Leslie Kanes Weisman
My work as an activist architectural educator was profoundly shaped by the civil rights, anti-war, environmental, women's, and disability rights movements of the 1960s and ’70s. I began teaching in a traditional school of architecture in 1968, and in the ’70s I co-founded the Women’s School of Planning and Architecture (WSPA). In the ’80s, I participated in protest marches with friends and colleagues in the disability community, whose years of persistent activism eventually resulted in the passage of the Americans With Disability Act (ADA) in 1990. The ADA was a sweeping piece of civil rights legislation that, among other requirements, mandated access to public buildings and spaces for people with disabilities by removing physical barriers. The universal design movement grew in the US in the early ’90s to incorporate and build upon minimal access codes by embracing a human-centered approach to design that strove to create inclusive products and spatial environments with the same level of comfort, accessibility, and assistance to users of all ages, cultures, abilities, and lifestyles.
In 2004, to promote universal design education and practice, Elaine Ostroff and I created a free online slide presentation with full lecture notes called “Tools for Introducing Human-Centered Design.” This teaching unit compared the civil rights, disability rights, and universal design movements; illustrated the principles of universal design in several design disciples, including architecture and planning; and included a user-friendly building survey that, for the first time in one form, included universal design performance criteria, ADA requirements for public buildings, and sustainable design principles. That same year, Ostroff and I also made available online the “Universal Design Building Survey” for architects, planners, facilities managers, and others to use to conduct post-occupancy evaluations of users’ experiences of public spaces across the spectrum of age and ability.
Leslie Kanes Weisman is Professor Emerita of Architecture at the NJIT and the author of Discrimination by Design (1992), “Diversity by Design: Feminist Reflections on the Future of Architectural Education and Practice,” in The Sex of Architecture (1996), and “Creating the Universally Designed City: Prospects for the New Century,” the epilogue to the Universal Design Handbook (2001).