The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was enacted in 1990, has not only improved accessibility for individuals with recognized disabilities, but compliance with the act ensures universal access regardless of physical or mental differences (from handicap signs to products to services). The regulations included in the definition of accessibility provided by the ADA specifies a number of measurements and other regulations that must be addressed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, Universal design, however, which is frequently associated with universal access, is truly intended to ensure that all goods and services are accessible to every individual regardless of mobility, age, visual impairment or ability, auditory impairment or ability, and mental capacity.

All individuals are created in a unique way, and although there are averages that are commonly focused upon, the ADA ensures that no individual is discriminated against or excluded due to physical or developmental differences. Universal access employs the development of innovative universal designs that meet the needs of human beings throughout the various stages of life, and in all capacities.

Advances in technology continue to make universal accessibility a real possibility for our community members. The use of assistive devices, elevators and escalators, wheelchair accessible restrooms, and other technologies have improved over the last few decades, making universal access much less complicated.

Universal Access and Its Impact on the Community

Although a number of devices were actually created to assist those with recognized disabilities in accessing goods and services, many of these devices have become universally designed to provide increased accessibility to those without disabilities as well. A look back throughout an individual’s daily life will likely reveal various instances when an assistive device or easy access design has improved the lives of others in their community, such as:

1. A mother who has her hands full and is carrying a small child, for example, is not necessarily disabled but benefits from automatic doors and wide hallways.
2. An elderly man may not be disabled, but his age and physical condition may render him unable to climb multiple flights of stairs. An elevator or escalator that might have been designed for disabled individuals might be just what he needs.
3. A man with poor corrected vision that does not qualify as a recognized disability may benefit from larger print, or even audio books.
4. An older lady may begin to experience slight impairments which might otherwise make living independently impossible – specifically universally designed equipment like lift chairs, balance rails, and shower chairs.

Adaptive Technology

Additionally, adaptive technology plays a significant role in universal access and universal design. Adaptive technology includes the development, modification, or other alteration of devices that improve the possibility that individuals can access or use goods and services that would otherwise be impossible. Items such as hearing aids, computer software, remote control devices, and many modified devices like widened wheel chairs for the obese.

Although the ADA continues to draw its focus around individuals with disabilities, it is clear that all individuals, regardless of physical or mental impairment, may actually benefit from the improved access the act has required.