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Universal design improves quality of life for people with disabilities

Lara Hamdan
St. Louis Public Radio
(L-R) Colleen Starkloff, Judith Heumann and Marcie Roth advocate for more implementation of universal design.

Universal design involves designing buildings, products and services that meet the accessibility needs of everyone. It can help people with disabilities, but it’s intended for everyone.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked about how the use of universal design can help people with disabilities and can improve the overall safety and quality of life of all people when used during disasters.

“It’s a great design opportunity to create a more inclusive community for everybody, from children to seniors,” founder and co-director of the Starkloff Disability Institute, Colleen Starkloff, said.

Universal design also caters to people getting old, people with injuries, children, etc. When it comes to accessibility in St. Louis, Starkloff said St. Louis is doing well.

“We’ve been working on making places and public spaces accessible since the ‘70s,” she said. “Are we perfect? No. But we’re getting there.”

For existing structures, complete renovation to provide more accessibility might not be possible, but Judith Heumann said there are ways of making those structures more accessible by adding ramps, lifts, etc. Huemann is the senior fellow at the Ford Foundation and former special advisor on disability rights to President Obama.

Heumann started using a motorized wheelchair 68 years ago. She said she’s seen public spaces and transportation become much more accessible over the years.

“But one of the big barriers that still exists is housing,” Heumann said. Many homes are not accessible for those with mobility disabilities, where a seemingly simple five-step staircase can be “Mount Everest” for some.

“If people choose to move out of their communities, it shouldn’t be for lack of accessibility in their communities,” she said.

When it comes to disasters, Marcie Roth, president of Inclusive Emergency Management Strategies LLC, said crisis can be turned into opportunity.

“The opportunity that comes with the crisis is that federal dollars are going to be spent; they need to be spent in compliance with the Rehabilitation Act requirements, and this is a golden opportunity for the whole community,” Roth said. Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance.

Roth is presenting at the Starkloff Disability Institute Universal Design Summit 6: "Inclusive Communities: Housing & Public Spaces.” The two-day conference engages architects and designers, as well as everyday consumers, with universal design ideas, workshops and product and service presentations.

Listen as Heumann, Roth and Starkloff discuss how universal design is implemented in their lives: 


Related Event:

What: Starkloff Disability Institute Universal Design Summit 6: "Inclusive Communities: Housing & Public Spaces"

When: Nov. 13 - 14, 2017

Where: Busch Student Center at Saint Louis University, 20 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63103

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.