Unversal Design Connects People, Places, and Ideas

This article is for the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2012 Blog Off as part of their National Convention. The theme of which is Design Connects.

We are at a point in U.S. architectural history where design is now meant to be accessible to more people. For people with disabilities, most architecture in the past meant being in an institution, left out by barriers, or stuck at home. Being a part of the community was not always an option. Things started to change more in the 20th century and especially with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Now the past, present, and future are all becoming more accessible to more people. Which connects us all.

Universal design, inclusive design, aging in place, and barrier removal; are all variations of the same thing. Making places and spaces accessible. All are becoming more prevalent and continue to evolve. A great example is the recent enforcement of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Building upon the original design standards, the new standards clarify previous vagueness, gives specifics on certain special places, and creates  more accessible areas.

Buildings and places of our past are now becoming accessible for the first time in  their existence. Allowing more of us to experience the history of us and pass that knowledge on to future generations. The buildings of today are being built so that they are already accessible. Remember that the buildings of today and tomorrow eventually become a part of our history. So let’s leave something to be proud of.

Accessibility and design goes beyond just buildings. Assistive technology through industrial design and product design is also evolving. Devices that are designed too help people be more independent are generally functional and medical in looks. Functionality should always come first but now the form part is becoming a bigger part of the equation. I’ve done this blog for only a few months but already I have  seen amazing products and concept designs that are some of the coolest things I have ever seen. Which can ease the social anxiety some may have when going out with their  assistive technology. Even to a point where they want to show off their devices as fashion statements.

I’ve experienced first hand how universal design has improved the connection of people with the outside world. Through my job I have seen dozens of cases where simple accessible entrance modifications have opened a whole new world for the people they were designed for. Especially with my father who was able to continue his independent spirit with the help of universal designed architecture and devices. Stay inspired.

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