“Disabled architects – Unlocking the potential for practice”



The architecture profession urgently needs to make significant changes to increase the diversity and equality of the profession and to enable equal opportunities for disabled people in the profession.

This is the conclusion of a three year study at UWE Bristol entitled, \’Supporting diversity in the architectural profession; developing a climate of success for disabled designers\’. The research was commissioned by RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) and jointly funded by RIBA and UWE.

The study was carried out by Sandra Manley, (Associate Head of the Department of Planning and Architecture), Ann de Graft-Johnson (Senior Lecturer in Planning and Architecture) and Katie Lucking (UWE Bristol alumna).

The research will be launched at UWE Bristol’s Frenchay Campus on Monday 21 November 2011 by RIBA President Angela Brady.

For the research 88 disabled architects and students completed a confidential online questionnaire. In-depth interviews were carried out with disabled students and practitioners, support staff at universities and human resources managers of architectural practices. The websites of 16 schools of architecture and 26 architectural practices were also assessed to see if they were accessible and user-friendly.

Sandra Manley says, “We are not aware of any previous research that has looked in depth both across the experience of disabled students and of architects in practice. We were disappointed to find that discrimination was alive and well. Many of the people we spoke to had experienced a lack of support at university or in practice. In some cases the support was offered too late into the course to be of benefit. Many students found that the teaching was not adjusted to suit their needs or for example that a note-taker promised for a student with hearing impairment wasn’t available for crucial lectures. Once in architectural practice disabled people reported fewer problems than students and we did find some exemplary employers. However gaining employment proved very difficult for many respondents. Despite negative experiences, most of the participants said they were still excited about the subject of architecture and enthusiastic about working within the field.”

Katie Lucking, currently studying an MA in Architecture and Critical Theory at the University of Nottingham), who worked on the study, has first-hand experience of the difficulties some students face. Katie says, “I was diagnosed with a hearing impairment during my first degree. Initially it was a struggle for me to adapt to this new situation, and my experiences made me very aware of the issues of inclusion within architecture. I am passionate about design that is inclusive, and I am especially interested in the sensory perception of architecture and phenomenology. One of the most important ways to ensure that design is inclusive is to have a more diverse talent base, and to make sure we support those talented architects who have an appreciation and a passion for creating buildings that work for everyone.”

Sandra Manley says a more inclusive profession would have benefits for society as well as the individual, “This study shows that it is important to recognise individuals for their abilities and to support them to achieve their full potential as architects. Both architectural education and the profession need to become more inclusive so that the profession reflects the diversity of society. Greater diversity within the profession would foster a more accessible, and inclusive built environment which would benefit everyone.”