Good accessible design is good for everyone

An illustration of a person water plants. The illustration is white with a yellow backdrop.
Published: 07/08/2018

We are working on the theme of town centre living and a caring place and have invited a conversation on the ten principles of a caring place. In this blog, Kayleigh Lytham from Paths for All, a national walking charity, writes about accessible outdoors environments and dementia friendly design, which is related to principle two: accessible quality external environments.

What constitutes an accessible outdoor environment and why should we care how people navigate places?

The answer is simple: good accessible design is good for everyone. To enhance visitor experience when accessing an outdoor space, it’s important to understand what it’s used for and by whom.

Recognising and collating feedback on existing design challenges is important if they are to be addressed – and if they are addressed, what then constitutes as good accessible design?

This was the challenge of a recent project to develop Kings Park in Stirling to be more accessible to people living with dementia and carers. Designing with dementia friendly principles in mind ultimately meant that any changes would deliver benefits to all.

In theory this sounds straight forward, however as many of you will know, this is not usually the case. And in the case of Kings Park, a balance between modern design which meets user needs versus the historic nature of the park had to be sought.

Importance of the outdoors

Getting some fresh air in a place where you can relax, spend a bit of time and perhaps socialise with friends or walk around is something many of us value. A place where you feel safe, comfortable and can enjoy whenever you feel like visiting. Somewhere that you are familiar with the environment and layout and has amenities nearby.

How many of you know a place like that? If so, is it close to your home or do you need to travel to get there? Many of us may be able to get to the places we love the most without much difficulty, but what if we couldn’t?

What if you didn’t have access to a car anymore or found using public transport a challenge? What if there was nothing within your local community that you could manage a short walk to? What if you were an older adult or a person living with dementia and regular access to the outdoors was important for your health and wellbeing?

All questions which lead back to the importance of good accessible design.

Enabling outdoor environments and ease of access / navigation is hard to come by. A first of its kind, Kings Park in Stirling was developed with dementia friendly design principles in mind alongside public consultation, including people with dementia.

Sensory challenges, navigation and the practical and physical changes that were required were highlighted as a means of ‘physical support’ when visiting the park. The challenge also lay in the need for a more inclusive community, understanding of the sensory challenges that people face and what you can do to help if you saw a person needing assistance.

Together this created an accessible outdoor space, not based on any one particular change, but on a developed and on-going set of changes that people highlighted to make Kings Park friendly and inclusive.

Dementia friendly design principles

What has worked in Kings Park, Stirling does not automatically transfer to every other public park. More benches and the installation of a handrail on a steep section of path may not seem like a big deal. However, for many this was the difference in being able to access certain paths where the opportunity to rest or hold on prevents the fear of falling.

Likewise, dementia friendly signage on the toilets may seem bold at first glance, however instantly decipherable by many means they are easily located.

An alternative to too much signage around the park also presented the opportunity for an accessible designed information leaflet with wayfinding map – a dual function of making an informed decision to visit yet a relatable paper format which many users find comfort instead of modern technology. Just a few examples of what can be achieved and worth noting that not all developments to increase accessibility are obvious!

There are no hard and fast rules for making an outdoor space instantly more dementia friendly and accessible. A development process must be adopted where people are at the centre of consultation with every aspect.

Utilising dementia friendly design principles will help to some extent but must be considered alongside the purpose, historic nature and practicalities of implementation if it’s to be successful. It’s perhaps not a straightforward process and may not address every challenge but making an outdoor space more accessible than it was before, is ultimately a step in the right direction.


A white and purple monument in a centre of a park. The monument is surrounded by hedges.
Image credits: Kings Park, Stirling (C) Paths for All

About Paths for All

Paths for All is a National walking charity. We champion everyday walking. We want to create a happier, healthier Scotland where increased physical activity improves quality of life and wellbeing for all. Kayleigh Lytham supports the Walking for Health network across Scotland to develop health walks to be more inclusive for people living with dementia and carers. Dementia inclusive environments and physical activity provision in Care Homes are two further areas her work supports.

Visit for more information.

Main image credits: Studio LR for Paths for All

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We are developing and inviting a conversation on a caring place through our social media channels and on this website. If you'd like to share you knowledge and experiences of what it takes to design for a caring place, get in touch.

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