is done right,
the design elements
don’t look different—
they just act
SPACES BY DIANA MOSHER
APPLE INC. HAS BEEN CRITICIZED in recent years for releasing too many iPhones and
encouraging conspicuous consumption. However, the company is deserving of kudos for the work it has
done behind the scenes to incorporate accessibility into its products. Apple’s VoiceOver technology guides
blind and low-vision users through video editing, building a presentation, or navigating apps, and even supports refreshable braille displays. And, the Apple Watch now features fitness algorithms for wheelchair users
designed to track their “pushes.” These are just two examples of the latest features now available under
Apple’s new accessibility initiative.
Similarly, the interior design profession has the power to profoundly impact lives by creating residential
and commercial spaces that are accessible to all. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into
law in 1990, but the need for accessible interiors actually became apparent decades earlier when wounded
World War II veterans returned to homes they could no longer maneuver.
“Today the recognizable term is universal design, which means that everyone—from the smallest child to
the frailest adult—can use it,” says Shelley Siegel, FASID, founder of Universal Design & Education Network,
LLC, a universal design-focused interior design firm. She also is a consulting designer with Siegel Design
Group, Inc., a design-build company she owns with her husband, Roy Siegel.
“Let’s just go beyond what’s mandated and do it right. I’ve been advocating this for my clients my whole
career,” adds Siegel, who sits on the board of the Global Universal Design Commission, an organization championing voluntary universal design standards in commercial buildings. Wider doorways can be maneuvered
by a wheelchair, but also by a mother with a stroller. “It’s equitable use,” Siegel says, providing an equitable example from her own life. In the 1950s, when Siegel was a young child, the handle on her family’s aqua
Frigidaire refrigerator was giant. “I could use it because it came down low, and my father could use it, too.
That’s really what universal design is about.”