Accessibility Design Standards and Guidelines

A well-designed and maintained pedestrian-circulation system can encourage people to be more active and less automobile dependent. Facilities should be designed to be safe, usable, and accessible for all users including children, elderly people, and persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was intended to improve the mobility, safety, and comfort of persons with disabilities including the growing elderly population and individuals with functional limitations. Title III of the ADA is focused on the need to make buildings and facilities accessible to persons with disabilities. The federal government has established ADA Standards for Accessible Design to provide accessibility regulations for public places. These rules must be applied during the design, construction, or renovation of public buildings and/or facilities. The Mid-Atlantic ADA Center provides information, resources, and technical assistance on ADA to private businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies.

ADA, other laws, and state/local building codes require a minimum level of responsibility regarding accessibility needs of persons with disabilities. All too frequently, however, many facilities are designed to minimum standards and do not provide the ideal environment for accessibility. In addition to the required mandates, there are also numerous publications and technical manuals that provide design guidelines related to the alignment, materials, construction of trails, bike paths, shared-use paths, and other pedestrian and non-motorized infrastructure.

To learn more about design guideline resources and sustainable trail design,

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Universal Design is also gaining favor as a means of meeting the needs of people of various abilities through innovative design. The concept of Universal Design advocates that products and the built environment be “designed to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”1 The seven principles of Universal Design2 focus on universally usable design ideals that may be applied by designers to create safe and supportive environments and products that allow users to be more independent. The Center for Universal Design offers a wealth of resources and downloadable publications.

1Mace, Ron. (1997). The Center for Universal Design. “About UD.” Retrieved December 16, 2009 from

2The Center for Universal Design (1997). “The Principles of Universal Design,” Version 2.0. Raleigh, N.C: North Carolina State University.