These standards don’t look like any other standards I have seen. Why is that?
Actually, these standards are modeled after the very successful LEED standards produced by the Green Building Council although there are important differences. They are presented in the form of a list of features that can be included in a building. Each feature will receive “points” based on its contribution to usability, safety, health and social participation. Depending on which features and how many are included, a project will receive a point total and be given a level of accreditation based on that total, e.g. one star, two stars, three stars, etc.
What is the rationale behind the format of the Standards?
Universal design requires attention to both product and process. The universal design process begins at the conception of the project but never ends because activities in the building also play a role in the success of universal design. The Standards are organized by built elements and management processes. The elements address all the parts of sites and buildings. The processes focus on how universal design is integrated into the activities of building development and design and also how the facilities are managed after completion, including customer services related to the built environment.
Why aren’t there any hard quantitative measures in the Standards?
Most codes and standards are complex and difficult to understand. The Standards are designed to be simple and easy to understand and use. Our goal was to use universal design concepts to develop a different type of standard, one that does not cause “brain damage” and encourages flexibility and innovation in response. Thus, the “Standards” are stated as simple outcomes for customers and staff. Each one states what the outcome will be of a design or management strategy. The “Strategies” are a list of ways that the standards can be met. As described in the Framework, other strategies are welcome and even encouraged. The Rating System will include incentives for innovation. In most codes and standards, particularly accessibility codes, the same quantitative measures are used over and over again to address similar issues, e.g. knee space under water fountain, knee space under lavatory, etc. Thus, the complexity of codes and standards is due primarily to repetitive information and numerous cross references. Since the goal of universal design is to exceed minimum code requirements, adding quantitative material would also add another layer of complexity because more information is needed to make the design decisions. For example, a designer seeking to accommodate the body sizes of children and adults will need a lot more data than a single quantitative rule. By eliminating the quantitative measures from the standards themselves, we were able to make the goals of the standards and methods of reaching them much clearer. But, another source is provided for guidance on quantitative decisions.
So, how will a designer know what to use for dimensions, operating forces, text size, etc.?
Quantitative measures are incorporated in the Design Resources section, which is the key reference for all design decisions related to human performance. Since every building has to meet minimum accessibility, health and safety standards in building codes, the focus of the Design Resources will be to provide guidance to designers in exceeding the minimum standards based on best available evidence. For example, although accessibility standards and codes require minimum reaching limits, the Design Resources will show who is and is not accommodated by those limits, and how to improve reach access for a wider population. The human performance data contained in this section will be designed and organized to simplify the ease of meeting codes by exceeding code minima. While not a legal “safe harbor” this data will greatly improve the adoption of accessibility and safety codes by encouraging best practices rather than treating code minima as maxima. For example, this section will demonstrate that the code minimum ramp slope of 1:12 in the U.S. does not accommodate all people who may need to use ramps. By using lower slopes, designers will not only accommodate more people but be less likely to encounter compliance problems in the field due to variation in field conditions.
Who is sponsoring the GUDC?
The GUDC is an independent not for profit organization, or NGO, in international terms. It was initiated by the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University with assistance from the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA Center) at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York and several key leaders in the field of universal design. The initial funding to start the organization comes from Gilberti, Stinziano, Heintz, P.C., a law firm that specializes in environmental law. Over time, we expect that the GUDC will be self supporting, funded by membership fees, accreditation fees, training programs and other income producing activities. Currently both the BBI and the IDEA Center are contributing effort using their own funds. The IDEA Center is receiving some funding to produce the website and cover expenses related to meetings and communications. The initial Board of Directors consists of a diverse group of individuals who have a strong history of supporting disability rights and universal design. The makeup of the Board will change as the organization gets started.
Could there be conflicts of interest (COI) related to the standards development accreditation process? If people with self interests are members of the GUDC and standards committee, doesn’t that affect the legitimacy of the standards?
This is a problem in all standards development work. That is why standards development activities follow a protocol to insure that conflicts do not occur. Although the Gilberti Stinziano Heintz firm is represented on the Board of Directors by Josh Heintz, and his major client is the Pyramid Development Company, they have established the GUDC as an independent non-profit organization to address this concern. The Board has seven other members and the Chairman is Peter Blanck, Chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. The development of the UD Standards will also follow democratic and public process of development. We are not seeking ANSI designation at this time because it will unnecessarily lengthen the process of development. But, Michael Italiano and his colleagues have developed an “ANSI-Approved Process” for developing standards and he will guide us along the way to make sure that it follows the protocol. This process includes maintaining balance in committee membership, public review and comment and documenting responses to all negative ballots and comments. All members of the GUDC Board of Directors have signed conflict of interest (COI) statements. Moreover, there will be a code of conduct for members of the GUDC and standards committees to ensure ethical conduct related to standards development. That code will include a COI statement.
To be realistic, won’t it be difficult for Committee members to participate fully in the development of the standards, given their busy schedules?
The organizers of the GUDC recognize this problem. That is why the IDEA Center will take on responsibility for managing the development of the standards, including all editorial work. Committee members will only really have to offer comments on the standards and participate in teleconferences. They can participate in the drafting and revision process if they desire and have the time. Each subcommittee will include a staff member of the IDEA Center. That individual will write minutes of meetings and make editorial changes. Edward Steinfeld, who served for ten years as the Secretary of the ANSI A117 Committee, assisted by Jordana Maisel and Danise Levine, will do the bulk of the writing and editing.
What is the time frame for development?
Experience in the field of sustainable design demonstrates that there is no direct correlation between the length of time spent on standards development and the quality of the result. In fact, due to the “designed by committee” syndrome, there may be a negative correlation. So, the goal of this activity is to develop standards as soon as possible. This will give value to the GUDC and increase participation more rapidly. It will also allow the GUDC to offer services that cannot be offered without the standards. The goal is to develop and ballot a standard by the end of this calendar year.
How will accreditation work?
There will be two kinds of accreditation – buildings and professionals. The former will require application and approval through a review process using design documentation. The second will require continuing education, an exam and adherence to a code of ethical conduct. See the Framework for more information.
Do you have to be a member of the GUDC to participate in the standards committees?
To maintain an open process, membership in the GUDC is not required to participate in the standards committees. The Chairman and Secretary of the committees will review applications based on qualifications and committee balance. A workable size for new committees will be maintained.
What are the advantages of being a member of GUDC?
The members of GUDC may receive benefits related to accreditation fees, training fees and other services. They will also have the opportunity to shape policy and practices of the Commission. In response to suggestions to provide incentives to participate in standards development, the GUDC Board will consider membership fee reductions for participants in the standards committees.
What is the scope of the UD standards?
The scope of the first set of standards is commercial buildings. This includes retail facilities, lodging, restaurants and other food service facilities, entertainment and recreational facilities like theaters, theme parks and sports complexes. In the future, other building types will be added.