Ronald Mace and His Impact on Universal Design

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Stephanie Woodward

Ronald Mace made a huge impact on not only the disability community, but the whole human population, yet very few people are aware of this. Born in 1940, Ronald was a healthy baby. However, when Ronald was nine years old he contracted polio leading him to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Ronald then began to see all of the barriers that people with disabilities face daily. Refusing to let barriers get in his way, Ronald continued to strive for success, attending North Carolina State. At the time Ronald attended North Carolina State his wheelchair did not fit through the bathroom door and he had to be carried up and down the stairs to attend class.

After graduating in 1966 with a degree in architecture, Ronald worked in his field designing the usual houses and buildings. However, after four years, Ronald decided to focus on accessible housing with a “universal design.” Ronald’s concept of universal design was to design all products and buildings to be visually pleasing and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of age, ability, or situation. Other terms for Universal Design used include: Design for All, Inclusive Design, and Barrier-Free Design.

In order for a product or a building to meet the definition of universal design, it must abide by all seven Principals of Universal Design, which are:

  1. Equitable use
  2. Flexibility in use
  3. Simple and intuitive
  4. Perceptible information
  5. Tolerance for error
  6. Low physical effort
  7. Size and space for approach and use

Some products and architectural features that meet the definition of universal design include:

  • Lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs
  • Smooth ground entranceways without stairs
  • Wide hallways and doorways

Ronald not only designed universally accessible buildings and products, but he also assisted in the development of America’s first accessible-building code, which North Carolina adopted in 1973. This code was used as a model for comparable regulations in other states. As a dedicated advocate for this disability community, Ronald’s work is also said to have been vital in the passage of federal legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with physical impairments such as the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

After all of this, Ronald then founded the Center for Accessible Housing, which is now known as the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. At this school, research and development continues in universal design.

Ronald Mace passed away on June 29, 1998 at age 58.

For more information, check out the university’s website: