Universal Design beyond the ADA

by Marcela Abadi Rhoads, AIA RAS

The ADA has opened up doors to the disabled community in so many ways. It has made them free to gain employment, participate in society, and be productive members of our community. It has given them freedom, autonomy, and dignity. It achieves this by eliminating barriers, both physical and cultural, but the rules that the ADA sets down are the minimum requirements that one can do. Universal Design is the next step. To make everything so that anyone can use it, regardless of age, size, ability, or disability, architect Ron Mace from the University of North Carolina School of Design, in 1985, coined the term “Universal Design.”

“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
1 Excerpted from Universal Design: Housing for the Lifespan of all People, by Ron Mace for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1998

Universal design is an approach to design that incorporates products, as well as building features and elements, which to the greatest extent possible, can be used by everyone. His idea was that barriers existed for everyone and that eliminating them could benefit everyone. His concept became a reality when the Center for Universal Design was established. The Center became a research think tank to assist the public in rethinking design. The design principles were ...

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