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Steps to Project Success

University Business, Nov 2009

Universal design requires a lot of communication across the building’s users. Here are pointers from Elizabeth Watson, director of the Center for Students with Disabilities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and Sean Vance, director of The Center for Universal Design and an extension assistant professor at North Carolina State University’s school of architecture, on how to ensure you say the right thing:

? Talk specifically about the features you want in the design from the get-go. For example, if you don’t want counters built at hotel height (e.g., tall enough to prevent a customer from jumping over and strangling a clerk who has gotten a reservation wrong, she suggests), list that, says Watson.

? Reverse the ADA limits. That means in the example of counters, where ADA code requires one surface at 30 inches, Watson would say the highest counter should be 30 inches.

? Make sure faculty and staff can deliver services in the space as well. Students are only half the equation, Watson notes.

? Use three-dimensional models when drawing a universal design building. You want to link existing buildings to the new construction in your modeling as well, to check changes in grade and other potential access barriers unseen by the naked eye, says Vance.

? Walk the talk. Watson has taped out a space and rolled through in a wheelchair to see how the surface responds and whether she can comfortably use a restroom. The cost: $0.

More good news, says Vance: When you have a system in place for incorporating universal design, the process shouldn’t add time to the planning stage.