ADA vs. Universal Design

Posted on - Monday, April 23rd, 2012

We have been talking a lot about the ADA, which is a civil rights law passed by the Federal Government of the United States in order to ensure that the disabled community will not be discriminated against in terms of working, building access and public programs among other things.  But beyond the ADA there are many more things in the accessibility advocacy community worth discussing.  One is Universal Design.

The 7 Principles of  Universal Design

Unlike the ADA where a set of technical guidelines and scoping was developed in order to fullfill the rights of the disabled through building access, Universal design is broader in nature.  It is not part of a civil rights law.  It is a common sense philosophy which was developed by the College of Design of North Carolina State University.  They developed the Center for Universal Design and catalogued it in seven principles.  Their main purpose was to  assist in 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”.

Here are the seven principles (adapted from the Center of Universal Design):

1: Principle One: Equitable Use
The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities


2: Principle Two: Flexibility in Use
The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.


3: Principle Three: simple and intuitive
Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.


4: Principle Four: Perceptible Information
The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.


5: Principle Five: Tolerance for Error
The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.


6: Principle Six: Low Physical Effort
The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.


7: Principle Seven: Size and Space for Approach and Use
Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.


Copyright © 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design. “The Principles of Universal Design were conceived and developed by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Use or application of the Principles in any form by an individual or organization is separate and distinct from the Principles and does not constitute or imply acceptance or endorsement by The Center for Universal Design of the use or application.”

Beyond the ADA

In 2011, the AIA asked me if I would accept to be featured on their trend banner speaking about Universal Design.  This was done in conjunction with a newly established but informal Universal Design Knowldege Community.   Of course I said yes!  After that, I was asked to be part of a webinar about Universal Design.  I agreed and developed the first webinar about the difference between the ADA and Universal Design.  This webinar is free and will be hosted by the AIA Knowledge communities on April 11th from 1p.m-2pm EST


“Beyond the ADA: How to incorporate Universal Design Principles in commercial facilities”

This webinar is the first in a three part series sponsored by the Universal Design member-created community on AIA KnowledgeNet.  It will be moderated by Laura Montllor, AIA Executive Director of Home Free Home.

The ADA Design guidelines have been mandatory for commercial facilities and public buildings since 1991.  But those guidelines are only the minimum requirements for persons with disabilities.  The 7 Principles of Universal Design are more inclusive and could easily be incorporated as well.  This course will delve into the differences between the ADA and Universal Design and how a commercial facility can incorporate both into their spaces.

This is a 1 hr HSW and Barrier Free CEU

What’s next…

Continuing Education:

April 11th: Beyond the ADA: How to incorporate Universal Design Principles in commercial facilities.  FREE webinar 1 hr HSW and Barrier Free

April 17th: 2012 TAS: The Basics at the Dallas Center of Architecture 1 hr HSW and Barrier free

If you want to learn more about the new Standards, The ADA Companion Guide explains the 2004 ADAAG Guidelines  with commentary and explanations throughout.  The 2004 Guidelines were adopted by the DOJ to create the 2010 Standards and by Texas to create the 2012 TAS.  This book explains the technical requirements for both.

 If you have any questions about these or any other topics, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Marcela Abadi Rhoads, RAS #240

Abadi Accessibility
214. 403.8714