NIDRR Strikes Blow to Disability and Aging Communities

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NIDRR Strikes Blow to Disability and Aging Communities

September 15, 2004

The US Government Has Just Made a Tactical Decision to Stop Funding Work on Universal Design and the Built Environment!

Funding for the field of Universal Design and the Built Environment was not
awarded in a recent decision by the US Department of Education, National
Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).
As a result,
the two prominent national and internationally recognized research centers
that develop innovative designs, conduct research, and provide education /
training and information services about universal design are threatened with
curtailment or closure. (The Center for Universal Design, Raleigh, NC and
the IDEA Center, Buffalo, NY, as well as grassroots organizations like
Concrete Change, the key organization that leads the "Visitability" Movement
and the Inclusive Home Design Act is also threatened with closure.

This is a severe blow the the future application of Universal Design to the
built environment that we will all need to use
-- for disabled people, the
baby boomer generation who are beginning to "get" why it is important and
the population at large who want to spend time with their whole family!

This decision will have a dramatic effect on the future level of
accessibility of this nation.

Federal and state accessibility requirements initiated the process of translating the Americans with Disabilities Act into practical design solutions. However, these requirements are the bare minimum by which buildings and spaces must be designed. But many aspects of human functioning are not included and Universal Design, a revolutionary but practical leap forward in the evolution of building and design procedures, works to ensure that people with and without disabilities may freely engage in life's activities together. Universal Design, evolving out of the accessibility movement, and spear-headed by the late Ronald L. Mace, FAIA, is a design approach which holds that when the environment is designed to include people with disabilities, it provides a more supportive environment for us all.

In order to educate builders, developers and designers about the usefulness
of universal design in their businesses, there is a growing need for research,
design innovation, education, information dissemination and technical
assistance on the design of all aspects of the built environment, especially
housing, public buildings, parks and recreation areas, transportation facilities,
and products used in these environments.

* We are facing a worldwide demographic shift to an aging population
with an increase in disabling conditions

* More people with disabilities are living longer due to advances in

* There is a growing recognition of the health disparity of people
with disabilities and how health is impacted by the design of the
built environment

* Laws are being passed and court decisions made that increase
opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in
community life, such as the Olmstead Supreme Court decision

* Research in this area has barely begun

* Cost-effective, universal designs must be developed

* Health care costs are rising: There is a need to generate and
study new universal designs in homes and care facilities to
determine economic impacts

* Homeland security and egress issues are of high priority: it is
importantto develop and study universal designs to accommodate
all citizens

* There is a shortage of accessible and universal multifamily and
single-family housing­­the lynchpin for keeping people out of
nursing homes. This will worsen as the population ages

* There is a growing recognition of the economic impact of universal
design as a powerful business incentive for many product
manufacturers, housingdevelopers, the tourism and hospitality
industries, the retail industry, and others

* Community Design is a key issue in the national movement to
revitalize urban communities: Sustainable Design, Smart Growth,
New Urbanism, and othersi milar concepts all require that
universal design guidelines be developed to address social equity
and inclusion of all citizens

* There is a compelling need for expert advice: architects,
designers, builders, healthcare professionals, and the public
regularly consult with the Centers for design input

* There is a strong need for education in this field: each new
generation of designers must be trained. The Centers provide one
of the few educational opportunities for new and existing
designers, architects, builders, healthcare professionals and others


The design of the built environment is of such importance to the lives of
disabled people and older adults that this field should be a core
area funded, as called for in the 1998-2003 NIDRR Long-Range Plan, rather than
an optional research priority. As Stella Adams, Director of the North
Carolina Fair Housing Center, states: "experience has shown in North
Carolina and other states, that a well-designed accessible environment,
including housing, is essential to independent and community living. Only 2
of the over 21 NIDRR Centers have focused on universal design and the built
environment. We see the need everyday for more design emphasis and assistance
at the ground level where many, many people with disabilities have yet to
live in the community and exercise their citizenship prerogatives."

The decision also has an impact globally as the US is seen as a leader in
this field. Experts from the two Centers are regularly called upon to
provide advice and educational workshops around the world. Scholars and
consultants frequently travel to the US Centers specifically to learn about
universal design. Many US accessibility design standards are used globally.
Equally important is the global information exchange where concepts and
research can be adapted to create innovative designs, supporting the global


The more letters received by NIDRR and elected officials, the greater the
likelihood of REVERSING this decision.

Please use the contents of this notice and before October 5, as the current
session ends on October 8.

1) Send an email or fax to Mr. Steven Tingus expressing your concern about the
future of universal design.

Mr. Steven Tingus, Director,
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education
Potomac Center Plaza, Room 6056, 550-12th St. SW.
Washington, DC, 20065
Voice: (202)245-7549/245-7640 Fax: (202)245-7630

2) Send an email or fax to your key elected officials

3) Send an email or fax to any person/organization whom you feel to be
influential in this are

4) Broadcast and email to listservs with which you are affiliated

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