Universal Design – it’s more than just an accessible space

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Pictures of a family inside Mary Free Bed Gymnasium, young boy is in a wheelchair

The Mary Free Bed Y was designed for everyone enabling and empowering a diverse population. In short, Universal Design makes life easier, healthier and friendlier by removing physical and social barriers. I had a chance to catch up with Emily Bush, whose son Carson plays for the Junior Pacers basketball team which is a team of West Michigan athletes ages 7-18 with physical disabilities. I wanted to understand if Universal Design and the Mary Free Bed Y has had a positive impact on her family. One way to understand if the facility is performing as envisioned is through the experiences a family has.

Emily had this to say. “I don’t think many people consider the impact a building can have on a family like mine. My son, Carson, uses a wheelchair but really it’s our structures that have the power to either hold him back or allow him to thrive. The Mary Free Bed YMCA is a place that empowers my son. Carson is fast and athletic. In fact, we go to the Y every week so that he can practice wheelchair basketball with his team. He likes to race ahead of me and at the Y he doesn’t need me to catch up. He can enter without worrying about the doors, he doesn’t have to look for a barrier-free path without curbs and steps, and he doesn’t need my help looking for hidden elevators down the side hallways or a ramp placed on the far side of the building.  He can roll with everyone else through the same space.  Universal Design allows me to watch my son instead of helping my son.  It’s more than just an accessible space, it’s a message to me from my community that my son matters and belongs.”

Our experience in implementing Universal Design strategies into the built environment has proven to show improvement in the areas of human performance, health and wellness, safety, social participation and economic measures.  Although the outcomes in these areas are something we can grasp, there is a perspective that’s even more important, which is that  there is a whole new segment of our community now coming to the Y and exercising, building a broader social network and improving their quality of life.  This is good for everyone.

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Global Universal Design Commission

Global Universal Design Commission, Inc., (GUDC) a not-for-profit corporation, was established to develop Universal Design (UD) standards for buildings, products and services.




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Global Universal Design Commission, Inc. (GUDC)
Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University
950 Irving Avenue
Dineen Hall, Suite 446
Syracuse, New York 13244-2130