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UB honors pioneer in universal design <br> His work enables independent lives

The world is not one-size-fits-all, says Edward Steinfeld, University at Buffalo architecture professor.

For four decades, Steinfeld, a pioneer in the field of inclusive, or universal, design, has researched how the elderly, those with physical disabilities and others can best accommodate to the environment around them.

"I always found work related to aging and disability to be rewarding, personally, because you could see you were making a difference in people's lives," Steinfeld said.

"The idea is, we want to develop a better environment for everyone. I think architecture is most powerful when it is socially responsible."

At 5 p.m. today, UB President John Simpson will present Steinfeld, 64, the university's Presidential Award for Faculty Excellence. The presentation in 146 Diefendorf Hall on UB's South Campus will be followed by a reception in 378 Hayes Hall.

The award recognizes Steinfeld's decades of path-finding work that has helped numerous people lead more independent lives.

His research in the 1970s became a foundation for accessibility codes and regulations in the United States, including the Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines. He came to UB in 1978, and six years later founded UB's Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, one of the most successful and long-lived research programs in architecture and environmental design.

"Professor Steinfeld's landmark research and captivating ideas have brought him worldwide recognition and the gratitude of many," Simpson said in a statement. "Indeed, he and his colleagues at the UB IDEA Center have touched countless lives with their innovative thinking and creative products serving diverse populations.

"Above all, Dr. Steinfeld continues to design products and build environments that are accessible to anyone -- at any level of functional ability. This is the great beauty of his approach, and one that has helped to establish UB as a leader in disabilities and rehabilitation research."

Steinfeld's interest in the field was sparked by an early course on environment design research while an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University. He graduated in 1968, the same year Congress passed legislation that required all buildings built with federal funds to be accessible.

A fellowship in gerontology at the University of Michigan turned his attention toward designing environments for aging populations. Working at the National Bureau of Standards a few years later got Steinfeld interested in designing for people with disabilities.

He found standards needed more research, whether for how wide doors needed to be for wheelchairs to pass through or to calculate needs for people with visual or hearing impairments.

"I saw it as a very concrete area where I could make an impact. There was clearly work that needed to be done," Steinfeld said.

Later, Steinfeld won a research competition at Syracuse University, which led the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to write accessibility standards based on his research.

At UB, Steinfeld has built the IDEA Center into an internationally renowned and well-funded research center that had $1.2 million in grants and contracts last year, allowing long-range programs to develop, he said.

Steinfeld also has left his mark in the field as a writer. He is one of the authors of the seminal "Principles of Universal Design," is the lead author of a new textbook on universal design being produced by the IDEA Center and has a book due in May, "Inclusive Housing: A Pattern Book, Design for Diversity and Equality."

Steinfeld also co-directs a grant with his son, Aaron, a systems scientist at Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute, on developing accessible public transportation.

Onetime innovations like television captioning and curb ramps have turned out to be useful to more than those for whom they were intended, and much in the field of universal design has been accomplished, Steinfeld said. But he said he believes much more needs to be done to improve accessibility, safety, health and social participation.

"Our challenge now is to get the various stakeholders in the building and urban development process to understand that we have to go beyond the minimum standards that we have today to address all the issues that older people and others have to face to live a dignified and independent life," he said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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