SEVILLE / 9 June 2022.


In TV series, once the halfway point of the series has passed, there is always a chapter outside the plot. This chapter serves to degrease, to allow the audience to breathe, to increase the intrigue… In general, nothing ever happens in these chapters and some people choose to skip them altogether. We warn you that this post is like one of those chapters, -inserted in the middle of the series dedicated to Healthy Architecture– but we advise you not to skip it, because it presents aspects and concepts that you are going to have to work on, sooner rather than later, in your projects and buildings.

Just two months ago, last Friday 1st April, Law 6/2022 was published in the BOE (Official State Gazette), which establishes and regulates cognitive accessibility and its conditions of requirement and application in buildings, cities and transport. This legislation modifies the text of the General Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and their Social Inclusion. The new regulations will have a special impact in the future on the design and planning of buildings and urban environments, so it is worth pausing for a moment to reflect on their repercussions in the coming years on the performance of the architectural profession.

In Spain, accessibility in buildings and environments has been regulated since 2003 in Law 51/2003, on equal opportunities, non-discrimination and universal accessibility for people with disabilities. However, both this law and the rest of the regulations only contemplate one type of user: people with physical or sensory functional diversity.

Accessibility is a precondition for any type of person with physical, sensory or cognitive functional diversity to be able to live independently and participate fully in society on an equal footing. Accessibility should be seen as a reaffirmation of the social aspect of the right to access for all people.

Universal accessibility is unique, including cognitive accessibility, which is defined as the characteristic that enables easy understanding, communication and interaction of all people with environments, processes, activities, goods, products, services, objects or instruments, tools and devices. This is a definition on which there is a broad technical, academic and social consensus.

Cognitive accessibility does not stop there, but a wide repertoire of systems and technologies articulated around alternative modes, means and formats of communication contribute to it. Among the resources that facilitate this accessibility is the design of buildings and spaces in such a way that their formalisation and architectural construction allow for a good interpretation and understanding of these built environments, their uses and interactions.

People with comprehension and communication difficulties are still confronted on a daily basis with cognitively inaccessible environments, characterised by the presence of technical and environmental barriers. Limits imposed by a physical environment that can be designed, planned and adapted. However, so far, cognitive accessibility has not been sufficiently considered when developing and implementing actions related to universal accessibility.

For example, no specific measures related to buildings and city planning are introduced in the Dementia Plans, in the Comprehensive Plan for Alzheimer’s and other dementias (2019-2023) or when reserving a percentage of adapted housing for these groups of people with cognitive impairment, as has been done for decades with houses for people with physical or sensory functional diversity. It is clear that there is a lack of awareness of the importance of physical space for people with cognitive deficiencies and a regulatory deficit on cognitive accessibility. This situation needs to be overcome.

This lack of regulatory development has serious consequences on the lives of these people, because it prevents or hinders a large number of them from living independently and participating fully in society on an equal footing with others. It is therefore necessary to effectively guarantee cognitive accessibility for a group with difficulties, both in the physical environment and in services and facilities for public and private use, in urban and rural areas.

Cognitive accessibility is deployed and made effective through understanding and orientation in buildings and environments. This presupposes a strategy of ‘Universal Design‘ or ‘Design for All‘, and is without prejudice to reasonable adjustments to be made in living spaces to facilitate people’s safety and comfort. A given space can affect the quality of a person’s spatial and social cognition, which implies that living in certain environments can have detrimental or beneficial effects on a person.

In a direct and primary way, in order to facilitate cognitive accessibility, ‘easy-to-read’ resources are used in buildings, supported by graphic communication with signage, colour coding, maps, etc. Auditory communication resources are also used, such as acoustic signals or verbal messages. Tactile communication resources are also used, such as high-relief models, contrasted tactile floor tiles, etc. Even augmentative and alternative communication systems are used, such as magnetic loops, screens, Navilens or QR codes, or virtual reality, etc. In general, the above resources do not belong to the strictly architectural disciplinary field, but to other fields of work which, nevertheless, architecture integrates into the buildings and urban environments it constructs.

However, there are other less technical and more abstract resources that also contribute to facilitating cognitive accessibility and are of particular importance. These are directly related to the material of the architectural project or to the guidelines that influence the design of buildings and environments.

To address cognitive accessibility in buildings, projects must incorporate inclusive solutions that follow the DALCO (Deambulation, Apprehension, Localisation and Communication) criteria. In addition to considering the careful design of itineraries, with layouts that encourage orientation through the use of identifiable patterns or the incorporation of landmarks and/or distinctive references. In buildings, it is important to give users the ability to control their own experience, with the possibility of making decisions for themselves, avoiding, as far as possible, centralised services, controlled or supervised by third parties.

However, the most important aspect, in order to achieve maximum cognitive accessibility, is to give meaning to buildings and environments. Producing emotion with meaningful architecture. In the importance of the meaning of spaces lies the capacity of an environment to communicate, to be understandable and to strengthen the social integration of all people. This is a road still to be travelled, although little by little steps are being taken.

In the next post we will return to the plot of the series. We will show three international initiatives of Healthy Architecture, carried out during the last thirty years by different architects, which integrate in an innovative way the cognitive and emotional aspect in buildings. Don’t miss it.


José Manuel Mera Gómez is a Building Engineer and Technical Architect at CEAPAT / IMSERSO / Ministry of Social Rights and Agenda 2030. Researcher at the Healthy Architecture & City Group (TEP-965).

Santiago Quesada García is Doctor of Architecture, Full Professor at the University, Head Researcher of the Healthy Architecture & City Group (TEP-965) and Principal Investigator of the ALZARQ project of the Ministry of Science and Innovation and DETER of the Andalusian Regional Government.

Post published in the IUACC Bulletin nº 139 of 09 June 2022


Image of the post:
Cover of The New Yorker magazine, by Lorni Sue Johnson (1985), artist with amnesia.