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Inclusion Engineering


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The use of engineering tools, design, research, and thinking to create environments and capabilities by which individuals who are under-employed or unemployed due to a physical disability, such as  amputation and spinal cord injury, or neurological difference, such as autism, are enabled to become fully productive and employed members of society has been the implicit goal of decades of research at Vanderbilt University and elsewhere. 

At Vanderbilt, progress in these areas has been greatly facilitated by the close co-location of the School of Engineering with the world-class Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and the resulting close collaboration between engineering and medical researchers. However, these approaches have typically been siloed into categories such as rehabilitation engineering (for ameliorating physical injuries). 

These and similar activities–aimed at empowering individuals with physical challenges and neurological differences to contribute their abilities to the workforce and to society–constitute a new subfield of engineering we are calling Engineering for Inclusion, or more succinctly, Inclusion EngineeringSM .

While Inclusion EngineeringSM intentionally draws from many existing areas of Engineering, such as mechanical engineering, robotics, computer science, artificial intelligence, and systems engineering, Inclusion Engineering is to be distinguished from other approaches that may seem similar. For example, accessibility engineering and the closely allied field of universal design refer to the use of technology and design principles to make facilities–such as buildings, computers, and automobiles–accessible to the physically disabled and differently abled. In comparison, the goal of Inclusion Engineering is both more ambitious and broader. It aims for nothing less than full engagement and utilization of individuals’ different abilities, not simply access, and addresses the neurological as well as the physical. Inclusive design is a paradigm for design/architecture that emphasizes understanding user diversity and so seeks to include as many people as possible during the design/architecting process. It is quite distinct from Inclusion Engineering, though the practitioners often need to consider the diversity of users of their technology early their research. Inclusive design can be a component of Inclusion Engineering, but it is not equivalent.

The emergence of this new subdiscipline of Inclusion EngineeringSM reflects the growing trend within society to embrace inclusion. In particular, the idea that organizations and systems and societies are improved when people of all different abilities are fully included, with their needs supported while their differences are celebrated, is increasingly supported by quantitative studies [1].

We note that the steel industry also uses the term Inclusion Engineering to refer to approaches to optimizing the role of nonmetallic inclusions in steel. We believe that the use of the term inclusion engineering, as we have defined it, will always be distinguishable from the term’s highly specialized use in the steel industry due to the context in which the term is being used.


Campus Partners in Inclusion EngineeringSM at Vanderbilt










[1]       Larson E. New research: Diversity + inclusion = Better decision making at work 2017.