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By Shannon Kim, Vice President, Hospitality

April 15, 2024

In recent years, the importance of accessibility and inclusivity has become increasingly recognized across various sectors of society, and notably in the design of public spaces. With a substantial portion of the global population living with disabilities, prioritizing accessibility is not only a moral imperative but also a sound business strategy.

The need to adopt an inclusive approach within hospitality environments has become particularly crucial. Designing hotels, restaurants, and other spaces with accessibility in mind not only meets the needs of people with disabilities but also enhances the experience for all guests.

Central to this approach is the concept of Universal Design (UD), which is built on principles aimed at making environments usable for people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. While factors like topography, economic levels, cultural norms, and local values can affect how these principles are implemented, they guide designers in creating spaces that are accessible without compromising style or functionality. Key principles of Universal Design include:

  • Equitable use

  • Flexibility in use

  • Simplicity and intuitiveness

  • Perceptible information

  • Error tolerance

  • Minimal physical effort

  • Adequate size and space for approach and use


Integrating these principles from the start of the design process ensures that accessibility features are seamlessly incorporated into the overall aesthetic and functionality of a space. In the hospitality sector, this means designing facilities and services that accommodate individuals with diverse physical, sensory, and cognitive abilities. While physical accessibility often receives more attention, experienced designers such as our team at Figure3, are increasingly focusing on creating sensory-friendly environments with features like soft, muted colors, non-glare surfaces, and acoustically balanced spaces.


Design considerations for mobility include accessible entrances, clear circulation paths, and thoughtful public space design. It's also essential to select appropriate materials that provide barrier-free access and easy navigation. Although these considerations might seem basic, they are crucial and often overlooked. Testing designs early with a range of users and conducting site walks with mobility aids like walkers or wheelchairs can uncover issues not immediately apparent.


The adoption of Assistive Technology, such as voice-activated assistants, magnification software, automated doors, and room automation systems, can further improve accessibility. Engaging in inclusive co-design practices by involving diverse user groups throughout the design process helps ensure a broader range of needs are met.


From a personal perspective, my understanding of inclusive design evolved rapidly from professional knowledge to a personal mission following an injury that changed my outlook. This injury not only gave me firsthand experience of the challenges faced by many with physical disabilities but also highlighted gaps in our current practices and the urgent need for improvement.


Now more than ever, it is clear that true accessibility goes beyond mere compliance with regulations; it requires a thorough rethinking of spaces to serve the diverse needs of all individuals. By embracing and addressing these challenges, we can create environments that truly accommodate the vast and unique spectrum of human abilities. Integrating accessibility early in the design process helps us understand and overcome biases, opening doors to new ideas and innovations.

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