Re: Access for people with a wide range of abilities
From: SteveF1220 (
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 1996 08:32:34 -0600
Dear co-housing list;

As a landscape architect and a long time lurker to this list, I would like to
add my support and two cents worth of comment to the access to people with
disabilities discussion.

For a long time the built environment was designed for the average person.
The problem with this method is that there is no such thing as the "average"
person. Many people have been inadequately served by this method. After the
end of World War Two, many disabled veterans entered society. It was realized
that the built environment should be made more accessible for the disabled.
The "barrier-free" , "wheelchair accessible" or "handicap accessible" design
was born. Now, it has been realized that the "barrier-free" goal is too
narrow,  because there are many more types of disabilities than those that
require wheelchair use. In fact, a minority of disabled people are

The most common impairments are heart and respiratory problems, arthritis,
paralysis of various parts of the body due to stroke or disease, and the
effects of aging. So, making a facility "accessible" refers to many more
people than only the wheelchair bound. This broader outlook is becoming known
as "Universal Design". To quote from Universal Access to Outdoor Recreation:
A design Guide. Play,Inc./U.S. Forest Service, 1993, "Universal design
attempts to consider all degrees of sensory awareness, all types of
locomotion, and all levels of physical and intellectual function. It does so
by accommodating the broadest possible spectrum of people through a single,
all-encompassing design, rather than the provision of multiple elements
specially designed for use only by discrete groups". 

I've been researching and learning about Universal Design for some time. It
is really a philosophy or process of thinking. There's a huge difference
between thinking "uh oh, I better make this wheelchair accessible" and "let's
make this accessible to people with a wide range of abilities". The idea is
that universal design benefits everyone. After all, the athlete could have a
broken leg, the new parents could be pushing a stroller, we're all getting

I think universal design is plain good design - for everywhere. The problem
is that we're all learning. There is no one book, no one set of rules. There
are only some guidelines, and those are disputed. It's extremely challenging.
I work with outside environments; it's really difficult finding reliable
accessibility information about that.

Sorry for being so wordy, but universal design is a vast subject, and this is
too brief even tho it's wordy.

For those interested, aside from the book I mentioned above, a good source of
information (for outside access) is:
Whole Access (a nonprofit org. that works to make parks and nature
experiences accessible to people of all abilities.)
Phyllis Cangemi, Executive Director
517A Lincoln Ave.
Redwood City, CA  94061
415-363-2647 (voice or text telephone/TDD
Fax: 415-369-5242

Steve French
Sebastopol, California
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