Berkeley & Chicago: Case Studies of Universally Designed Workplaces

Valerie Fletcher

A central premise of universal design is that a solution that works well for people with disabilities works better for everyone. Two large US projects initiated by renowned disability organizations, are creating large scale universally designed office developments that will demonstrate the concept. The planning and design of those projects offers an extraordinary opportunity for case studies of universally designed workplaces.

The Ed Roberts Campus (ERC) in Berkeley, California will be the home of eight disability organizations that were trailblazers in the Independent Living Movement of people with disabilities that took shape in Berkeley in the 1970's. The ERC will be an 80,000 square foot complex that houses the partner organizations and other tenants, exhibition space, meeting rooms, a fitness center, and a café. Construction will begin in 2006. The $35 million facility will open in 2008.

Access Living of Chicago, one of the nation’s largest and most successful Independent Living Centers launched its first capital campaign in 2003 called Living the Vision, a plan to design an office building in downtown Chicago that is state-of-the-art green and universal design and will house Access Living and a range of tenants. They expect to move into the new building in downtown Chicago in 2006.

Both projects offer an extraordinary opportunity to test the value of universal design in the workplace for people with disabilities.

Valerie Fletcher is Executive Director of Adaptive Environments in Boston, a non-profit organization founded in 1978 committed to advancing the role of design in expanding opportunity and enhancing experience for people of all ages and abilities. AE meets its mission through educational and consulting projects from local to international. Fletcher has co-chaired three international conferences on universal design and writes and lectures extensively. She is honorary Director of the Toto Universal Design Laboratory in Japan. She currently oversees projects ranging from universal design at the urban scale, in public transit, affordable housing and a collaboration with UN DESA on universal design. Her career has been divided between design and public mental health. As Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health in Massachusetts, she oversaw the participatory planning process that redirected $74m from institutional care to community support. She has a masters degree in ethics in public policy from Harvard University.

Presentation abstract from the 'Workplace Accommodations: State of the Science' conference
September 15-16, 2005, Altanta, GA