Zoning for Universal Design and Visitability

Zoning Practice — April 2006

By Jennifer Evans-Cowley, FAICP


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The terms universal design and visitability are unfamiliar to many planners. Universal design is the design and production of buildings and products that promote equal opportunity for use by individuals, whether or not they have a disability. Visitability is a movement to change construction standards so that new housing is designed to allow people with mobility impairments to live in units and visit others.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that buildings be accessible to those with disabilities. Planners have incorporated its requirements into zoning codes, such as a specific number of parking spaces to be reserved for those with disabilities. This has typically meant that a ramp was added on the side of a building or an elevator was tucked into a corner. However, those zoning requirements have not been extended to apply to single-family homes. Universal design and visitability promotes the idea of creating places that are designed for everyone to access, rather than being retrofitted for accessibility.

This issue of Zoning Practice takes a look at a number of communities that have incorporated universal design and visability principles into their building and zoning codes.


Page Count
Date Published
April 1, 2006
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Jennifer Evans-Cowley, FAICP
Jennifer Evans-Cowley, PhD, AICP is Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Public Administration and Emergency Management & Disaster Science the University of North Texas.