Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI): spaces designed for everyone

Diversity is the only thing we all have in common and represents the way each individual contributes to society.

So when it comes to designing an inclusive environment, one size can’t fit all.

When speaking about discrimination, the most impacting macro-differences include gender, ethnicity, generation, sexual orientation, disability and religion. Equity (also called equality or parity) means guaranteeing that everyone within an organization is given equal access to different opportunities. This is possible through the elimination or reduction of structural prejudices that in the past have prevented full participation of some minorities. Inclusivity the ability to build an environment where everyone is welcome, respected, supported and able to fully participate in common activities.

Worldwide, the concept of designing spaces that are accessible to everyone started gaining momentum throughout the 20th century. Industrialization brought with it new challenges for people living with different physical conditions. In the US, for example, the need for rules and regulations around inclusivity has led starting from the 1960s, to the creation of different steering committees.

In Italy, the first regulations date back to the 1970s with the 118/1971 law, promoted in favor of the disabled and war wounded. However, it was in 1989 that the main legislative instrument, the 13/1989 law, came in to grant contributions for interventions that aim at overcoming architectural barriers in private buildings.

While legislative actions have been mainly focused on motorial disabilities, the concept of diversity in its broader sense has a much more complex margin of application.

What determines the perception of diversity as a physical or socio-cultural distress?

All individuals have special characteristics that make them different and unique. Diversity is often conceived as a denial of identity, be it cultural, political, social, biological or moral. It is a basic concept, closely linked to that of individuality and belonging. Diversity is often viewed with suspicion, as it awakens feelings of being out of place and, therefore of antagonism.

Different users will experience a space in a completely different way. Each individual is unique, but even more so is their interaction with a social and physical space.

Architecture as a response to inclusivity. An inclusive environment that is suitable for everyone, acknowledges the different ways in which people use the built space. It is a space that facilitates an intuitive, dignified and equitable use by everyone. Inclusive places try to not create physical or social separations and not to isolate or discriminate. These are spaces that accept the different necessities of all users – from the youngest to the oldest, through all levels of ability and disability, and embrace all backgrounds of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture and religion.

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