The British Standards Institution launches Design for the Mind - Neurodiversity and the Built Environment guide. Jason Slocombe of Inclusive design specialist Motionspot explains what it is and why it matters.

White man wearing a blue shirt

Jason Slocombe is a trained architect, now working as an Inclusive Design Consultant and neurodiversity design specialist for award-winning inclusive designers, Motionspot. At Motionspot Jason advises architects, designers and building owners across leisure, residential and healthcare sectors how to make their buildings more accessible and inclusive to people with disabilities and differences. Jason has a Masters in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings, and his research into designing autistic-inclusive spaces led to a unique specialism in visual noise and the effect of patterns on people with sensory sensitivities. He continues to be a passionate advocate for autism inclusion and was a primary contributor to the new PAS (6463) Design for the Mind.

Design for the mind - neurodiversity and the built environment 

The impact buildings have on people with a range of neurological differences remains a relatively new field in terms of research. New guidance, known as the PAS (Publicly Available Specification) 6463, from the UK national standards body BSI, is a welcome development in the crucial emerging field of designing for the mind.

As an inclusive designer and neurodiversity design specialist, I hugely welcome this new PAS and I am delighted to see invisible disabilities start to receive the focus they deserve from the design industry. Download it from The British Standards Institution (BSI) website.

What is neurodiversity?

For those of you not familiar with the term, neurodiversity describes the fact that everyone’s brain is unique, and that there are many ways of thinking, sensing, and interacting with the world. It is not a defect or disfunction, it is a difference. Neurodiversity is not just about neurological difference; it impacts all areas of life including physical, sensory, social, communication, wellbeing, cultural, gender, and mental health needs. The resulting diversity makes an important contribution to our definition of the human experience.

Historically associated with autism, ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), dyspraxia and dyslexia, neurodivergent individuals bring valuable and diverse strengths to businesses and communities alike. They drive innovation, design complex systems, and are leaders in arts and creative technologies. However, the vast majority experience significant challenges because of the way buildings are typically designed and managed. This is because while there is relatively good provision for physical access within the Building Regulations and British Standards, only 8% of the UK’s 14.1 million disabled people are wheelchair users. This means that the needs of the 12.97 million UK residents who have either another physical disability, or a cognitive or sensory disability including neurodiversity are largely not being addressed.

What is the PAS 6463 - Design for the Mind?

This PAS 6463 - Design for the Mind is believed to be the first design standard developed by a national standards body to provide design guidance for the built environment that addresses multiple sensory processing differences and conditions. Its launch marks a considerable shift from previous design standards, which have focussed on accommodating diversity of physical ability, motor skills, vision, and hearing, but not neurological diversity.

Facilitated by BSI Standards Limited, the PAS 6463 has been developed by a group of industry leaders including technical author Jean Hewitt and organisations including the Association for Dementia Studies, BBC Workplace, the Department for Education and Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Sport England, Transport for London (TfL), and Motionspot.

The PAS 6463 - Design for the Mind is intended to be used by designers, planners, specifiers, and facilities and workplace management professionals in new and existing public and commercial buildings and external environments. The primary aims of the Design for the Mind guidance include influencing design and management to:

  • Establish stakeholder engagement and develop an inclusive design strategy
  • Design wayfinding and external areas for sensory differences
  • Reduce sensory and cognitive load from environmental features and building services
  • Implement safety features for sensory and cognitive difference
  • Provide flexibility and choice.

What are the key recommendations?

The PAS 6463 - Design for the Mind states that accessibility and inclusive design specialists should be appointed to support organisations to help identify features in the environment that could either positively or negatively impact people. Appointed accessibility and inclusive design specialists should also support organisations with inclusive consultation and engagement throughout the lifecycle of the project. Organisations are also encouraged to designate someone within the business to champion neurodiversity and sensory friendly buildings.

PAS 6463 provides guidance on elements in the built environment that contribute to sensory overload and exhaustion, including:

  • Spatial and functional planning
  • Materials, air quality, temperature, and environmental services
  • Noise and sound characteristics
  • Patterns and visual noise
  • Light, glare and reflections.

It also provides examples of how good sensory inclusive environments can provide a range of environmental, economic, and social benefits, such as:

  • Attraction of new customers or tenants
  • Enhanced employee and customer retention
  • Reduced absence due to mental ill health
  • Improved wayfinding and learning
  • Enhanced wellbeing – reduction in fatigue, stress (including post-traumatic stress disorder triggers) and anxiety
  • Improved performance of many occupants – increased focus, creativity, productivity
  • Enabling people to socialise comfortably and safely, with positive communication
  • Creating a more enjoyable environment where people can feel empowered and in control.

What happens next?

At Motionspot, we are increasingly being approached about design for people with a wide range of cognitive, social, communication and sensory requirements as part of wider inclusive design briefs as considerations around designing for the mind are becoming a greater priority for larger and more progressive businesses.

This is thanks to several factors including improved awareness and understanding, and diversity, equality and inclusion policies supporting neurodivergent adults to enter and thrive in the workplace. We expect to see this trend continue to percolate across a range of business sectors and sizes, and I hope that the formality of PAS status will help to reframe the inclusive design discipline from sensory and cognitive perspectives as well as traditional physical ones.

We are optimistic that this standard will not only be widely evaluated in use, but that it will help to stimulate robust evidenced based research among people with a broad range of neurological variations to analyse how they respond to different components of the built environment.

Ultimately, we would like to see PAS 6463 - Design for the Mind considered for further development as a British Standard, and feed into the development of corresponding European and International Standards. The fact that around 30% of previous PASs published by the BSI have gone forward to form the basis of international standards gives us confidence that this can also be the case for the crucial emerging field of designing for the mind.

If you’d like to learn more about PAS 6463 - Design for the Mind, or about creating inclusive spaces, get in touch with Motionspot’s accessible design experts today by emailing [email protected] or calling 020 3735 5139.