Our History

I was raised by parents who taught me about the inequities in our society and the ideals of social justice. Architecture attracted me because it encompassed two things I loved: science and creative expression. As I learned more about the profession, I searched for a career path that would benefit others, not just well-heeled clients or myself. In undergraduate school, I was one of the first students to take a course on research in architectural design. It opened my eyes to how scientific knowledge could be used to advance design. In graduate school, I studied human-centered design, gerontology, and what was then called 'barrier free design'. Due to childhood exposure to aging and disability, it was easy for me to see that these groups had needs that were not being met by conventional design practices – so addressing that gap as a researcher and educator became my calling. Founding the IDeA Center enabled me to recruit like-minded faculty colleagues and young professionals to expand our mission and scope to other neglected groups. Rather quickly we learned that designing more inclusive environments benefits everyone. It has been very rewarding to see how the Center has evolved and to see that, as I get older myself, I can benefit directly from our work.:

Edward Steinfeld

Distinguished SUNY Professor of Architecture and Founder


IDeA Center Established

The “adaptive environments lab” (as it was known then) was founded to serve as a vehicle for sustained inclusive design research and development.


Engaged in Diverse Research Activities​​

The team completed projects on a variety of topics including pedestrian safety, wayfinding for people with severe visual impairments, design for limited reach and grip, automated doors, universal design education, and group homes for people with developmental disabilities. This led to new projects on post occupancy evaluations, bathroom design, and accessible housing design. The Center also began a collaboration with the Center for Assistive Technology in the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences.


Major Grants Awarded and Publications Released

In 1999, the Center received its first major center grant from what is now known as the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Universal Design and the Built Environment (RERC-UD) allowed the Center to significantly expand its activities and establish itself as a national “center of excellence.”

The Center also formed a long-range program with the U.S. Access Board to create a database on the anthropometry of wheeled mobility device users that reflected the sizes, abilities, and space needs of contemporary users and devices.

Key publications released included Enabling Environments (2001), Universal Design New York (2001), and Universal Design New York 2 (2003).

Cross-border Connections Formed and IDGRG Launched

The second grant cycle for the RERC-UD included a new partnership with the leading rehabilitation scientists at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute-University Health Network (formerly the Ontario Rehabilitation Technology Consortium).

In 2007, UB’s graduate architecture program introduced the first Inclusive Design Graduate Research Group (IDGRG) in the U.S., which focused on both a theoretical and working knowledge of inclusive design.

The Center partnered with a local builder in the collaborative design of model houses for the local parade of home shows.

Awarded Funding on Transportation and More

The Center collaborated with the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University to be awarded the RERC on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC-APT) from NIDILRR. This project brought experts in information technology, ergonomics research, and universal design together to advance the practice of accessible transportation.

The Center also received a National Endowment for the Arts Universal Design Leadership Award to assist Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ architecture departments develop their curricula on universal design.

Funding from the New York State Office for the Aging allowed us to work with two communities in the Adirondacks to study Rural Aging in Place.

Key publications released included “Increasing Home Access: Designing for Visitability” (AARP Public Policy Institute) and Inclusive Housing: A Pattern Book (W.W. Norton)


Experienced Tremendous Success and Growth

The Center worked with Michael Graves Architecture & Design and Clark Realty Capital to create inclusive Wounded Warrior Housing at Fort Belvoir, VA.

Team members also helped design and build the LIFEhouse, a universally designed concept home in Newport Cove, IL, which later received the Best of 50+ Housing Award from the National Association of Home Builders.

In 2012, the team wrote the first comprehensive textbook on universal design, Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments (Wiley & Sons).

The Center also started conducting usability testing for private industry and received Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding for a usability study on a Multisensory Interactive Model. Both the RERC-APT and RERC-UD were refunded.

Implementation, Diversification, and Expansion

Recent projects include, but are not limited to:

  • NIDILRR-funded Field Initiated Project (FIP) on wheelchair securement
  • NIDILRR-funded SBIR II project with Touch Graphics Inc.
  • United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-funded research on home modifications
  • National Institute of Health (NIH)-project on stroke rehabilitation
  • U.S. Access Board study on wheelchair transfers and medical diagnostic imaging equipment
  • National Education Association (NEA) funding to study inclusive design curricula in architecture and interior design graduate programs across the U.S.
  • Funding from the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York for ‘Aging by Design’
  • A Social Innovations Grant from Toyota Motor North America, Inc. to explore transportation network companies

The Center’s latest initiative is the launch of innovative solutions for Universal Design or isUD™ – an inclusive design certification program supported by extensive evidence from research and practice.