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How to Improve Upon ADA Requirements


You can’t have a truly high-performance building if it doesn’t work for all its occupants. Since the early 1990s when the Americans With Disabilities Act was first passed, the industry has improved in leaps and bounds in how buildings are more universally accessible.

But because it is code/law, ADA is really just a minimum. Much more can be done to give dignity to disabled building occupants. This is a topic near and dear to John D’Angelo, who says that universal design actually is all about dignity. In this short podcast interview, D’Angelo, who is the vice president of facilities management at Northwestern University, told me how universal design is one of his highest priorities for buildings at Northwestern.

Typically, in architecture, you see buildings put on pedestals, he says. That means buildings have grand staircases at their entrances, and often, the handicapped ramps are off to the side so as not to disturb the aesthetics. But this strategy of design doesn’t consider the dignity of these occupants. That’s because, as one example D’Angelo cites, a person in a wheelchair may have to divide from a group entering a building, halting a conversation or just making that person feel differently than the others. That’s not ideal, he says. D’Angelo also makes sure that furniture in his building is all at the same height, so that those sitting will be at eye-level with those who might be in a wheelchair. As well, making the furniture movable provides the flexibility to better accommodate the disabled.

Check out the full cover story profile of D’Angelo expanding on this topic in the January issue of Building Operating Management magazine.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his cover story on how sustainability and resilience complement each other.

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