14 May 2021 | by

This article is based on a webinar by guest speaker Jane Simpson, Managing Director at Jane Simpson Access and NBS Technical Author Astrid Lund.  In it, we explore inclusive design in construction and how NBS Chorus works in conjunction with the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 to create successful project specifications. You can find the on-demand webinar, 'Inclusive design and the RIBA Plan of Work 2020', on the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 hub page at theNBS.com.

The RIBA Plan of Work 2020

The RIBA Plan of Work 2020 incorporates feedback that has been collected since the last extensive update in 2013, providing more comprehensive sections and an expanded glossary. A crucial part of the update includes a stronger focus on sustainability and an introduction to project strategies, BIM integration and new procurement guidance. Other changes are around planning, including what point plans should be submitted (end of stage 3), and the title of that stage has changed to reflect its purpose. The new Plan of Work also pays respect to the Hackitt Report’s golden thread of information and recommends that asset and facilities management teams are brought in at stages 6 and 7.

What is inclusive design? 

The way a building is designed either enables or disables a person from accessing it. An inclusive environment can be accessed by everyone, regardless of disability, age, ethnicity or gender. By creating inclusive spaces, we ensure that they are fully functional, efficient, and sustainable:

Reducing the need for future adaptations.
Making the building not only accessible but attractive to users.
Ensuring that the asset can be easily repurposed. 
In construction, good inclusive design incorporates three key factors. The design:
Complies with UK legislation.
Is socially unbiased.
Makes good economic sense.

NBS Chorus specifications and guidance consider inclusive design using a measured approach:

Allowing you to create customised solutions.
Addressing social aspects (inclusivity, accessibility, diversity) and offering guidance and resources to aid in your decision making.
Acknowledging the benefits to individuals, businesses and society, offering a structure that carries expectations through the project timeline and allows them to adapt and evolve.

Legislation and protected characteristics 

The Equalities Act 2010 and other legislation

Discrimination legislation does not have a technical standard attached to it, so it is essential to understand the relationship between the legislation, Building Regulations, standards and building-specific requirements. Front and foremost amongst the documents is The Equality Act 2010. Other key documents include:

The Building Regulations Parts M, K and B. The statutory minimum standards a building must meet; however, it is important to note that meeting these regulations does not necessarily mean that a building is meeting equality legislation.
BS 8300 1 and 2. Standards addressing building design and how it relates to creating an inclusive built environment.
Specific requirements. Includes building bulletins, health building notes, accessible trains and stations, etc

Protected characteristics

There are nine protected characteristics under The Equalities Act 2010. This includes:

1. Disability
2. Age
3. Gender reassignment
4. Marriage and partnerships
5. Maternity
6. Race
7. Religion or belief
8. Sex
9. Sexual orientation

When discussing the built environment, the primary focus is typically on physical disability. However, other characteristics may need addressing. For example, toilet facilities design can negatively impact a person of a particular religion or belief. It’s also important to remember that physical disability is not limited to mobility, and not all disabilities are visible. For instance, design considerations may need to include:

Ageing population – dexterity, vision, neurodegenerative and other issues. 
Sensory impairment – hearing, sight, smell, touch, taste, spatial awareness.
Neurodiversity – anxiety, stress, difficulties processing the environment, sensory overload (light, noise, temperature, texture, etc.)

PAS 6463 Built Environment Design for conditions of the Mind

In April 2020, standards development began on a new PAS that will address designing for the mind. It is the first UK inclusive design guidance to address the neurodiverse, neurodegenerative and other neurological conditions. The focus is on how best to address those built environment aspects that negatively impact those who struggle with processing sensory information. 

The guidance will help owners, designers, planners, specifiers, facilities management, and other decision-makers ensure that their building’s features are genuinely inclusive. This includes design that reduces stress, anxiety and the risk of sensory overload via things like acoustics, lighting, flooring and general decor.

Inclusivity and the Plan of Work 2020

Inclusive design is listed as a core strategy in the RIBA Plan of Work 2020. The webinar provides more information regarding what should be done at each stage, but here are a few key things to consider. As with any project, the sooner a built asset’s inclusive design elements are included in the conversation, the better.

Stage 0 – Strategic definition

Inclusive design strategy – What is the demographic of the clients and users? Who does the project need to accommodate? 

Audit – This is not just about building access but the intended services. For whom, what, why and where are services being provided? 

Expectation levels – Not just current but future; not just where you are, but where your users will be coming from. For instance, airports need to consider worldwide expectations.

Previous projects – A lot can be learnt by exploring previous projects regarding what they got right and what they did wrong. Did the asset have to be altered? If so, how can that be avoided this time?

Level of expertise – What level is required? In a small project, an asset champion may be sufficient. However, larger, more complex projects will require more levels of expertise. Where will that expertise come from?

Stage 1 – Preparation and brief

At this stage, you’re identifying fundamental inclusive design needs. This can be accomplished by:

Consulting with stakeholders and reviewing design standards and legislative requirements and obligations.
Setting up an access group. By holding conversations with the people who will be using the asset, you can gain powerful insight into what they expect and need.
Locate any recent, relevant surveys; they can save you both time and money. Also, look at the local planning policy.
Identify your chosen inclusion/ access champion and include inclusion factors in any feasibility studies that are performed. Determining early on whether a scheme doesn’t just meet legal requirements but incorporates inclusivity beyond the bare minimum can help ensure project success and save a lot of money and time later on.

Stage 2 – Concept design

At stage 2, ask yourself if your concept meets the brief and the relevant legislation. You might want to do an assessment and create a mission statement. What are the design aspirations? What are your priorities? Are there any factors that outweigh others? Are there any design requirements; in particular, are there any sector-led standards that must be met? Incorporate an inclusive design concept into your outline.

Review the design against the strategic brief and the draft design against the construction brief to ensure compatibility.
Record the outcome of each inclusive design and performance requirement decision and include it with the stage report. It is essential to do this for every stage within the Plan of Work.

Stage 3 – Spatial coordination

Make sure that your access champion attends all team meetings. Every discipline can impact inclusivity, so make sure it is embedded in each one. 

Perform inclusivity risk assessments.
Prepare a design access statement and submit it at the end of the stage as a part of the plan application. Access statements should also be included at the end of all future stages.

Stage 4 – Technical design

At this stage, it is essential to do a detailed review. Small decisions – like the wrong choice of a washbasin or toilet panel – can result in a project not meeting regulations. Manufacturers have limited liability, so it is up to you to ensure that their product meets your client’s brief.

Stage 5 – Manufacturing and construction

During stage 5, you will be looking at addressing any outstanding issues and determining any design changes. 

Be careful of any added-value changes. It is essential to consider what broader implications these cost-saving activities might have on inclusion.
Have access champions and experts perform onsite inspections, preferably before the finished works. If not caught early, seemingly small things – for instance, the misplacement of an accessible toilet flush – may result in the need for extensive rework. It is best to perform inspections as soon as possible to minimise an error’s time and cost impact.

Stage 6 – Handover

All gathered inclusivity information and advice should be included in the operating and maintenance manual that will go to end-users. Include information regarding the inclusivity design principles and strategy, which helps educate occupiers and feeds into staff training and human resource policies.

Rectify any remaining defects.
Perform a pre or early post-occupancy evaluation to see how things are going and correct any issues.
Conduct a review and record any lessons learnt for future projects.

Stage 7 – Use

At this point, a maintenance programme should be established and any needed adjustments made. A complete post-occupancy evaluation should also be performed to determine how things are working for users.

Specifying for inclusive design in NBS Chorus

Inclusive design is not an afterthought or an add-on to the design process. The RIBA Plan of Work states that ‘The sooner that inclusion is considered, the more effective and cost-effective it becomes.’ Because much of inclusive design is construction led, every decision has an impact on project success. Simple choices can have an overarching effect on what happens next and whether something meets regulations or must be redone. This means that the execution needs to be clearly defined.

NBS Chorus helps deliver on inclusive design targets by allowing for granularity in setting project requirements from inception through completion. Chorus provides the potential to follow through into facilities management and in-use appraisals to ensure the desired outcomes have been achieved by capturing specification decisions.

Chorus addresses inclusivity on four levels:

Whole project performance

The platform’s inbuilt flexibility makes it easier to consider inclusivity at every specification stage. Clauses are editable and adaptable, and existing content can be readily amended. To support this, Chorus users have access to guidance that includes:

Regulatory guidance
Codes of practice
Reference resources
Signposting to important information

From stage 1, strategic design requirements can be set out using project management editable clauses and accompanying guidance. To ensure clarity, our guidance incorporates terms like inclusive design, inclusivity and accessibility.

Inclusive communities and social values

Inclusive design is about making the built environment accessible to everyone to support a diverse and healthy society. For example, children with disabilities have the same need for social, physical, intellectual, creative and emotional development through play as non-disabled children. A well-designed public playground supports equal opportunity by providing a diverse choice of playground equipment, tactile paving systems, accessible public toilets and other factors that allow all children to participate and interact.

Whole project performance

To ensure an accessible built environment, the right decisions must be made at the design and information stages. Access statements and other documentation will set out the requirements that will inform ongoing design and specification development. Chorus offers the tools to help make these early-stage decisions.

Detailed design stages

In stages 3–5, Chorus helps deliver inclusivity targets by capturing specification decisions throughout the project timeline. This creates the potential to follow through into facilities management and in-use appraisals, ensuring that the desired outcomes have been achieved. 

By offering relevant performance requirements for consideration, NBS helps user make the right decisions at the right time, including design and product choices. This includes:

Design quality performance
Life cycle performance
Compliance with performance requirements
Project context

System performance is key

A key to successful inclusive design is a focus on system performance. For instance, if you want to avoid slips or trips, the mortar you use in a paving system is as crucial as the paving units themselves. You must always look at the whole system and how it all sits together. Chorus examples include:

External paving

Accessible design choices are included in the system outline. Essential performance is described in more detail than in stage 1, and the accompanying guidance helps you make decisions based on the appropriate standards and regulatory guidance.

More specific requirements – for example, slip resistance designed to meet a stipulated value set out in the inclusive design statement – can be described in detail, with guidance notes aiding in the process.


System-level clauses cover specific requirements, which are supported by standards and regulations-based guidance. When a particular value refers directly back to a standard, Chorus guidance includes a reference to that standard. For instance, with flooring, light reflectance values and colour and contrast can be included. Any necessary compliance or verification clauses can also be added.

Doors and windows

Generic product clauses for doors and windows allow for overall requirements to BS 8300-2 to be chosen where appropriate. The clauses include specification for essential hardware to comply with an access statement or other document requirements. 

Additionally, Chorus includes an extensive library of products suitable for proprietary specifications. We ask manufacturers to provide performance information specific to their product type that goes beyond general product information.


Chorus’s signage caters to all types of situations, including fire and safety. For accessibility signage, the guidance refers to regulations such as the Equality Act 2010 and BS 8300, which set out specific requirements and recommendations at the system level. Detailed choices can be made at the product level. For example, language options allow the specifier to choose braille and allow visual contrast to be specified.


At stages 6 and 7, Chorus can aid with performance verification by providing opportunities to state how and when project and construction information should be checked and verified. By capturing specification decisions throughout the whole project timeline, the data can be used by facilities management and end-users to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved. 

Office masters

Once you’re at the end of a project, you can evaluate project success, identify any lessons learnt and feed these back into your office masters. This information can then be used at stage 0 of your next project and provide additional, valuable guidance to your design team. The Chorus help menu includes an office master tutorial and other useful tips.
NBS Technical Author Astrid Lund’s presentation provides more information on how Chorus supports specifying for inclusive design. You can also view it and other topics on the RIBA Plan of Work 2020 hub page on theNBS.com.

Top tips for a successful inclusive project

1. Consider inclusion from the very start of a project.
2. Identify the level of support needed and appoint an access champion.
3. Continuously review decisions and what impact changes will have.
4. Ensure your inclusivity expert(s) are included in every stage and perform onsite reviews to avoid costly mistakes.
5. Record the outcomes of every decision.


The RIBA Plan of Work 2020 Webinar series

Inclusive design and the RIBA Plan of Work is part of an NBS webinar series addressing various elements of the new Plan of Work 2020, including fire safety, sustainability, conservation and intelligent design.

Intelligent construction specification in the cloud

NBS Chorus is a flexible cloud-based specification platform that allows you to access your specifications across locations and organisations. It is suited to both performance and prescriptive specifying and has editable clauses that are supported by technical guidance. Our content is continuously reviewed to improve clarity and usefulness, informed by research, user feedback and industry drivers.

NBS Source

NBS has created a new manufacturer product platform we call NBS Source. Bringing together NBS BIM Library, NBS Plus and the RIBA Product Selector, NBS Source provides a single source for product information that seamlessly integrates into a project’s workflow and provides an additional level of enhanced product data in a consistent, structured format.

The Construction Information Service

CIS is a comprehensive online collection of industry-relevant publications from around 500 publishers. NBS users with a CIS subscription can take advantage of embedded links across specifications platforms to access research and reference documents. The content is fully searchable, intelligently classified and continuously updated.

Learn more