Accessible Design, Universal Design, and Social Equity in the AEC Industry—Part 2

Posted On: 
Sep 18, 2018
Accessible Design, Universal Design, and Social Equity in the AEC Industry—Part 2

Last week, Part 1 of this blog pair discussed the lack of accessible housing in America and explained the difference between accessible design, universal design, and equitable design. As a reminder, accessible design is a process in which all the needs of differently abled people are considered, specifically regarding how their access to everyday activities and living is made possible. Universal design is intended to create an environment that is accessible by as many people as possible, regardless of age, gender, religion, size, or ability, without adaptation or specialized design. Social equity is an approach or process that makes sure everyone has access to the same opportunities, recognizing that we all start from an unequal place. Equity works to correct that imbalance. Further details and definitions can be found in the blog, Accessible Design, Universal Design, and Social Equity in the AEC Industry—Part 1. The post ended by asking, “Has the AEC industry gotten too stuck in one way of thinking about building and design?” The probable answer to that question is yes, but let’s look at some ways that the perspective is shifting.

How LEED and WELL are Contributing

Offering points toward certification is one way to motivate builders and designers to include accessible and/or universal design. There are a few LEED v4 categories in which it shows up, and a few are shared here:

  • LEED ND Plan—Visitability and universal design: This credit is worth 1 point and is intended to increase the proportion of areas usable by a wide range of people. While many of the ways to earn this credit include the same design elements as accessibility, this credit applies to universal design.
  • LEED BD+C Homes—Design for accessibility and LEED BD+C Multifamily Midrise—Design for accessibility: This pilot credit is worth 1 point and is intended to reduce materials and waste on future adaptations for accessibility, as well as to increase the amount of Type A Dwelling Units required according to the ANSI A117.1 Standard. A Type A Dwelling Unit has some elements considered wheelchair accessible but are also designed for adaptations. These two credits apply to accessible design.
  • LEED BD+C New Construction—Social equity within the supply chain: This pilot credit is worth 1 point and is intended to “Encourage any and all members of the project team to promote and further social equity by integrating strategies that address identified social and community issues, needs and disparities among those affected by the project by promoting fair trade, respect for human rights, and other equity practices among disadvantaged communities; and by creating more equitable, healthier environments for those affected by manufacturing of the materials created for the project.” This credit applies to equitable design.
  • LEED BD+C New Construction—Social equity within the community: This pilot credit is worth 1 point and is intended to “Encourage any and all members of the project team to promote and further social equity by integrating strategies that address identified social and community needs and disparities among those affected by the project by creating fairer, healthier, and more supportive environments for those who work/live in the project; by responding to the needs of the surrounding community to promote a fair distribution of benefits and burdens; and by promoting fair trade, respect for human rights, and other equity practices among disadvantaged communities. The goal of the Social Equity within the Community pilot credit is to help projects address disparities in access and social inequities within a project’s own community. In order to go beyond charity to support meaningful transformation, building teams must begin to understand the various parts of their communities and understand how they are connected, and community members (particularly those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged and under-represented) must have a greater voice in decisions that impact them.” This credit applies to equitable design.
  • LEED BD+C New Construction—Social equity within the project team: This pilot credit is worth 1 point and is intended to “Encourage any and all members of the project team to promote and further social equity by integrating strategies that address identified social and economic needs and disparities among those working on the project by creating more equitable, healthier, and more supportive environments for construction workers during project construction through ensuring fair and equitable pay and benefits for work performed, promoting employable skill development, promoting personal financial and health stability; and by promoting corporate social responsibility at an organizational level by the firms of the project owner, financier, architects/engineers, contractors, product manufacturers, etc.” This credit applies to equitable design.

The WELL Standard has also addressed both accessible design and universal design (also referred to as inclusive design) in their Community concept:

  • Community—Feature C13—Accessibility and Universal Design: Worth up to 3 points, this feature intends to require “projects to comply with basic accessible design requirements in their region and integrate principles of universal design into the design and operation of the space.” The way this feature handles the difference between accessibility and inclusion is to separate them, with the possibility of one point being earned through accessibility and two points through universal design. While the WELL Standard isn’t yet widely used, a previous blog shared the ways that the WELL Standard and LEED complement each other, so often, hitting a standard in WELL will help earn a point in LEED.

Some Helpful Resources

These concepts can be overwhelming, but here a few resources that may help understand them better and even offer different perspectives on the issue:

  • The Details of Accessible Design and Construction: This one-hour course highlights the common oversights architects and contractors often make when addressing accessibility on multifamily projects in two critical areas of project development: design and construction.
  • 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design: What You Need to Know: This one-hour session will address substantive changes to the regulations and design criteria which became effective on March 15, 2011 and are enforceable as of March 15, 2012. The presentation will review the extent to which new construction and alteration of facilities covered under Titles II and III of the ADA is affected by the updated regulations and new standards, including an overview of the major changes in the scoping and technical provisions.
  • Breaking Barriers: Social Equity Within the Community and Supply Chain: In this course, the participant will discover how to address social equity within the community and supply chain as it applies to LEED Social Equity Pilot Credits.
  • Fair Play: Social Equity Within the Project Team: In this course, the participant will discover how to address social equity within the project team, as it applies to the LEED Social Equity Pilot Credits.

Conclusion

Universal, accessible, and equitable design is an important part of the sustainable AEC industry. But if you are a product manufacturer, understanding these concepts can also assist in specification. If you see a need and meet the need, you’ll be more valuable to a diverse group of specifiers. Hopefully, as the built industry moves more toward sustainability, resiliency, and regeneration, they can also expand the accessibility, inclusion, and equitable design options for a diverse population.

What has your experience been in dealing with the three main ideas discussed: accessible design, universal design, and equitable design/social equity? Do you have any ideas of ways we can shift perspective on these concepts?

For more information or to discuss the topic of this blog, please call Brad Blank at 360-727-3528.