Universal Design Discussions at AAMA Summer Conference
Designing buildings and building products that are accessible to the entire population requires considerations well beyond those outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act building standards, according to Elizabeth Watson, director of the Center for Students with Disabilities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Watson delivered the keynote, “Moving from ADA to Universal Design” during the American Architectural Manufacturers Association Summer Conference, running June 1-5 in Indianapolis.
“ADA are minimum standards. Sometimes they look good on paper, but don't function in the real world,” Watson told the group. “If you design just to ADA, you have already told 25 to 30 percent of the population, ‘you are not invited into this environment, because it won’t function for you.’”
Watson outlined the guidelines for universal design.
- Equitable use: The design is useful and marketable to any group of users.
- Flexibility in use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
- Simple and intuitive use: Use of the design is easy to understand.
- Perceptible information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the users.
- Tolerance for error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
- Low physical effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue.
- Size and space for approach and use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use.
Watson recommended that the window, door and skylight manufacturers consider how everyone might use their products, and test their products for usability among various populations. “If you’re developing products that go into consumer hands, find some beta testers,” she said. “Play with your products. See if a child can use it. Bring them into an assisted living facility.”
She also recommended manufacturers seek accessibility input from an occupational therapist. “If your products have grips, handles or levers, ask an OT if they will function for everyone,” she said.
Companies should also look at the design and accessibility of their own facilities. “Think about your work environment. Is it a safe and accessible space for all of your employees,” she said.