In May 2008, I wrote the following:
“One day, there will be the ultimate universal design handbook. It will have well conceived answers to every design quandary, each achieved cost effectively and with elegance. No. That would be as if universal design was a destination, a place we arrive at where solutions were the intention of its creation. This notion that a checklist can be created pervades the present consciousness of legislators and building inspectors alike. We will have measures by which we can recognize the effectiveness of our solutions, however, what brings us closer is when universal design is understood as a journey.”
Well, the path on that journey has a hic-up. Builders want help. They are beginning to get that universal design will make a difference and they want to include it. They want specifications. But, the best they got right now is a few principles, ADA code, and some local building codes. They want and need more. Here’s an example from my forthcoming book about universal design.
In it, I write about flooring. To shinny means extra slippery when wet. It means more work to keep that nice shine. It means glare from reflected light. And, it means seeing the underside of furniture and into ceiling light fixtures. I suggest matte finished floors. Less slippery, less frequent cleaning, no glare, and no undersides. Makes sense? Of course! But the builder wants to know exactly where in that spectrum between shinny and matte is the dividing line that says everything over here is to shinny and everything over here is matte. He wants to ask the floor manufacturer if the floor he wants to use is to shinny or matte enough. There are no universal design spec’s to make this exchange possible.
Can universal design remain an open and evolving discussion constantly improving without becoming rigid and bogged down by bureaucracy? It’s a fine line, and it’s time to try it out. I hear Commissioner Matthew Sapolin at the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities in New York City is putting the finishing touches on such a guideline. I applaud his work and look forward to the results. His success is a step toward a universal design world that is simultaneously evolving and improving, and is also guided by distinct specifications.