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Rebuilding America with Universal Design

Public perception of disability has changed dramatically in recent history, and yet individuals who are active in their communities report that stereotypes and lack of personal experience with the simple accommodations required for access and communication continue to be tremendous challenges.

Some situations may be either humorous, humiliating or frustrating ~ an interviewer who speaks at a higher volume because the applicant uses a cane; a waitress who assumes your date is your caregiver; a co-worker who rearranges desks in a common area so that desk chairs block what previously had been a wheelchair accessible path. But the greatest challenge remains physical accessibility to buildings, street travel and transportation for those with mobility related conditions.

Those who have experienced physical disability due to military service, accidents, or criminal attacks may have mobility problems that require months or years of rehabilitation, only to find that their communities are still not set up to accommodate mobility aids or motorized wheelchairs.

Where accessible public transportation is available, there may be no back up system when mechanical difficulties take vans or buses out of service, or additional options in emergency situations. Universal design principles and plans have long been available but newer transportation systems and construction may continue to leave out simple options that would make vehicles and buildings more accessible to everyone.

Organizations like the Disabled American Veterans, United Cerebral Palsy, and other advocacy groups and individuals have created new opportunities for those who remain determined to participate in the mainstream of their communities by directing attention to the ridiculous obstacles they face daily.

Newspaper and television reporters may bring attention to the most outrageous shortcomings in our communities, but there is a public perception that accessibility would come at too high a price for developers and businesses. Shoppers with mobility impairments are not often recognized as potential customers, employees or employers.

It is not only those who have grown up with mobility challenges or who have been unexpectedly injured who benefit from thoughtful design. Mothers pushing strollers and grandparents using canes also have the right to move about freely in their communities without obstacles. As we move through the end of the first decade of this new century, we must demand that universal design principles be built into new construction and products.

As much as the scientific research inspired by space travel has resulted in helpful products and technology for us all, universal design principles offer us more directions for innovation and invention. All children should be able to accompany their parents, mainstream peers and siblings in their own neighborhoods. As we welcome home disabled American veterans, they should be able to take for granted that they will have better access to resume satisfying civilian lives. As we revitalize our country through construction and transportation projects, we should incorporate the principles of universal design in every one.

Browse your local bookstore, public library and online retailer for books about Universal Design principles and accessibility like Barrier-free design, or The Universal Design Handbook

Kansas City Stadium more 'disability friendly'
http://www.patriciaebauer.com/2009/04/01/kansas-city-stadium/

PBS - Independent Lens - On a Roll
http://www.pbs.org

Seven Principles of Universal Design and Barriers to Implementation of Universal Design
http://www.ap.buffalo.edu

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)
Accessibility in Our Built Environment - Visitability
http://www.ncddr.org

Univ of Montana Rural Institute - Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities - Visitability
http://rtc.ruralinstitute.umt.edu

Universal Design - Canadian Association for the Deaf
http://www.cad.ca/en/issues/universal_design.asp
Canadian Hard of Hearing Association
CHAA guidelines and best practices in Universal Design - English and French
CHAA guidelines and best practices in Universal Design - English and French
http://www.chha.ca/documents/Universal_Design_and_Barrier-Free_Access.pdf
http://www.chha.ca/documents/Conception_universelle_et_acccs_facile.pdf

Home Accessibility and Visitability for Families of Children with Special Needs
http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art37751.asp

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Content copyright © 2013 by Pamela Wilson. All rights reserved.
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