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  • Kristy Mandigo Kinkor

ADA vs Universal Design

ADA regulations are codes and are enforced by federal law whereas Universal Design is a concept which proposes ways in which designers can create spaces and products for anyone.


How do we shift our current buildings and plan for new buildings?


Where the barrier-free design starts, universal design finishes. In addition to accommodating individuals with a disability, universal design makes provisions for folks of any level of ability. Universal design accommodates individuals of different heights, physical and mental abilities in an aesthetically pleasing way


Universal Design is also inclusive of Accessibility, and not solely focused on Accessibility. Rather, Universal Design expands Accessibility's definition by including all persons, not only persons with disabilities. An important step is to change how one perceives what needs to be done to make content accessible.


In addition, Accessibility outlines the “must haves” for those with disabilities while universal design is the step beyond, the “better to haves” of the built environment.


It might seem like these “adds” might cost more, but fixing and retrofitting after you might need after you or an employee that needs the accessibility after being hired, will often cost 10-fold.

Universal Design (UD) is also called inclusive design, design for all, or life span design. As initially conceived, UD was focused on usability issues. "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" (Mace, 1985).

Proponents of Universal Design must recognize that products and environments can never be fully usable by every person in the world, but that services, management practices, and policies can benefit from Universal Design thinking. Universal Design should therefore be considered a process rather than an end state. There is never any end to the quest for improved usability, health, or social participation, so attention to more than just the built environment is needed to achieve these three broad outcomes.


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