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Plan for Flexibility: Be Proactive
Last updated: 07-09-2012
During the early stages of developing a building, when the planning, programming, and concept design are being shaped and molded, there may be many goals. An owner may talk about the ultimate design providing a "user-friendly work environment" and "future flexibility." What exactly does this mean? Physically, these concepts are demonstrated with spaces that can be easily modified and that can serve a variety of purposes for a diverse group of users. See also WBDG Productive and WBDG Functional.
Flexible design principles include spaces that:
- are easy to modify (See also WBDG Productive—Design for the Changing Workplace.)
- can serve multiple uses and/or users (See also WBDG Functional—Account for Functional Needs.)
- accommodate future technologies (See also WBDG Productive—Integrate Technological Tools) and
- are life-cycle cost-effective.
Universal Design and Visitability
This grade level building entrance utilizes universal design principles. Student Union, University of Arizona—Tucson, AZ
In accessible design, "flexibility" manifests in the concepts of Universal Design and Visitability described below.
Universal Design advocates addressing human needs within the mainstream of building and product design. Many of the design features that are user-friendly and flexible are simply good design practices, rather than requirements of a building code or accessibility standard or guideline. According to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, the intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal Design benefits people of all ages and abilities.
As such, one should note that providing Universal Design features in a building does not necessarily mean that one has complied with the legal and regulatory accessibility criteria. These ideas must not be used interchangeably. Universal design concepts developed over the years promote environments, building components, and features designed to be "usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation, specialized design, or significant additional cost." (Mace)
The campus master plan at Carnegie Mellon University incorporates the principle that "All improvements to the physical environment shall adhere to the concept of universal design."
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University defines Universal Design principles to include:
- Equitable Use
- Flexibility in Use
- Simple and Intuitive
- Perceptible Information
- Tolerance for Error
- Low Physical Effort
- Size and Space for Approach and Use
©1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design
These seven principles may be applied to evaluate existing designs; guide the design process; and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.
The Center for Universal Design provides a comprehensive list of resources on their website.
Visitability, a movement started by Atlanta-based Concrete Change, refers to including basic barrier-free features in single-family homes so that they can be visited by relatives, friends, and others who may have disabilities. Visitors with a disability can enter the home through an accessible entrance on an accessible route; easily negotiate spaces and hallways; and enter and use the bathroom. A visitable home includes a zero-step entry, 32-inch clear width at user passage doors, and a bathroom or powder room on the entrance level. Routes through visit-able homes should also be a minimum of 36 inches wide. The ICC ANSI A117.1-2009 standard includes criteria for a Type C (Visitable) Dwelling Unit.
Many states and jurisdictions have passed visitability laws that require the inclusion of visitable design features, mostly in single, two, and three family homes. Visitability laws primarily apply to publically funded projects; however, in some jurisdictions, such as the Village of Boiling Brook, Illinois and in the State of Vermont, coverage is extended to privately funded homes. Other jurisdictions require builders of new production homes to provide visitable features at the request of the home buyer regardless of funding. For example, the Maryland Visibility Law requires builders of new single-family homes in subdivisions of 11 or more units to offer visitability features as an option for purchase. Although visitability requirements vary from among states and jurisdictions, most require at least one zero step entry, a bathroom on the entry level, wider doors and hallways, reinforced walls for grab bar installation and reachable light switches and electrical outlets. Some states and jurisdictions encourage, rather than require, visitability features through the use of tax credits, fee incentives, and voluntary compliance programs. For example, the State of Georgia offers tax credits for providing visitability features in both existing and new single-family homes.
Studies have shown that the additional cost of providing many accessible features in new construction is minimal when compared to adding accessible features during alterations to existing construction. Features and systems that contribute to greater usability in the future should be integrated into the design at the onset of the project. For example, according to Concrete Change, on average and depending on the type of foundation, it costs approximately $150 extra for a zero-step entrance when it is included at the time of design and construction. Modifications to achieve a zero-step entry to an existing home could cost at least $1,000 or more.
Design and analysis tools can be used during the design process to evaluate the benefits of providing accessible design features and products. See also WBDG Life-Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) and Assessment Tools for Accessibility.
Materials and Methods
A workshop held in 2007 focused on tolerances for surface flatness, smoothness and slope.
Source: U.S. Access Board
The U.S. Access Board's guidelines for accessible buildings and facilities, including those issued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), recognize conventional industry tolerances for field conditions. The Board receives many inquiries from design, construction, and code professionals on what tolerances are considered acceptable for various materials and assemblies. This project, which is being conducted by Architectural Research Consulting, Inc., will develop a bulletin on tolerances identified by industry. As part of this project, a workshop was held that brought together representatives of design and construction industry organizations to validate the Board's approach. For more information see: Workshop Summary and Presented Papers.
Relevant Codes, Standards and Guidelines
Codes and Standards
- ANSI A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities
- ASME A17.1 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators
- ASME A18.1 Safety Standard for Platform Lifts and Stairway Chairlifts
- International Code Council (ICC)—ICC is the secretariat for the ICC/ANSI A117.1 Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, International Building Code, International Existing Building Code, International Residential Code
- National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)—NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code, NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code, NFPA 101 Life Safety Code
- Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards
Laws and Regulations
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Architectural Barriers Act (ABA)
- Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines
- Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHA)
- Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 & Section 508
The major resource for guidance on accessible design is the U.S. Access Board (Access Board). The Access Board is an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. Key responsibilities of the Board include developing and maintaining accessibility requirements for the built environment, transit vehicles, telecommunications equipment, and electronic and information technology; providing technical assistance and training on these guidelines; and enforcing accessibility standards for federally funded facilities. For additional resources, see the Access Board's Links Page.
Cost-Effective, Functional / Operational—Account for Functional Needs, Historic—Comply with Accessibility Requirements, Productive—Integrate Technological Tools, Productive—Design for the Changing Workplace, Sustainable
Organizations and Associations
- American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)—A nonprofit membership organization dedicated to addressing the needs and interests of persons 50 and older. Through information and education, advocacy and service, AARP enhances the quality of life for all by promoting independence, dignity, and purpose. Among other things, AARP seeks to promote independent living and aging-in-place.
- Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA)—School of Architecture and Planning, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY—The Center is dedicated to improving the design of environments and products by making them more usable, safer, and appealing to people with a wide range of abilities, throughout their life spans.
- Center for Universal Design—A national research, information, and technical assistance center that evaluates, develops, and promotes universal design in housing, public and commercial facilities, and related products. They have an extensive publications list including material on many aspects of accessible and universal design, as well as slide shows and video tapes to supplement print resources.
- Concrete Change—An Atlanta-based organization that started the visit-ability movement. Concrete Change is dedicated to promoting visit-ability in all single-family homes across the U.S. As a result of its advocacy, visit-ability legislation in several cities and towns across the U.S. requires that single-family homes incorporate basic barrier-free design.
- Institute for Human-Centered Design—The Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD), founded in Boston in 1978 as Adaptive Environments, is an international non-governmental educational organization (NGO) committed to advancing the role of design in expanding opportunity and enhancing experience for people of all ages and abilities through excellence in design. IHCD's work balances expertise in legally required accessibility with promotion of best practices in human-centered or universal design.
- Department of Defense—ABA Accessibility Standard for DOD Facilities
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO)—HUD enforces the Fair Housing Act under regulations to the ABA and has issued guidelines under this law (the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines) which cover multi-family housing. Information is also available on how to file a complaint with HUD under the Fair Housing Act. HUD's website also addresses access under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- Department of Justice (DOJ)—DOJ offers technical assistance on the ADA Standards for Accessible Design and other ADA provisions applying to public accommodations and commercial facilities, including businesses, nonprofit service agencies, and state and local government programs and services; also provides information on how to file ADA complaints. Many of its technical assistance letters are available online.
- ADA Information Line for documents, questions, and referrals:
(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)
- ADA Information Line for documents, questions, and referrals:
- Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—Accessibility Program
- General Services Administration (GSA)—Accessible Facility Design
- U.S. Air Force—Air Force Center of Expertise for Accessibility
- U.S. Army—TI 800-01 Design Criteria, Chapter 7, Provision for Individuals with Physical Disabilities, Section 4, 20 July 1998.
- U.S. Navy—Accessibility Requirements for Navy and Marine Corps Facilities
- U.S. Park Service
- U.S. Department of Transportation
- U.S. Postal Service
- The 1995 Accessible Building Product Guide by John P.S. Salmen and Julie Quarve-Peterson. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995.
- Access by Design by George A. Covington and Bruce Hannah. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996.
- The Accessibility Checklist—User's Guide by Susan Goltsman, ASLA, Timothy A. Gilbert, ASLA and Wohlford, Steven D. Berkeley, CA: MIG Communications, 1992.
- The Accessible Housing Design File by Barrier Free Environments, Inc. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010.
- The ADA Answer Book by Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA). 1992.
- Homes for Everyone Universal Design Principles in Practice by the Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, April 1996.
- The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0 by The Center for Universal Design. North Carolina State University: 01 Apr 1997.
- Universal Design Handbook, 2nd Edition by Wolfgang F.E. Preiser and Korydon H. Smith. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, September 17, 2010.