Creating Inclusive Built Environments at Universities


Itab Shuayb


C3. Universal workspaces and inclusive campus spaces

Date and Time

2014-06-17, 10:40 - 11:00


MA 1
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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether adopting an inclusive approach at University of Kent and the American University of Beirut is preferable to just meeting building legislative requirements. The reason for choosing universities as case studies rather than schools is that higher educational institutions play a major role in providing the professional training for high-level jobs, as well as the education necessary for the development of the personality of all their students including individuals with disabilities. Moreover, universities play a major role in promoting social inclusion and participation in the mainstream society.
Acknowledging that antidiscrimination disability legislation ensures and promotes the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for individuals with disabilities to get equal access to higher education and employment, this paper aims to investigate whether the two universities have managed to eliminate barriers to ensure that all its potential users including individuals with disabilities get equal access to higher education which will then enable them later to get access to employment services.

Methodology /Approach: Two educational institutions were selected to examine to what extent the two universities have anticipated wide spectrum of users’ needs in enhancing accessibility for all their users. To achieve this, mixed methods of data collection were used resulting in collecting qualitative and quantitative data at the University of Kent in high income country in the UK and the American University of Beirut in a low income country in Lebanon.
An online survey was the first stage method used at the two case studies. The purpose of the online questionnaire was to ascertain the views of all users, including individuals with disabilities, and details of their experiences in accessing the built environment at the universities. The online survey contained 24 questions divided into three sections consisting of multiple choice and free text answers, and the same questions were used at the two case studies. The second section aimed at collecting information about the level of accessibility of buildings and barriers encountered, and included questions about participants’ experiences in accessing the built environment, means of transportation used, external and internal features, signage, and emergency exit routes. The last section was directed towards those willing to take part in personal interviews and consultations, and hence it asked for personal contact details.
Access audits were the second stage method for collecting data. An access audit is the process of examining the accessibility and usability of services and facilities against predetermined criteria. Its aim is to identify physical barriers and consider means of eliminating or mitigating them (CAE, 2005). The study carried out physical assessments on six selected buildings at each university to investigate the level of accessibility and the ways in which these buildings accommodate the needs of individuals with disabilities. The audit investigated the compliances of selected buildings to a building regulation standard which is laid out in the British Building Regulations 2000 (Part M Access to and use of buildings, and Approved Document M, 2004), to determine the level of accessibility for potential users including individuals with disabilities. The researcher had to adopt the same standard in Lebanon because of the absence of a Lebanese building regulation standard. Acknowledging that the access assessments need to meet validity and reliability criteria, the auditing process involved measuring the compliance of the physical and management features to the same standard.
Consultation with students and staff members with disabilities and sharing their experiences in accessing the built environment at the two universities was important in highlighting accessibility issues.
Moreover, the study carried out personal interviews with commissioned architects at the two universities to investigate their knowledge and understanding of the needs of disabled people during the design and implementation phase.
Similarly, personal interviews were carried out with education providers at the two universities to determine their input in complying with their legislated duties to remove physical barriers and promote equality and diversity.

Data analysis of the two phases of the research showed that the built environment at the two case studies did not cater for all users. Observations from access audits and feedback from consultations with users, including individuals with disabilities, suggest that the physical environment on campus and inside buildings did not fully follow inclusive design principles, in that the level of accessibility differed greatly within and between buildings, and in many instances different disability groups such as wheelchair users were served more effectively than individuals with visual, hearing and cognitive impairments.
Moreover, feedback from consultation with individuals with disabilities and education providers highlighted the importance of reviewing the management practices and procedures with staff members across departments and buildings, so as to improve facilities and services to attract more disabled applicants. Insufficient training in disability awareness was one of the key reasons for staff members and architects failing to cater for the specific needs of disabled people. These findings suggest that the two universities need to make further changes to make its built environment and building designs more inclusive and user friendly.
The research concluded from the analysis of the two university case studies that there are five main barriers to inclusive design: These are: (1) socio-cultural differences and inclusive design; (2) misinterpreting inclusive design and disability; (3) accessible design and regulation barriers; (4) procedural barriers; (5) organisational barriers.
A key finding from consultation with users was that inclusive design approach is preferable to interviewed and surveyed participants at both universities to just meeting accessible regulations and approach. These results highlighted the market demand for both universities to base their entire businesses on the inclusive design strategy. By recognizing the diversity of their users’ life styles and obtaining their individual experiences, both universities can identify and remove the physical and mental barriers to achieve an inclusive university environment.