I am very proud of our town, Santa Monica, CA, at this moment. This Saturday, the ribbon will be cut on Santa Monica’s third universally accessible playground. Universally accessible playgrounds allow children of all abilities to participate and enjoy one common play area. These playgrounds are also designed to make it easier for caregivers with mobility devices to play with their children.
The Universal Design concept seeks to make the built environment barrier free and accessible to people of all abilities, sizes and age. Universal Design is design for everyone, not just for people with disabilities. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 requires spaces be made accessible to those with disabilities, the ADA’s focus is on the access to the space. Universal Design seeks to design the space AND the access to be usable by all. For example, at buildings we often see a ramp installed next to stairs that lead to the door. This design creates access to the building entrance using separate pathways; stairs for those who can walk up steps and a ramp for those who cannot. A universally designed access is a pathway usable by both. There is no need to install two methods for reaching the door when one design can accommodate everyone.
Universal Design entryway access are without steps, have railings, have no obstacles and include automatic doors. Sound familiar? It is because we see this design everyday around town. One of the beauties of Universal Design is that the user doesn’t notice it as a special design.
Speaking of beauty, design for people with disabilities is not always aesthetically pleasing. But if we design for all of us, style and beauty becomes part of the design. Spacious bathrooms, open floor plans, and wider hallways are all elements we use in the designs of our residential and commercial projects and all of these are elements of Universal Design.
If you go to the ribbon cutting, or any one of the three universally accessible playgrounds here in Santa Monica, I am willing to bet that you don’t notice that it has been designed to be inclusive of everyone in the community. And that is what makes me proud.