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Cultivating Inclusivity – Designing Outdoor Spaces with Inclusivity in Mind

by | 26 Mar 24 | Partner Content

FEATURE IMAGE: Walkway at Kew Gardens featuring Millboard Weathered Oak, Embered – providing durability and anti-slip properties, on top of its natural aesthetic.

WORDS: Mark Lane in collaboration with Millboard


Designing outdoor spaces with inclusivity in mind is about ensuring that gardens or landscapes are accessible to everyone, regardless of their abilities, age, or impairments. Disability encompasses a wide range of conditions, affecting an estimated 24% of the UK’s population*. Therefore, specific design considerations should be made to accommodate various impairments, including physical, sensory, and mental disabilities.

Understanding individual requirements, just as you would for any design, is crucial in this process. Designers need to ask questions to build a comprehensive picture of the user’s needs. By doing so, they can tailor the design to cater to specific challenges. Disabilities can also evolve with age, much like how physical capabilities change over time for able-bodied individuals. Therefore, future-proofing the environment can prove advantageous, ensuring accessibility and inclusivity for people with varying needs as they age.

To guide this process, the Disability Rights Commission outlines six principles that designers should consider when creating accessible outdoor spaces. These principles emphasise diversity, ease of use, freedom of choice, quality, legibility, and safety.

In public realm projects, designers must consider the needs of all users, including wheelchair users, cane or frame users, and those with sensory sensitivities or autism. Factors such as noise levels, visual patterns, signage, and lighting require careful consideration to ensure inclusivity.

Specific design features play a crucial role in enhancing accessibility. For example, pathway dimensions, turning spaces, and tactile edges are essential for accommodating wheelchair users and individuals with mobility impairments. Pathways should be wide, stable, non-slip, and obstacle-free to ensure easy navigation for all users. Additionally, tactile edges can aid visually impaired individuals and prevent wheelchair or scooter accidents.


RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023 Horatio’s Garden, clearly shows the use of edges and wide, non-slip pathways with large turning circles and pots on wheels that can be moved around the garden.


Choosing the right materials is also important in creating accessible outdoor spaces. Materials like Millboard decking offer durability, slip resistance, and ease of maintenance, making them ideal for pathways and decking in inclusive environments. Ramps and level pathways accommodate changes in elevation, catering to wheelchair users and ambulant individuals alike.


RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023, Millboard Enhanced Grain Smoked Oak decking in the catering area, providing a beautiful, slip-resistant surface in a much-frequented part of the Show.


Consulting with access specialists, community groups, and disabled individuals provides valuable insights for designing inclusive outdoor spaces. By involving stakeholders in the design process, designers can gain a better understanding of specific needs and preferences.

While minimum standards like Part M and the Equality Act (formerly the Disability Discrimination Act) offer guidelines for accessibility, exceeding these standards is essential for creating truly inclusive environments. By striving for excellence and exceeding minimum requirements, designers can ensure that outdoor spaces are accessible, welcoming, and inclusive for everyone.

*The latest estimates from the Department for Work and Pensions’ Family Resources Survey indicate that 16.0 million people in the UK had a disability in the 2021/22 financial year. This represents 24% of the total population.


Article written by Mark Lane, BBC One Morning Live’s gardening expert and award-winning garden designer, in collaboration with Millboard.

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