Background & Qualifications

The Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) is an international education and design non-profit organization committed to advancing the role of design in expanding opportunity and enhancing experience for people of all ages, abilities and cultures through excellence in design. IHCD was founded in Boston in 1978 as Adaptive Environments and changed its name on its 30th anniversary to have an identity more reflective of current work. Our headquarters remain in Boston though some of the team work remotely in other parts of the US.

IHCD meets its mission through an unusual mix of education, technical assistance, consulting, and inter-disciplinary design services. Each activity informs the others for a dynamic interplay of expertise, learning and exploration. We are deep content experts in both accessibility and universal/inclusive design. IHCD understands accessibility as a floor or baseline for inclusive design and the practice of designing for people across the broadest spectrum of ability and age as a dynamic activity at the heart of socially sustainable design.

IHCD Consulting and Design Services:

IHCD has a rare capacity for holistic consulting that can assess the physical, information, communication, and/or service environments of our clients. A wide range of consulting and design projects over the years include ADA self-evaluations and transition plans commonly with an overlay of inclusive design considerations, review of existing conditions for accessibility compliance and universal design opportunities, design review during the course of design development for new buildings, major renovations, landscapes, urban realm, exhibits, all aspects of print, digital and environmental graphics as well as service design. Consulting and design clients include dozens of universities, museums, government entities, and private entities. Projects vary from local to international.

Beyond “Personas,” Engaging User/Experts:

IHCD believes that the most robust method of learning what users need and want is by engaging real people in assessing what works and what fails. We review environments such as higher education, exhibits, elements of the public realm, service environments like libraries or welfare offices, websites, apps and distance learning, and products. IHCD has hundreds of user/experts from adolescents to elders with a wide range of physical, sensory and brain-based functional limitations and can tailor a team of user/experts to the issues to be evaluated (e.g., older people when considering bus transit, young adults when considering apps and distance learning). When analysis would benefit from user/experts and the project is far from IHCD’s headquarters in Boston, IHCD recruits user/experts wherever the client is based. Using contextual inquiry methods, IHCD generates immediately pertinent, detailed information that ranges from small, cost-neutral changes to significant insights that can ensure that capital investments are well spent.

Current IHCD projects with federal funding and focused on accessibility compliance include:

  • New England Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Center, funded by the U.S. Department of Education since 1996 with funding through 2016;
  • National Endowment for the Arts project (2012-2015) to create a comprehensive web resource on accessibility and universal design for public and private cultural administrators that will become part of the NEA website;
  • State Department Peer-to- Peer initiative to build capacity for inclusive design in Russia (2013-2015).


On the accessibility side, IHCD has been a major US provider of educational materials, training and consulting services originally on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and then on the Fair Housing Amendments of 1988 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. IHCD created the first national training package on the ADA as well as the popular Checklist for Existing Facilities ( and the Title II Action Guide, paper in its first version, digital in the current version.

Inclusive/Universal Design Projects include:

  • IHCD builds from a solid base of rigorous expertise about accessibility requirements but embraces a larger vision of design as a transformative tool of social equity and enhanced experience for all.
  • IHCD is the only US representative in the governing structure of the International Association for Universal Design (IAUD) based in Japan.
  • IHCD recently completed the first international benchmarking study on the integration of universal design into the built environment for the government of Singapore.
  • IHCD was one of five organizations that collaborated in the development of the Principles of Universal Design in 1997 that are copyrighted to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University at Raleigh.
  • The National Endowment for the Arts funded IHCD to create the first international web-based collection of universally designed case studies in ten categories of the built environment, a project in collaboration with the UN. The initial site is in place with dozens of additional projects in development (
  • IHCD has been a lead organization in the international Universal Design movement, having hosted or co-hosted five international conferences as well as international student design competitions, awards programs, smaller regional meetings and publication of web and print materials. IHCD collaborates and presents at international events, writes and publishes in global publications and collaborates on regional and national inclusive design projects.
  • IHCD began the Access to Design Professions project with support from the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) in 1999 as a memorial project to Ron Mace, considered the ‘father’ of universal design in the US. This international initiative seeks to increase the number of people with disabilities who enter and thrive in the design professions.
  • IHCD tailors training on universal design for public and private entities and service industries including financial services, public agencies, healthcare facilities, libraries and domestic violence providers. These trainings are organized to present guidance on the information, communication, physical, and social and policy environments central to impacting the contextual definition of disability.
  • IHCD has been involved with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs before, during and since the development of the Convention on the Human Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and attended the development meetings and trained the delegates and UN staff on universal design.
  • IHCD leaders provide an average of 30 lectures on universal design annually. Audiences range from international and national events to local. They include conference keynotes and workshops but also lectures for design students. Every year there is a mix that includes professional development for designers, public health professionals, as well as events related to aging, sustainability, livable communities and urban planning.
  • IHCD has created a tradition of hosting an annual daylong Symposium on Socially Sustainable Design in November at Build Boston (now Architecture Boston Expo), the second largest AIA event in the nation and commonly brings in international experts to share their perspectives.
  • IHCD publishes occasional books that contribute to the universal design literature. Recent publications include:
  • Universal Design, A Reconsideration of Barrier-Free by Dr.Yoshihiko Kawauchi originally published in Japanese and issued in English in 2008;
  • Classroom Design for Children with Autism (2010) by Dr. Rachna Khare, a professor of universal design in India and parent of a child with autism;
  • Directional Sense (2011) by Drs. Janet Carpman & Myron Grant, premier experts in wayfinding; Universal Design, A Methodological Approach (2012) by Belgian Professor Hubert Froyen; and Da Vinci Touch (2015), a tactile book with print and digital French and English in collaboration with the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie in Paris.

The IHCD team includes professionals across the design disciplines (architecture, interior design, industrial design, digital design), education, engineering and the humanities. Staff members reflect the organizational commitment to diversity of age, ability and personal experience with functional limitations. Staff, interns and visiting fellows come from a mix of nations and provide cultural insights as well as multi-lingual capacity. IHCD hosts a wide range of US and international interns every year, most of whom are design undergraduate and graduate students but also related disciplines of sociology, anthropology, and occupational therapy. They range from high school students with disabilities to post-doctoral candidates in allied fields. Due to the extensive national and international network of individual and organizational collaborators, IHCD has an unusually rich and flexible expertise and capacity well beyond its core staff including the nation’s premier individual experts and global collaborators.

IHCD commonly uses the World Health Organization framework that defines disability as a contextual phenomenon. The WHO mainstreams functional limitation as a fact of life in the 21st century and describes disability as generated at the intersection of the person and their multiple environments: physical, information, communication, policy and social. This perspective about the opportunity to minimize limitations and make the most of strengths while improving experiences for everyone is the baseline for all of IHCD’s work.