Know-How: Accessibility

Oct. 1, 2003
Universal design can help administrators and planners create housing accessible to all students.

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, schools have upgraded their student housing to provide better accommodations.

Proponents of universal design want administrators to take the concept of accessibility beyond accommodation and embrace inclusion. Universal design calls for spaces that can be used by all people, abled or disabled.

Universal design is a “means to create welcoming living spaces and to provide inclusive social and educational programs,” according to Jeanne Higbee, a professor with the University of Minnesota General College's Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy (CRDEUL).

She is one of the authors contributing to a book the CRDEUL has put together Curriculum Transformation and Disability: Implementing Universal Design in Higher Education. The book is available free online at

In the chapter, “Residential Living for All: Fully Accessible and ‘Livable’ On-Campus Housing,” Martha E. Wisbey and Karen S. Kalivoda of the University of Georgia describe some elements of an ideal residence hall:

  • Entryway: Flat, with no steps. Doors would be wide and electronically operated.

  • Building: All signage would be displayed in Braille and posted at accessible heights. Elevators would be available in all buildings of more than one story. Alarm systems would have both strobe and sound alarms. Water fountains, vending machines and telephones would be at varying levels.

  • Bathroom: Wide entryways. At least one sink would be low enough to accommodate those in wheelchairs. At least one stall would be wide enough for a wheelchair or scooter and have grab bars at appropriate heights.

  • Rooms: Outlets and light switches would be installed at varied heights. Closet rods would have adjustable heights. Desks, chairs and beds could be moved, raised, lowered or removed.

  • Materials: Carpeting, furniture, upholstery and curtains would enhance acoustics and aid in noise absorption. Hallways would be wide and well-lighted.



Percentage of undergraduate students who reported having disabilities in 1999-2000.


Percentage of undergraduates with disabilities who categorized their disability as an orthopedic or mobility impairment.


Percentage of undergraduates with disabilities who categorized their disability as a visual or hearing impairment.


Percentage of undergraduate students with disabilities who reported not receiving the services or accommodations they needed.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, “The Condition of Education 2003.”

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