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Design Pioneer and Visionary of Universal Design, Remembering Ron Mace

It has been 20 years since the untimely and sudden passing of Ronald L Mace. So much time has passed that many people might not know who he was or what he meant to the worlds of accessibility and universal design from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. We are providing the following biography to remember him and to honor his work and his legacy, which lasts to this day.

Ronald L. Mace, FAIA, was a nationally and internationally recognized architect, product designer, educator, and mentor. He coined and passionately promoted the concept of universal design, a design philosophy that challenged convention and provided a design foundation for a more usable world. Ron's pioneering work in accessible design, which provided a foundation for universal design, was instrumental in the passage of national legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities, particularly the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Mr. Mace’s work included acting as design consultant, teacher, researcher, author, lecturer, mediator, and expert witness. Clients of Mr. Mace included most federal agencies, many state and local governments, corporations, architects, attorneys, disability organizations, and trade associations.

In 1989, Ron established the federally funded Center for Accessible Housing, later renamed The Center for Universal Design, at the School of Design at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Ron was also President of Barrier Free Environments, Inc. (BFE), and a Principal of BFE Architecture, P.A. in Raleigh, North Carolina. In 1988, he was appointed to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA).

In celebrating Ron’s life, there were many intense recollections. One colleague noted, “Ron had an incredible standard of excellence. He attended to design detail in an unequaled way because of his deep understanding and appreciation of how people work and how they use places, spaces and products.”

Ron’s last public appearance was at the first Designing for the 21st Century International Conference on Universal Design, in June 1998. He was thrilled with the outpouring of energy, of commitment, with people from all over the world talking about how they were trying to and often succeeding in creating and/or teaching universal design. He was surrounded by hundreds of people who had chosen to make universal design their life work. He was so happy. Regrettably, Ron died unexpectedly on June 29, 1998.

The RL Mace Universal Design Institute, now based in Asheville, NC, strives to continue improving the use and utility of the built environment for everyone via consulting, design, and educational activities.

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