J. L. Mueller, Inc. Universal Design of Products      
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Legislation Toward Universal Design

Public interest in design for people with disabilities in the built environment dates back to efforts of disabled WWII veterans in the 1950's. The first standard for accessibility in the built environment, "American National Standard Specifications for Making Buildings and Facilities Accessible to, and Usable by, the Physically Handicapped" was published in 1961 by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI, 1980)

Momentum toward civil rights legislation for people with disabilities increased with the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Along with laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability came requirements for access to education, public accommodations, telecommunications, and transportation (Story, Mueller, and Mace, 1998):

The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and The Education for Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (later dubbed IDEA) outlawed physical and program barriers against people with disabilities. This includes physical accessibility of buildings designed, constructed, altered, or leased through federal funds.

The Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 requires that units be created in all new multi-family housing to comply with accessibility guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) consolidated many of the provisions of earlier disability legislation, requiring accessibility to places of public accommodations (public businesses, hospitals, day-care centers, etc.), as well as telecommunications and public transportation services. The U.S. Department of Justice issued the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) in 1991. In addition, the ADA requires "reasonable accommodation" of qualified persons with disabilities by employers, which may include physical job and workplace modifications.

Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 requires that all television sets with screens 13" or greater incorporate decoder chips to display captions provided by a growing number of broadcast companies.

Section 255 of The Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that telecommunications services and equipment, including customer premises equipment (CPE) be accessible and usable by persons with disabilities wherever achievable within reasonable limits of difficulty and expense.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 requires that electronic and information technology purchased by the federal government is usable by people with disabilities. This law applies to software applications and operating systems, web-based internet and intranet systems, telecommunications products, video and multimedia products, desktop and portable computers, and self-contained free-standing products such as fax machines and copiers.

Legislative history illustrates the federal government's role in removing barriers in the built environment to people with disabilities. As experience has grown in the implementation of these laws, so has awareness that Universal Design can be an even better approach to promoting the rights of people with disabilities than "barrier-free" design. Universal Design promotes an inclusive approach, integrating the needs of people of all ages and abilities without stigmatizing those with limitations.


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Legislation Toward Universal Design
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President's Initiative

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