ADA vs. Universal Design



With so many different terminologies and aspects of Interior Design and Architecture, things can begin to overlap. Two of these areas are the concepts of ADA, otherwise known as the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Universal Design. Both of these have similar ideas so it is easy to get the two confused. No fear, we’ll break it down for you.

Interior design is a field that requires a deep desire to care for people and meet their needs through a well-designed space. ADA regulations and Universal Design were both put in place to do this but there are a few things that set them apart.

As mentioned before, ADA stands for Americans with Disabilities Act. It is a federal law that was first enforced in 1992 with 4 titles that set out to protect disabled citizens from discrimination. This includes discrimination in the areas of employment, services, transportation, commercial facilities, and telecommunications. There are mandatory codes and regulations designers are required to follow when designing public transportation, accommodations and commercial facilities to ensure no disabled person is discriminated upon.  The ADA codes designers are obliged to follow include all areas of disability such as sight, hearing, physical movement and accessibility.

Knowing that ADA regulations are enforced by law and typically deal with egress and space planning it is easy to begin to see how it differs from Universal Design. Universal Design emerged before and pioneered the way for ADA. Instead of focusing specifically on designing for the disabled, Universal Design is a similar concept but has a broader focus. It incorporates more aesthetics and aims toward creating design that meets needs for anyone regardless of disability, age, or stage in life.  Even though Universal Design is not enforced by law like ADA, it has a set of seven principles created by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

Being that ADA and Universal Design have some of the same underlying principles, it is a common mistake to assume they are the same thing. ADA regulations are codes and are enforced by federal law whereas Universal Design is a concept which proposes ways in which designers can create spaces and products for anyone. Both ADA and Universal Design are great examples of ways interior designers and architects are making a difference in the way all people regardless of their state can interact with their environments.


Photo Credit: Richard Sparey Flicker Page