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“Design for All” Inspires Neurodiverse Communities

Our son Matt and I recently enjoyed a typical weekend of running errands. Our first stop was Supercuts, where we were warmly welcomed (Matt’s a regular). No explanation was needed about Matt’s autism, because that’s how his salon specialist is wired. In a chair adjacent to Matt was another young man with special needs who I later learned is a regular, too.

Then it was off to our local Sprouts where a young man with autism meticulously and conveniently organized our items, ensuring they would be easy for us to unload and put away when we got home.

Our last stop was McDonald’s, where a young man with special needs waited patiently for Matt to find his words—and his wallet—as he took the order.

Welcome signs of gradually but undeniably developing neurodiverse communities can’t happen fast enough for families like ours—and so many others.

During the recent Urban Land Institute Housing Opportunity Conference in Miami led by the Terwilliger Center for Housing, industry leaders focused on issues of affordability, market trends and “design for all.” I had the pleasure of co-presenting with Laura Rossbert, COO of Shopworks Architecture, which produced a significant report about designing for dignity, health and joy. The report addresses trauma-informed design responsive to the special populations served through her work.

Whether our design goals and guidelines come from such gatherings, the ULI-influenced Opening Doors study from a decade ago, the Autism Housing Network’s database or other valuable sources, as a likeminded group of changemakers we are increasingly recognizing more universal design principles that provide people with greater choice and the all-important supportive, inclusive communities they need, desire and value.

At First Place, residents teach us what that means every day. They help us share valuable lessons with smart and compassionate industry leaders who are fueling a new wave of housing options, setting trends and begging this question: How could there ever have been a time when a person with autism—a person like Matt—was not considered a valued member of the community at large?

Please join us for the First Place Global Leadership Institute Symposium this spring, April 22–24, along with other pioneers so that, together, we can continue moving forward in designing and developing more inclusive communities—for all!

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