Tech Notes: Universal Design v. Accessible Design

“Isn’t Universal Design just a different term for Accessible Design?” We hear this from architects and designers a lot. While similarities exist, Accessible Design and Universal Design are actually quite different.

outlets, switches, env controls

This image depicts the prescriptive Accessible Design requirements for light switches and operable parts under the Fair Housing Act. Unlike Universal Design, Accessible Design is not intended to be flexible, with little or no room for tolerance.

The term “Accessible Design” typically refers to compliance with Federal accessibility laws and state and local building codes; including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, among others. Accessible Design requirements are based on anthropometric research – or the study of the human body – and are intended to address people with disabilities. Laws and codes that require compliance with Accessible Design requirements include little or no room for tolerance.

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Medellin: A New Approach to Access and Inclusion

Written by Camilo Vasquez, Accessibility Specialist

A view of the comunas in Medellin, Colombia

There are cities around the world with the potential to conjure up negative images the moment you mention the name. My hometown of Medellin, Colombia is certainly one of those cities. It is no secret that Medellin is synonymous with Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord who paralyzed Colombia with constant violence and chaos over two decades ago. In 1988, TIME magazine named it the most dangerous city in the world. By 1991, it became the murder capital of the world. Yet in 2013, Medellin was announced the “Innovative City of the Year” by USA’s Urban Land Institute. How did Medellin go from a haven of narco-terrorism to becoming a hub of innovation? This transformation has been attributed to the use of urban infrastructure as a tool for inclusion, which was very apparent during my recent trip.

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Accessible Products of the Future…are Here!

Written by Victoria Lanteigne, Senior Accessibility Consultant

The GR-5: Winning Prototype from Marymount University’s 2017 Strong by Design-athon.

Every April during National Fair Housing Month, those of us on SWA’s Accessibility Team like to partake in activities that remind us why accessible design is so important – both in housing and otherwise. This year, I had the exciting opportunity to be part of a guest jury for a design competition with Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. The fourth annual Strong by Design-athon is a project exhibition that aims to raise awareness about the needs of veterans with disabilities and inspire the design, technology, and healthcare communities to embrace Universal Design.
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Tech Notes – Medical Diagnostic Equipment and Accessibility

By Victoria Lanteigne, Senior Accessibility Consultant

The United States Access Board recently issued new standards under Section 510 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for Medical Diagnostic Equipment (MDE). The Proposed Standards provide design criteria for MDE such as examination tables and chairs, scales, radiology equipment, mammography equipment, among other medical equipment. The new accessibility requirements, “establish minimum technical criteria that will allow patients with disabilities independent entry to, use of, and exit from medical diagnostic equipment to the maximum extent possible.”

The Proposed Standards provide technical criteria that will facilitate the use of equipment for people with disabilities in the supine, prone, side-lying, and seated positions. A few key requirements from the Proposed Standard are following:

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Why the Whole Building Approach Matters

At Steven Winter Associates, Inc., we support the whole building approach to design and construction by doing our best to ensure that projects meet sustainability, energy efficiency, and accessibility requirements, among other design strategies and goals. From our perspective, accessibility compliance is a key factor in determining whether a project is truly sustainable and efficient.

The Whole Building Approach to Design (from the Whole Building Design Guide, “Design Objectives”)

As an example, I was recently contacted by a New York City-based housing developer. They received a letter from an attorney stating that three of their recently constructed projects in New York City were “tested” and found to be noncompliant with the accessible design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the New York City Building Code. SWA toured the buildings and confirmed that the allegations were in fact true. We identified issues such as excessive cross slopes along the concrete entrance walk, the presence of steps between dwelling units and their associated terraces, the lack of properly sized kitchens and bathrooms, the lack of compliant clear width provided by all user passage doors, etc. It quickly became apparent to us and to the developer that the cost of the remediation required to bring the projects into full compliance would be astronomical.

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