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How Lockers are Adding Universal Design to Campuses

How Lockers are Adding Universal Design to Campuses

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, has been in place for nearly 30 years, and it has simplified and enriched life for the 13% of the U.S. population who are disabled. On college and university campuses, 11% of undergraduates are disabled, many of them ex-military, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Educational facilities have adopted the “universal design” philosophy to make their buildings ADA compliant in an inclusive way. Rather than designing two types of access – one for the disabled, and one for everyone else – universal design seeks to unobtrusively accommodate all users of a building. For example, a universal-design building entrance uses a sloping landscape with a pathway that welcomes all visitors to the building, instead of having stairs for some and a wheelchair ramp for others.

As schools’ facilities managers re-fit existing buildings, or plan new ones, there are many opportunities for universal design. For example, disabled and able-bodied students alike need secure storage for all the educational materials required by their studies. Creatively-designed custom lockers give FM pros a perfect opportunity to apply the principles of universal design as they develop plans for student lockers.

Old-school lockers were not ADA-friendly; full-height lockers were not ideal for wheelchair-bound students, and much of the storage space was out of reach. Padlocks were cumbersome challenges for students trying to juggle crutches and books. Banks of undifferentiated locker doors became a maze for the visually-impaired.

Today’s lockers are a giant step forward for universal design. Smart locks can be opened with a keypad or a mobile app on a student’s phone. Locker heights can be customized to fit every student’s needs, without wasting space. Custom finishes offer an aesthetically-pleasing color scheme, while using textures and braille identifiers to guide visually-impaired students to their lockers. With creative placement and finishes, lockers can even be formed into an interior design feature, in addition to providing the benefits of security and durability.

Writing in, Northwestern University facilities V.P. John D’Angelo discusses ways to insert universal design into school settings. Universal design underscores an educational institution’s commitment to inclusion. Universal-design storage systems are part of that subtle but powerful message.


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