The Inclusive Way – a participant perspective

Elspeth Slater is a Part 1 Graphic Communication student who took part in our Inclusive Way Hackathon. We asked her to share her reflections about the event.

Why did I sign up?

I wanted to take part in the Inclusive Wayfinding Hackathon because I want to design for people with learning difficulties and disabilities after I graduate. Participating in the Hackathon would give me an opportunity to collaborate with people that I wouldn’t usually work with, and gain experience in the field I hope to go into in the future.

What is a Hackathon?

A Hackathon is a ‘design sprint’-like process, where designers work together to plan and create an end product. The process involves a certain amount of time planning and gathering ideas and then collaborating and creating the final outcome.

Who took part?

Students from all over the university were invited to take part in the Hackathon. We had participants from Architecture, Graphic Design and Engineering to name a few. Together we were Alice, Jeremy, Lena, Lincoln, Pavan, Sree, Toby, Wayne, and me, Elspeth. The nine of us were joined by the Breaking down Barriers team – Carolina Vasilikou, Adrian Tagg, Faustina Hwang, Jeanne-Louise Moys, Rachel Warner, Richard Nunes and Ugo Marsili – who aim to promote inclusive design within the University. Throughout the two days the Hackathon took place, we were joined by people with different disabilities, Michael Fadeyi, Yota Dimitriadi, James Church, Ranjita Dhital and. They were able to share first-hand experiences of situations in which more inclusive design would have helped them.

On the second day we were joined by designers from Applied Wayfinding. The two representatives, Ellie Baker and George Sidaoui, were able to introduce us to how Applied Wayfinding are a design agency who are constantly thinking of new ways in which design can be altered to help people find their way around certain places. For example, they showed us that it was not necessarily just a case of designing for a particular disability such as a partially sighted person, but that a person could also have mental health issues or other particular circumstances, temporary or long-term, which may need to be considered.

Two images shown side by side of a ramp and road markings

Our teams explored ways in which we could introduce new ways of making everyday environments more inclusive

What did we have to do?

The Inclusive Wayfinding Hackathon was an opportunity for people from all areas of the University to truly understand the challenges that those with disabilities face on a daily basis. We were able to work together in teams to find solutions to these problems with help from visitors who experience them first-hand.

The Hackathon was held on the London Road Campus over two days, one day for information gathering and the other for finalising and presenting our ideas. After getting to know each other we got straight to work!

As an icebreaker challenge, all participants took a treasure hunt tour of the London Road campus. We had to find certain things that those with disabilities would also look for or need. For example, corduroy strips, railings or automated doors. If we had any comments, we had to write them down. The campus was good it seemed with textured surfaces, but some smaller details had been overlooked, for example railings not reaching to the final parts of a ramp, or dropped curbs not being adjacent at crossings. After we had fed back about the task, we had a briefing with Adrian about Health and Safety and inclusivity movements.

In the afternoon we were joined by several individuals with disabilities. In two groups we were able to interview them and ask them any questions we may have about their conditions and the challenges they face on a day to day basis. There were no inhibitions when asking the volunteers questions about their experiences and they were very kind and answered with the utmost detail, which was particularly helpful. This allowed us to create ideas as to what wayfinding features would be most useful for them. The last activity of the day was to collate our ideas together and to pitch them to the rest of the group for feedback.

On the second day we were again joined by the volunteers, and we began to think about how we were going to make prototypes of our ideas. We had to consider materials, texture and accessibility. At lunch time we were joined by Ellie and George who were able to give us guidance and answer any queries we had about designing for those with disabilities. They showed us a ‘Cube’ (created in collaboration with Avanti Avanti and the Universal Design Foundation) which was a way of generating ways in which people with disabilities may have different needs or wants. The ‘Cube’ could be adapted for different projects, so could be used in a wide range of scenarios. It was a good way to visualise and realise that some individuals don’t have just one impairment. Travel, special needs, colours and textures were all considered carefully when designing inclusively.

After we had created our prototypes, we had to present our ideas to the rest of the group and visitors. We then listened to their feedback and responded to any questions they had.

Overall, the Hackathon was a good way of opening the eyes of the younger generation to the needs of others we may skim across in every day designing. Having an open mind to inclusivity is an important skill to have in the modern world, and the Hackathon taught us these skills, so we may use them in the future.

A man and a women seated on adjacent chairs in a classroom/studio, holding a cube.

A man and a women seated on adjacent chairs in a classroom/studio, holding a cube

What did I learn?

This Hackathon has taught me that it is important in the design world to remember that there are others to consider who have a very different life experience to me. I had not truly understood how those with disabilities are able to adapt to their environments so differently to those without. Having a range of people to listen to throughout the Hackathon also made me aware of how every base must be covered in order for everyone to feel included within design. This experience has changed my outlook on design, and has certainly impacted on how I will design in the future, whether that is through texture, colour, size or availability of resources. Those who wish to gain a different perspective on the design world, and to meet with people who can give you invaluable advice on the world of inclusive design, should definitely take part in the Hackathon. It reawakens the environment in which you live, and helps you see things through the eyes of others.

The Inclusive Way 

Our BdB team are delighted to share our student and staff perspectives on our inspiring February “Inclusive Way” hackathon. 

Four students sitting around a table working with sketches and post-it notes

Hackathon participants discussing ideas

What and when?  

A two-day event open to students from all disciplines and years of study to work with people with particular lived experience of disabilities to respond to a wayfinding brief in ways that champion inclusive design solutions. The event was organised for the February “reading week so that students from different disciplines could work together. 

The ‘hackathon’ concept – traditionally utilised within design and computer science disciplines – provides a pedagogical methodology for community/student engagement, teaching and learning around diversity- and inclusion-sensitive design thinking.  


Fifteen students, five design partners, three industry partners and six members of our multidisciplinary BdB partnership teamed up for the “Inclusive Way” hackathon 

  • Student participants included undergraduates and postgraduates from Architecture and Construction Management, Information Design, Graphic Communication, Modern Languages, Biomedical Engineering, and Real Estate and Planning 
  • They worked with 5 design partners – each living with distinct physical and cognitive impairments. Our design partners included a Reading alumnus and members of the Staff Disability Network. 
  • Zoe Partington from DisOrdinary Architecture joined us via Skype on Day 1. Wayfinding experts, George Sidaoui and Ellie Baker from Applied Wayfinding, and graphic designer, Rachel Warner from Rachel Warner Design joined the teams on Day 2.  
  • Our BdB core team members for the day were: Adrian Tagg (Construction Management and Engineering), Carolina Vasilikou (Architecture), Faustina Hwang (Biomedical Engineering), Jeanne-Louise Moys (Typography & Graphic Communication), Richard Nunes (Real Estate and Planning) and Ugo Marsili (Modern Languages).  


The hackathon took place at our beautiful London Road campus (and we were fortunate to have some good weather for most of the outdoor activities). As a point of departure for our hackathon, we treated the university campus and its immediate urban environments as a microcosm of everyday urban experiences. As such, we are reminded that in a context of growing inequality in our societies, the quality of access to services – from parks to shopping and simply getting around – is often lacking despite the regulatory conditions in place for urban design and development. It also should go without saying that “disability” is a socially-constructed term, legally-mandated consideration in placemaking that in itself can throw up barriers by closing down open discussion/debate surrounding the lived experience of disabled “access”. 


We aimed to encourage a cross-disciplinary, open dialogue that would enable participants to build a shared knowledge base about inclusive design and how design can contribute to the lived experiences of people with disabilities.  

The hackathon offers a unique pedagogic approach to the complex, multi-faceted problems that are so often under-valued when satisfaction with minimum legal standards leave the quality of life of many users compromised and under-appreciated. The ‘Inclusive Way’ set out to enable a range of literacies – of practical skills in inclusive design, empathy and a co-production of knowledge of diverse experiences of physical and cognitive impairment. It sought to enable a hands-on, solutions-based development model that would echo other successful teaching and learning methods such as problem- and inquiry-based learning approaches. 


The first day started with an accessibility treasure hunt to help students look at the campus and its connection to the surrounding public realm and the town centre from an accessibility auditing point of view. We then engaged in group discussions, joined by our design partners and remotely by Zoe Partington (DisOrdinary Architecture) to explore inclusive design principles, practices, opportunities and challenges from different perspectives. 

Two students and a tutor examining an accessible parking bay in an outdoor parking area

Exploring the spatial requirements for accessible parking

We then introduced a wayfinding brief that asked our multidisciplinary teams to consider how inclusive design can increase the physical, cognitive and cultural accessibility for students, staff and visitors finding their way through specific University outdoor public areas with different physical attributes. Responding to the brief, Hackathon participants worked with design partners to identify a range of user needs and discuss potential wayfinding challenges for people with disabilities or particular needs 

Across the two days, each team was invited to collaboratively identify challenges relative to the needs of their design partners, and to propose solutions. Walk-throughs, models, boards and presentations were produced in the process, and discussed together with input from guest industry professionals and BdB tutors. One highlight was the introduction of “the cube” by Ellie and George from Applied Wayfinding – the cube was designed in collaboration with Avanti Avanti and the Universal Design Foundation as a design tool, to probe the extent to which proposed designs work for a range of user needs and scenarios. 

A female student wearing glasses constructing a tactile prototype out of card with raised textures. A tutor and another student are in the background looking at a laptop screen.

Hackathon participants preparing prototypes for their presentation

The culmination of the event was the presentations of the design solutions from the two teams, who shared their proposals and prototypes. After the presentations we had a group discussion to share our insights and reflections from the event, and participants also completed an evaluation survey. 

So what?  

The event highlighted how inclusive design is about supporting independence, social justice and that it’s not about “designing for disabilities” but about designing to support everyone’s needs and lived experiences. As one participant wrote: Inclusive design is not an add-on [of] inclusivity. It is part of our everyday fabric [and] we should respond to it”. 

Hand-drawn map with the word independence written on it in red

Inclusive design is about designing for independence

When asked to rate our event on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being the most positive experience, all participants replied with 4 or 5 stars. Their comments suggest that they particularly valued: 

  • Interacting with people with different disabilities and learning from their lived experiences   
  • Cross-disciplinary collaboration and the opportunity to learn from and share diverse perspectives with peers, professionals and tutors. 

Thank you to all participants who made our first hackathon such a success and the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives Fund for supporting this event. We are already looking forward to planning our next hackathon.