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Themes: Inclusive Design

A Legacy to Note on Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2021: Memories of Margaret Hickish MBE – a Mentor and Friend

Colour Image of Iain McKinnon

Iain McKinnon

Co-founder and Director of Operations & Inclusive Design

Margaret very generously gave me my start in Inclusive Design and in turn, set me on my career path that I am still very much on to this day.

A photograph of Margaret surveying the Olympic and Paralympic pool from a viewing platform
Margaret surveying the Olympic and Paralympic Pool from the best seats in the house!

I first came across Margaret Hickish while a student at University. My course had a close relationship with Buro Happold Engineering who provided student placement opportunities including with the ‘access’ team led by Margaret at that time.

I was due to undertake a summer placement in 2002 but couldn't for family reasons. Three years later, after graduating and taking a gap year to go travelling, I got back in touch with Margaret to see if there were any opportunities to join her team. I think Margaret realised then that this recent graduate had a genuine passion for Inclusive Design and so did what she could to get me on her team. Margaret very generously gave me my start in Inclusive Design and in turn, set me on my career path that I am still very much on to this day.

Working for Margaret could be scary. She was a formidable character. Mix that with such passion for her work and you have a potent combination. However, working under Margaret and as part of a very diverse team of consultants based in Glasgow and London, I learned a tremendous amount and consider that time my very own Inclusive Design apprenticeship; exactly the type I hope to offer others now.

The economic crash in 2008/09 brought challenges for the construction industry and coincided with Margaret moving more permanently into arguably her most significant role as Principal Access advisor for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London. In this period, I left Buro Happold. However, with four years’ experience working for Margaret under my belt, I felt confident enough to go freelance for the next three years. Margaret would often check in to see how things were and we worked together again on a consultancy project for Network Rail, where unbeknown to us at the time, she would go on to finish up her career.

Margaret was instrumental in ensuring that Inclusive Design was a major priority

In 2011 I joined the Olympic Park Legacy Company (now the London Legacy Development Corporation) as their new Inclusive Design Manager. I didn’t know it then, but what was initially an 18-month contract opportunity was to shape the next decade of my life...and counting.

Margaret was still working on the Games and supporting the plans for Legacy which in terms of the Paralympics was being led at LLDC by Vicki Austin. Vicki and Margaret developed a good rapport and working relationship that endured with Vicki interviewing and catching up with Margaret for some research we are doing just weeks before her sudden passing earlier this year.

Being responsible for the Inclusive Design Legacy of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was significant, and a responsibility I felt intensely. Margaret, alongside many others, had invested so much to ensure that the Park and Games were genuinely inclusive for all and my job was to effectively protect that Legacy and where possible, build on it. The building blocks were there - many of them established by Margaret, including Inclusive Design Standards for Games time and a Built Environment Access Panel. Our role was to build that into a long-term strategy for east London once the Games moved on.

I vividly remember spending two full days with Margaret on the Olympic Park during the Paralympics, not to watch any sport, but to do an access audit so that she could download all the details of previous decisions and highlight areas she felt hadn’t been delivered quite as well as they should have. This was to ensure I was armed and ready to fight for the right decisions to be made in all the subsequent development projects. Once again, she was instrumental in ensuring that Inclusive Design was a major priority in this next phase.

Margaret was once again doing what she did so well forcing a culture change and creating standards

After the Games, Margaret did some freelance consultancy of her own, being highly sought after with the unique knowledge and experience she had. I was lucky enough to be invited to speak with her at many events, including some international ones in Boston and Dubai, where Margaret always made sure there was time away from work to explore the city and make the most of it! Margaret was a fine raconteur and knew the power of a strong narrative and memorable anecdote. This is something I will never forget and try my best to emulate, though never quite with the same aplomb.

Then Network Rail came calling again, and Margaret was once again doing what she did so well, forcing a culture change, creating standards and setting up her second Built Environment Access Panel! We still kept in touch, including in the early conversations about creating some kind of knowledge hub as a repository for all that Games time experience, learning and knowledge. A few years and manifestations later, that original idea evolved to become GDI Hub.

Vicki and I have and always had the greatest respect for Margaret’s knowledge, approach and style. We owe her a lot. She was a force of nature and had a big impact on many of us working in and passionate about inclusion and inclusive design. We will remember her fondly as a colleague, mentor, supporter and friend.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

As it is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I was wondering what Margaret’s reflections would be and what she’d hope GDI Hub was prioritising, and I think she would say:

  1. Apply the principles of inclusive design across both the digital and physical world to achieve joined up, coherent solutions
  2. Recognise and promote the wider benefits of inclusive digital products and services
  3. Considering a global audience, provide consistency, while also respecting and celebrating the diversity and richness of cultures and faiths around the world
Colour Image of Iain McKinnon

Iain Mckinnon

Director of Inclusive Design, GDI Hub