Use the following learning
objectives to focus your study while reading this month’s
ARCHITECTURAL RECORD / AIA Continuing Education article.
After reading this article, you will be able to:
the difference between accessible design and universal
the benefits of universal design.
examples of universal design in recent architectural
Accessibility is a mandate; universal
design is a movement. Accessible, adaptable, and visitable
environments are covered in the codes, standards, and regulations.
Beginning with the Architectural Barriers Act in 1968 and
culminating with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
of 1990, the federal government has enacted four major laws
that require public places and publicly funded projects to
provide physical and programmatic accessibility to people
with disabilities. Standards that meet the physical requirements
of the laws are spelled out in guidelines. Model building
codes and local codes have been modified to meet and, in some
cases, exceed the federal requirements. Universal design is
a worldwide movement that approaches the design of the environment,
products, and communications with the widest range of users
in mind. It is known elsewhere in the world as design for
all, life-span design, and inclusive design. The U.S. origins
of its philosophy date back three decades to the disability-rights
movement, but the seven governing principles (sidebar, page
147), which call for designed environments that are equitable,
flexible, intuitive, perceptible, safe, easy, and accommodating,
were crafted in the past decade.
Civil rights is the rationale for accessibility.
The accessibility laws focus on people within a narrow range
of specific disabilities, such as those who use wheelchairs
or have visual or hearing impairments. They ensure access
to designated types of buildings based on assumptions about
particular barriers in the environmentfor example, they
stipulate that there must be one level entry into public buildings
for someone who uses a wheelchair, and that a person who doesnt
see should have audio signals and braille signs in an elevator.
used the Charles H. Giancarlo Engineering
Laboratories at Brown University to create
a visual signpost for the entire complex.
Photography: © Jeff Goldberg/ESTO
Universal design comes from incorporating
these guiding principles into underlying design thinking.
There are no specific goals to reach; there is instead a framework
for creating solutions. Universal design asks designers to
rethink some fundamental formal architectural concepts, to
contemplate environmental equity for all kinds of users, and
to consider a variety of ways the environment can be designed
or adapted to accommodate peoples changing needs, such
as those of the aging or of people who dont speak the
dominant language. Providing an accessible environment often
means adding a few special features designated as accessible.
Providing a universal environment means creating a space that
doesnt segregate some and prevent others from using
it independently, but does benefit many whose needs have not
traditionally been considered. The largest cohort that universal
design in Europe and America seeks to include are aging baby
boomers, who will soon begin to find the world more difficult
to navigate. Proponents insist that universal design meets
the highest aesthetic standards and contest the stereotype
of accessibility that creates places that are segregating,
costly, and ugly.