Understood’s new office sets the standard for accessible, inclusive design for invisible and visible disabilities

By The Understood Team

As Understood employees return to the office in New York City, the team will reunite in a new headquarters and workspace that was designed with accessibility as the top priority. Understood collaborated with Float Design Studio and and United Spinal Accessibility Services, a preeminent ADA consultant, to ensure the space went above accessibility standards, and set new ones for accommodations for neurodiverse employees. 

“Our new home represents the unique way Understood brings together accessibility, usability, and inclusivity through design,” said Fred Poses, CEO of Understood. “Our new office better meets the needs of our team members who learn and think differently, which ultimately makes it a more welcoming, practical space for everyone.” 

Beginning in late 2019, the design process reflected the organization’s collaborative spirit. Several Understood employees were selected as part of a committee to ensure the space accommodated learning and thinking differences, in addition to other disabilities. The team worked to make sure the space was flexible, welcoming, and reflected Understood’s brand and values. As a result, many of the space’s features meet ADA standards, but also exceed compliance with aspects created for people who learn and think differently.

For people who have difficulty hearing or focusing, rooms will include AV assistance and ambient sound that is engineered to minimize noise distractions. Sensory processing issues were also heavily factored into the design. Daylight optimization, automated lighting systems, dimmers, and occupancy sensors will ensure the space accommodates people who are sensitive to light. Multi-zone thermal controls will also be accessible for employees with temperature sensitivities. 

Many of the inclusive, accessible design techniques in the new office required a more innovative approach rather than more financial resources. Design interventions were chosen to cater to all senses, and the entire team was involved in decision-making, and a wide variety of work space types and flexibility and a variety of furniture types and sizes. 

“Our new space's accessibility features make working easier, and not just for people with disabilities,” said Yvonne Yancy, Understood’s CHRO. “The fact is that 1 in 5 Americans with learning and thinking differences are in the workplace, so as many of us head back to the office, creating a truly inclusive work environment and accounting for those with learning disabilities is imperative.”

The new workplace is one illustration of the organization’s recent commitment to accessible, inclusive design. On May 20, Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Understood announced it will focus on developing a more inclusive approach to accessibility and usability that considers the needs of the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who learn and think differently. The motivation for this commitment springs from multiple sources, including: 1) the frequent omission of learning and thinking differences from accessibility standards, 2) the opportunity to find a balance between accessibility and usability, and 3) the movement of more businesses’ prioritizing accessibility.  

Additional features that exceed ADA compliance include: 

  • All workstations are accessible and have sit/stand desks 
  • All tables and soft seating are accessible
  • A variety of furniture types and sizes to accommodate different body types and working styles
  • Small focus rooms for quiet work

Beyond the team’s new office space, Understood is committed to building an accessible, inclusive culture that shapes the world for difference.

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