Groundbreaking universal design course team taught by husband wife duo debuts at U-SoA

Steve Wright, an award-winning journalist and marketer, and Heidi Johnson-Wright, a lifelong public servant and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) expert, have teamed up to teach a course this semester at U-SoA.
Groundbreaking universal design course team taught by husband wife duo debuts at U-SoA
Article written by Steve Wright.

The course focuses on Universal Design – a concept that is essential to creating access for people with disabilities, but also adds comfort and ease of use for all.

Johnson-Wright has used a wheelchair for mobility for 40 years and brings her practical experience as well as her 30+ years of professional expertise to the classroom. Wright is America’s go-to journalist for reporting on architecture, town planning, mobility engineering and urban policy – as they relate to people with disabilities and access for all.

"The course belongs to U-SoA's long tradition of community building. It sustains its commitment to diversity and inclusion and ensures that U-SoA graduates are prepared for the evolving social and cultural landscape,” said Dean Rodolphe el-Khoury.

Universal Design is extremely relevant because the United Nations has identified more than one billion people in the world have disabilities and Centers for Disease Control research has proven that one in four people in the United States will experience some form of disability.

"This is the fulfillment of a dream, the fruits of a decade of labor researching, exploring and building a course for a school of architecture,” Steve Wright said. “The COVID pandemic has proven that the way we build and plan our environment MUST be safe, accessible and inclusive for all. We are eternally grateful for U-SoA Dean Rodolphe el-Khoury’s leadership in making this unique course a reality.”

The Wrights are donating 100 percent of their pay to support further outreach and education about Universal Design on a global scale. Funds will be used for travel expenses that support pro bono presentations on design for all at planning, architecture, urban design, engineering and similar placemaking conferences, conventions and symposiums.

The late architect and planner Ronald L. Mace, FAIA, founder of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, coined the term universal design. He defined it as "the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design."

“For centuries, everything from a home entrance step to park benches has been designed for a 5-foot-10 able-bodied male, an approach that excludes the majority of people,” Johnson-Wright said. “Less than one percent of all housing in the U.S. is readily accessible to people who use wheelchairs. That's why we must create architecture, planning and design usable by everyone to the greatest extent possible without adaptation or specialization.”