Design Thinking for Inclusive Housing

Design thinking achieves two goals: it opens our minds to what’s possible free from constraints and ensures that we think about needs at the margins.

We often design housing for people with disabilities constrained by what exists now — institutional, outdated, or medical models. We make minor modifications rather than designing something new based on what people actually desire or need. We try to “fit” people with disabilities into housing that clearly was never designed for them in the first place. We add a ramp, set aside a unit, add a title, widen a doorway, or drop in some other quick fix that gets the job done. We ultimately fails to address the underlying issue that we are not designing and operating housing that adequately reflects the full range of needs in our society.

What’s most important is the ways in which people with disabilities — alongside family members, architects, service providers, and policy makers — are themselves active, meaningful contributors to the design process. They are designers and use cases. People with disabilities aren’t designed for, they are designed with. This expands concepts of what’s possible and ensures we utilize the most progressive and innovative design approaches.

As Tania put it in our Design Workshop: “Systems produce what they were designed to produce.” If we can involve as many cross sector individuals, with and without disabilities, as possible in the design of inclusive communities, we can ensure that these communities serve the widest range of needs and preferences possible.

Learn more about why a human-centered design approach matters in inclusive housing and read the designs created by our stakeholders at