Inclusive Places for All Abilities


Today, Dec. 3rd, is International Day of Disabled Persons 2020. This year’s theme is "Building back better: towards an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 world by, for and with persons with disabilities".

In honor of this global event, we at Thriving Places Collaborative would like to highlight what inclusive design means in our cities. Our lived experiences as people with disabilities have informed our perspectives and shape our commitment to helping communities establish spaces that are inclusive and equitable to all. Our journeys:

“I have a disease called Charcot Marie Tooth disease, which is a form of hereditary neuropathy that impacts the ways my nerves communicate with my muscles. Although the presentation of the disease in my body is significantly more mild than it is in some people, it still means that I move more slowly and that I am much more prone to tripping, especially on surfaces such as stairs, hills, or uneven terrain.

I think that my love of cities stems from the fact that they are places where I can still explore on foot relatively easily. I love being in nature, but going on a miles-long hike in the woods is not a realistic possibility for me. Instead, I love walking through urban places and discovering arts, culture, and open public spaces.

The healthiest communities include access to nature for everyone, and I am particularly drawn to exploring botanical gardens, parks, and other open spaces that include smoother paths. I also deeply appreciate communal public spaces where people of all abilities can play off the different types of strengths that go into the creation of space.”


- Jill Eshelman, Cofounder


“I wrestled with my relationship with my disability for a long time. For years, the shame had me in a chokehold. I now realize that this is something I learned and internalized from a young age through experiences in mainstream society. The messages - often unintentionally - communicated to me were (and still are for many people with disabilities): ‘You are different, you do not belong.’

Today, I can proudly say that my experience existing in the world as a deaf person has positively impacted my mindset and my mission. The truth is we as humans all have different abilities, but that doesn’t impact our worthiness for the best things in life. When I’m in a place that accommodates my needs, and the needs of others with different abilities, I feel extremely grateful. This gratitude is for sending a powerful message through thoughtful design choices. The message is ‘You are valued, you belong here.’

It is my personal mission to help others feel a greater sense of belonging where they live, work, and play. Helping transform public spaces that communicate this message to marginalized people is what motivates me to create inclusive places in our cities."

- Lauren Goldberg, Cofounder Why creating inclusive places in our cities is important

Cities have a long way to go in becoming truly accessible for people with disabilities, especially older cities. With dated and crumbling infrastructure, poorly-designed or over-designed spaces, lack of accessibility can have lasting negative impacts on a city’s people. Not only can certain design choices be dangerous, resulting in physical harm, they can also cause emotional suffering and anxiety.

Creating welcoming spaces is about building experiences around space that go beyond making it easy to exist. We should strive to create places where all people feel that they can thrive. Inclusive design is a win for everyone

There are a variety of ways of providing accommodating spaces for people with disabilities that make places safer and more navigable for everyone. For instance:

  • Bright lighting and large signage allow for safer and easier access on transportation routes

  • Digital screens and ticker signs with subtitles for vocal announcements increase awareness

  • Places that include benches allow for frequent stops and resting

  • Seating arrangements or mobile furniture can make for easier face-to-face conversation

  • Areas that are free of walking hazards such as potholes help mitigate accidents

  • Different textures on sidewalks and public transportation alert people to changes in terrain

  • Many elevator ramps and elevators that are designed for people in wheelchairs also benefit parents with strollers

One of the most effective ways to improve accessibility within a space is considering the mode of transportation that people will take both to arrive and to navigate a place. Since mobility needs are different for everyone, the best spaces include a variety of transportation options. Although some people have mobility issues that make them rely on a car to get around, other people have disabilities that preclude them from being able to drive. Therefore, having a diversity of uses, such as shopping, offices, schools, recreation centers, and places of worship within a reasonable walkable distance opens up a tremendous amount of autonomy and self-reliance for many people with disabilities, especially if those spaces are located near public transportation or in the neighborhoods where they live. Disability advocates frequently recommend adding more bus stops as a way to improve accessibility. These are just a few instances of the many, many opportunities to make public space more inviting and accessible. What Thriving Places Collaborative is doing to help create more inclusive places

Our mission is to help people of all abilities feel a strong sense of safety, health, and belonging in their public spaces. We use human-centered design to make spaces accessible to a wide diversity of people, allowing for agency and autonomy. In thinking about the user experience, it’s impossible to know all of the ways a space can accommodate or exclude a person, given that we all have different ways that we experience the world. Therefore, in addition to following legal guidelines, such as those under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when creating public space, one of the most important ways we help develop inclusive places is by listening to the needs of differently-abled people.

This practice of community-led design helps elevate the voices of people who historically have had to adapt to living in an able-bodied world, and often suffered because of it. People feel a sense of peace being in spaces where they know that designers gave consideration to their needs - an appreciated effort in a world that is so often geared towards the able-bodied. We imagine and work to create a world where all people feel a sense of belonging. Need help transforming a #publicspace for #inclusivity? Thriving Places Collaborative helps move #placemaking and #placekeeping projects forward through program evaluation, strategic planning, and project management. Let’s collaborate.