Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting at the NADP International Conference in Manchester on the subject of the Calibre Leadership and Development Programme‎. The conference theme was Universal Design (UD) and its benefits to all, it is not a question of addressing impairments, but more about reducing barriers for all and designing amazing buildings, that incidentally win architecture awards too.

We all know that in the last 30 years things in the UK have improved for women, LGBQIA communities, BAME and disabled people on paper. However, why is this not translated into holistic practice? It seems to me that often high-pressure environments like higher education ‎view “difference” as a challenge at best and a weakness at worse?

How do we enable organisations to embrace and champion Universal Design, Universal Inclusion and Universal Learning? Having heard from experts around the world on the subject here are some suggestion to integrate the principles in your daily work:

1. Never assume and ask. A one size fits all approach, doesn’t work. However finding common ground is possible and an approach that means people will learn from each other.

2. Challenge normative processes‎- policies are often written from a particular perspective. Ask colleagues, staff, customers and students to input to get an improved outcome

3. Demonstrate, where possible how Universal Design can improve business and increase recognition of the organisation. It may be that more tangible quantitative statistics will take time, but the positive staff and customer experience can always be captured.

4. Change may be very slow and incremental, but that’s ok. Capture success and keep building a community of people who want to contribute to improvement.

I am honoured to be the lead in the HE sector for launching our disabled leadership and development programme, entitled Calibre. I was asked challenging questions at the NADP conference about this, and rightly so. The programme is not about fixing people, ‎it’s about enabling people to see their potential and be actors in their own journey. It’s about giving people the space and freedom to learn from their peers, find their voice and use their voice to identify how they want their barriers to be removed.

I know I may be preaching to the converted here, but I feel we all have a responsibility to promote and champion UD, if we are to see a real shift in removing barriers in the workplace and beyond.