability which makes them unable to wear a mask.

Initially I was amazed at the number of people I saw wearing sunflower lanyards, however, this shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. Upon doing further research I discovered that there are currently 14.1 million people in the UK with a disability and 96% of illnesses are invisible . Doing some quick (and approximate) maths, this shows that one in five UK residents have a hidden disability or illness.

Now I’m not suggesting that 20% of the population are exempt from face coverings and I’m especially not suggesting 20% of people are walking around wearing sunflower lanyards, in fact, a lot of them aren’t. One of my closest friends is exempt from wearing a face mask but chooses to because the fear of being judged is greater than the repercussions of wearing one. The stigma and judgement surrounding disabilities is so great, therefore, our first step in designing an inclusive future is changing our attitudes.

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” – Warren Buffet

Inclusivity doesn’t just include those with disabilities, it could be a mother with a pram unable to get through a narrow door, it could be a grandma struggling to understand technology and therefore unable to get onto a video call, it could be someone walking to their covid test who just has to sit down because they are completely and utterly exhausted.

Inclusivity isn’t just improving our current environment, it’s also creating new products which will improve the future lives of others.

In every single engineering design we need to ask ourselves, am I designing this for myself or am I designing it in a way that improves the lives of others?