I read with great interest your recent article entitled "Designing for the Future" (March 29). Although I was pleased with your focus on visitability, which is an important concept in ensuring that all Americans can have access to each others' homes, your lead story about Mr. Porreco should have been entitled "Designing from the Past," as it set back the concept of design for people with disabilities by 20 years.

The last thing anyone should be doing is designing a single-family home by Department of Justice/Americans with Disability Act standards. These standards are washed out, generalized design guidelines that try to ensure a minimal amount of access for everyone (which is important in public buildings), but in so doing, really don't meet the needs of anyone.

In fact, the use of these standards shows ignorance of the advances in thinking, philosophy and approach to design over the past 20 years, rather than being an example for other people (with foresight) who are building for the future, anticipating some degree of disability as they age.

In the past two decades accessible housing design (i.e., generic ADA-based guidelines) has been replaced by universal housing design, which advocates design for everyone. Using universal design, there would be no such thing as a Type A or Type B house. There would be no wheelchair houses, only houses everyone can live in and use to the fullest for as long as they wanted to live there.

Moreover, as important a concept as visitability is, visitability itself is a small part of universal design. If all homes were universally designed, they would by definition be visitable, and they would be a whole lot more.

This is not to suggest that universal design is a panacea for all access issues. No design will ever be usable by everyone. Universal design sets the baseline for accommodating the needs of all family members and visitors at a fairly high level, much higher than accessible design and much more extensively than visitability. As a result, some universal designs might require additional adaptation depending on an individual's level of ability. In such instances, modification should be made to adapt the design to the individual's abilities, not some notion of the idealized person in a wheelchair, which is the basis for ADA guidelines.

This is exactly why ADA guidelines do not apply to single family housing.


Research Architect

Atlanta VA Rehabilitation

Research and Development Center