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Best Practices in Universal Design: A Global Review

The front cover of the International Best Practices in Universal Design: A Global Review.

The International Best Practices in Universal Design: A Global Review provides an international overview of the technical information on accessibility criteria for the built environment that is being used by countries as they prepare to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The document compares the accessibility codes and standards from 16 international jurisdictions, including the new standards from Canada (CSA, NBC) and the USA (ADAAG), as well as standards from Mexico, Uruguay, Sweden, Ireland, Spain, South Africa, Bangladesh, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Lebanon (UN).

The document was authored by Betty Dion, President of GAATES, in conjunction with others familiar with universal design and the needs of people with disabilities. Funding for the project was provided by a consortium of organizations, led by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The International Best Practices in Universal Design: A Global Review is useful to people in both the private and public sectors; designers and architects, international and national codes and standards organizations, building developers and managers, municipal planning departments, organizations of people with disabilities and governments.

The Study

A photo of a sign in an airport indicating the location of where people can obtain real time visual announcements of audio announcements.

International Best Practices in Universal Design: A Global Review compares the technical data for 31 key design elements of the built environment; from standard elements such as doorways, ramps and washrooms to evolving areas such as turning radius requirements to accommodate a variety of mobility of devices, communications, the use of colour and texture for wayfinding cues and detectable indicators. Also considered are the emerging design considerations required for security as well as fire and life safety and the safe evacuation of all building occupants.

The study compares codes and standards from both developed and developing countries, encompassing a wide geographical representation. In order to determine the "Best Practice" for the technical comparisons, an Expert Panel of internationally recognized leaders in the field of universal design and accessibility, selected the technical specifications that would meet the needs of the greatest number of users, while taking into consideration the practicality and cost of implementation.

Technical Information

The document provides innovative thought-provoking technical specifications and examples of best practices in universal design. Technical illustrations are provided through photographic provide examples of the best of innovative design from around the world.

Photo of an accessible toilet.The spatial requirement for washroom stalls continues to grow due to the increased size and use of mobility devices. Stall sizes range from approximately 5' x 5' (1500 x 1500 mm) in Bangladesh, Canada and the USA to nearly 7' x 7' (2200 x 2200 mm) in Sweden and Australia, with the best practice being 67" x 71" (1700 x 1800 mm).

Photo of a sidewalk leading up to a pedestrian crosswalk with tactile detectable warnings and tactile directional pavers.Nearly everywhere in the world, the clear width for accessible routes is becoming wider, ranging from 36" to 51" (900 - 1300 mm) with a best practice of 47" (1200 mm). Surprisingly this is an area North America lags behind other jurisdictions. As in the previous study, the clear width for doors continues to vary widely, ranging from 29.5" (750 mm) in South Africa to 39" (1000 mm) in Bangladesh, with a best practice of 33.5" (850 mm).

There has been an increase in the number of standards that address wayfinding and the use of tactile markers for directional indicators, detectable hazards and detectable warnings, a safety and accessibility issues that affects everyone.

Photo of a tactile map at a train station to assist people with wayfinding.In many of the codes and standards there has been an increased recognition of the needs of people with disabilities other than mobility impairments, however, these needs continue to be addressed mostly in non-binding application and commentary sections.

International Distribution and Interest

The International Best Practices in Universal Design: A Global Review was internationally released in conjunction with a presentation at the UN sponsored World Urban Forum III in Vancouver in November, Canada, and released in the USA in conjunction with a presentation at the 8th Ad Hoc Meetings on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Photo of Betty Dion, President of GAATES, speaking to a large group of people.Additional presentations on the document have been given at various conferences, including at the BAS Conference on "Accessibility of Historical and Heritage Buildings" in Budapest, Hungary; at a conference hosted by the National Disability Authority of Ireland - "Building an Inclusive Society" in Dublin, Ireland and at the ACCESS Abu Dhabi Special Needs Conference in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia.

The document is currently available in English and French, and will soon be available in Spanish and Arabic. The document is available in print or CD format, and in the alternate DAISY audio format, and can be shipped anywhere in the world.

Please contact info@gaates.org for more information.

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Best Practices in Universal Design

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Alternate format DAISY, available upon request


Housing Comparative Review

Physical access to housing remains a major obstacle to people with disabilities throughout the world, especially people with mobility limitations. A careful analysis has been undertaken of Canadian national and provincial housing standards to assess the level of information on accessible housing.

Executive Summary