Mcgraw Hill Construction Dodge Sweets Engineering News-Record Architectural Record GreenSource

Accessible by Design: Innovative Approaches to Achieving Universal Design and ADA Compliance

Product innovations foster independence and celebrate the diversity of human ability.

August 2011
Sponsored by CertainTeed®, Livers Bronze Co. and TOTO

By Celeste Allen Novak AIA, LEED AP

Continuing Education

Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this month’s Continuing Education article.

Learning Objectives - After reading this article, you will be able to:

  1. Discuss Universal Design principles and ADA compliance as part of a focused initiative for a design practice.
  2. Analyze products for the bath that promote independent living.
  3. Evaluate handrail systems with high aesthetic values that meet and/or exceed 2010 ADAAG regulations.
  4. Explain the relationship between Universal Design and social sustainability.

Credits: 1.00 HSW

This test is no longer available for credit

Every environment has an innate characteristic and every human has innate or inherent behaviors. The responsibility of the architect to change environments goes beyond compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or numerous other minimal regulations (see side bar), and calls for design for social sustainability. The World Health Organization agrees and calls for mainstreaming the experience of disability and recognizing it as a universal human experience. They have redefined disability as a contextual phenomenon, dictated by the intersection of a person and his/her environment. Universal Design proponents see this movement as a framework for design and a challenge for designers in the 21st century. As a response to support the movement towards removing disabilities for all, industrial designers, product engineers and manufacturers are designing products that enhance experiences for people of all ages and abilities by design.


This article will discuss some product innovations as a means of illustrating creative ways to meet current ADA requirements. In addition, we will look at means by which to design beyond ADA to address opportunities of multi-generational ergonomics using Universal Design principles. According to Josh Safdie, Assoc. AIA, the director of the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) Studio, "There is a difference between following an ADA checklist and focusing a practice on Universal Design." He believes that "design powerfully and profoundly influences us and our sense of confidence, comfort and control. Variation in ability is ordinary, not special and it affects most of us for at least part of our lives." He and Gunnar Baldwin were both part of the panel on Universal Design at the 2011 AIA National Convention in New Orleans, where panelists discussed the numerous social, cultural and individual impediments that make the transition to Universal Design difficult for designers. Some of these impediments include preconceived attitudes about aging, the denial of the need to plan for aging, economics and regulations that address an aging population. Confronting issues of human usability requires an increased awareness of human abilities in order to develop new, focused Universal Design practices for the 21st century.

Universal Design solutions can be "invisible" and an accessible house can be a multi-story structure on an urban lot.

Photo courtesy of Emory Baldwin, AIA


Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Architectural Record
----- Advertising -----
----- Advertising -----
ENR Construction Training & Certification
Architectural Record GreenSource ENR