Blog Archives

Differences between ADA and Universal Design

I frequently get asked if The American with Disabilities Act and universal design are the same. The confusion is very understandable given that both address the needs of people with disabilities.

However, there is a great difference in that the ADA is a civil rights law that was signed into law by President George H. Bush on July 26, 1990. The ADA is an enforceable mandate of accessibility standards that are published by the Department of Justice in the Federal Register and that apply to places of public accommodations, organizations that receive federal funding, state and local government facilities, and multi-family dwellings. The ADA does not apply to single-family housing. Furthermore, the ADA addresses the needs of a narrow group of people with disabilities, mainly those with restricted mobility,  hearing and vision impairment.

On the other hand, universal design is voluntary and is left to the discretion of developers, planners, builders, architects, designers, and homeowners. While the principles of universal design are usually associated with residential projects, they can also be applied to interior and exterior spaces where the ADA is also mandated.

In the context of interior design and architecture, universal design means that spaces must be usable by all, including children, adults, the elderly, and the physically challenged.

ADA compliant design is not universal but universal design is accessible and usable by all.

Designers should strive to include as many universal design features as possible in every design project.


Good Design Today, Better Living Tomorrow.

Andrée Langlois