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On the Passing of Selwyn Goldsmith

News from People with Disability Australia:
April 5, 2011

Early Accessibility Pioneer Selwyn Goldsmith Dies, Leaves

Rich Legacy

Selwyn Goldsmith, whose work on behalf of people with disabilities influenced the

development of the Universal Design (UD) field, died April 3, 2011, after a battle

with Alzheimer’s disease. Goldsmith’s Designing for the Disabled, first published in

1963, has been considered a “bible” for practicing architects around the world, and

served as a model on which the ANSI A117.1 standard, and thus, all other US

accessibility standards are based.

“If Ron Mace was the ‘Father of Universal Design,’ Selwyn was the ‘Grandfather of

UD,’” remarked John Salmen, president of Universal Designers & Consultants, Inc.,

and publisher of Universal Design Newsletter. “He led the way in establishing

analytical descriptions of how people with disabilities interact with the environment,

which grew into the accessibility criteria we know today as the 2010 ADA


Goldsmith studied architecture at Cambridge University and University College

London. In 1956, shortly completing his studies at age 23, he contracted polio, which

left him with a permanent physical disability. In 1961, he was appointed to conduct

the research which led to his authoring Designing for the Disabled, which was

subsequently updated in 1967 and 1976. In 1972, he joined the social research branch

of the Housing Development Directorate of the Department of the Environment, to

advise on housing and other services for people with disabilities. He later published

Designing for the Disabled: A New Paradigm (1997) and Universal Design (2000).

“I know of no person, beyond Selwyn, whose work, energies and spirit touched the

lives of so many people around the world who now have a better environment in

which to move, to live in more accommodating homes, to be able to go to work, to

visit friends, etc.,” said Jake Pauls, of Jake Pauls Consulting Services in Building Use

and Safety. “I have been inspired by how [he dealt] with uncaring bureaucracies and

officials who were not doing right for the people they were supposed to serve through

the provision of decent, usable and reasonably safe homes and other buildings.

Selwyn was, and will always be, a great influence on how I address similar problems

in the built environment.”

He is survived by his wife, Becky, and two sons, David and Ben. A memorial service

for Goldsmith will be held April 26, 2011, in London.

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