Universal Design Makes Buildings Accessible to All
Universal design is a method of designing and building a structure
that accommodate all types of people, regardless of differences in age,
physical ability and size.
It is becoming more common to see buildings that accommodate all types of
people, regardless of differences in age, physical ability and size. This
field of building is called universal design, and it ensures that structures
are designed to meet the special needs of the disabled and elderly, and that
these buildings are pleasing to other populations who also use the building.
Ten years ago national attention was focused on accessibility for all by the
American with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act prohibits discrimination
against disabled people in employment, education and services, and requires
employers to make their facilities accessible to, and usable by, persons
with disabilities. While the ADA does not set requirements for private
homes, it has, nevertheless, brought universal design to the forefront in
all areas of the building world. Over the past decade universal design has
had a positive impact on buildings of all kinds, and a special niche for
this type of construction has developed.
This emphasis on universal design has had a positive effect on people
without disabilities as well. Parents with children in strollers find it
easier to negotiate the wide aisles found in universally designed buildings
and employees of moving companies praise increasingly common stairless
entries. Certainly some people may not have need of universal design
themselves, but chances are they probably know someone who could be helped
by it. Many baby boomers are coming to an age where they are facing issues
of taking care of elderly parents, and easier access to buildings is
becoming an important issue.
As this type of construction becomes more common it is being used in public
and private buildings alike. A universally designed home might have kitchen
areas with wide aisles for maneuvering, and countertops that vary in height
for people to stand or sit and work at them. Stairless entries, spacious
bathrooms, wider doorframes and broader hallways are all typically found in
a universally designed home.
Not all buildings are universally accessible yet, despite the ADA. Private
homes tend to be the last area where universal design is applied. This will
gradually change over time, however, as homeowners have a need to create
better access for themselves or family members. While retrofitting older
buildings allows for easier access, it often means separate entrances for
the disabled and the so-called "able-bodied." While this is not the ideal
situation, as universal design becomes more prevalent, buildings will be
created and adapted to the needs of their populations.
Source: Katrina Mason, The Washington Post.