Scott Windley photo

Scott Windley

Accessibility Specialist
U.S. Access Board
Washington, DC


Scott Windley works as an accessibility specialist for the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, more commonly known as the Access Board. Located in Washington, D.C., the Access Board is the federal agency devoted to accessible design. The agency's responsibilities include developing accessibility guidelines and providing technical assistance for several laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"Without my disability, I dont think Id be where I am. Id probably be working in a firm and not even thinking about accessibility..."
- Scott Windley

Each of the guidelines is developed through a cooperative, often intense process with large, representative advisory committees convened to develop recommendations to the Access Board. Scott is the lead staff person for the thirty-three-member advisory committee working on new guidelines and technical assistance materials for Public Rights of Way. He also provides telephone technical assistance on the Access Board's busy hot line, explaining, "The most complex questions involve housing and determining what laws apply, depending on funding. People need help in figuring out what they have to do, especially when more than one law covers a property. The technical design questions are much simpler."

Scott has cerebral palsy, a birth condition, and has used a wheelchair since he was five years old. He credits his disability with guiding him toward his profession, "Without my disability, I don't think I'd be where I am. I'd probably be working in a firm and not even thinking about accessibility. I can't say for sure what I'd do. I'd probably be a standard architect, drafting bathroom details and stair nosings." He also appreciates having grown up in Idaho: "It may not directly relate to being from Idaho, but one of the biggest things that makes me who I am and how I work is that my father taught me that the only way to get anywhere in life is by working hard. My other influence was my mother -- I learned patience from her."

Scott became interested in design during three years of mechanical drawing classes at Snake River High School. His drafting instructor spotted Scott's talent and encouraged him to undertake further design studies. Scott started college as a pre-architecture major at Idaho State in Pocatello. Vocational Rehabilitation helped with his tuition for a couple of years until he transferred to the University of Idaho. There he won the George T. Warren Scholarship, a bequest from a donor who had become disabled late in life and had started a scholarship fund for the advancement of students with disabilities.

Accessible housing was not a problem at Idaho State, as Scott continued to live at home with his parents, but at the university he found his own accessible housing. "Moving away from home was very good for my self-confidence." He lived on campus for three years in an accessible dorm and then moved off-campus to an apartment for two years. "The campus itself was pretty good in terms of access, though not always conveniently so."

Studio education was tiring for Scott, especially bending over drafting tables, which, because of the scoliosis of his spine, was occasionally painful. In response to his request for an accommodation, his program cut down a table for him. "That desk moved from studio to studio with me between terms. Sometimes, after summer break, I had to hunt it down, but it never disappeared." Problematic access on field trips was the biggest challenge, "a pain in the neck," but with the aid of school friends he managed to enjoy himself, particularly on trips to Portland and Seattle.

His disability also made him an early proponent of CAD (Computer Aided Design). "I found it beneficial to work on the computer using CAD. At that time, there were no computers in the studios and some professors were still resisting computer design, but others had 'smelled the coffee' and were waking up." It was more comfortable for him to work in the accessible computer labs than to lean for long hours over the drafting tables. Scott thinks integrating CAD into all studios would be an efficient and effective way of enhancing the accessibility of studio education.

Right after receiving his B. Arch. in May 1992, Scott started working for the University of Idaho's facilities department. He surveyed buildings, wrote reports, reviewed floor plans, consulted on new construction projects, and produced an ADA self-evaluation for the campus. He continued working there for almost three years while he pursued his master's degree.

Scott did not begin to focus on accessibility as an architectural specialty until he began his master's program. There were not any structured courses on accessibility or universal design at the university, but he was able to create his own program. A few professors invited Scott to help introduce the topics to undergraduates. He worked with an interior design instructor to put together a course, "just for the interiors department." Scott's major professor invited him to assist with integrating universal design in some undergraduate studios, and he was a teaching assistant in sophomore studios. He was also invited to teach an AutoCAD course.

Photograph of three people at a table.
Scott with two of his colleagues at the Access Board.

Description of Photograph:
Scott and two women in a close view facing the camera. They are on the far side of a table with papers and microphones in front of them. Scott is seated on the left and one woman is sitting to the right of him. Another woman is standing behind them, leaning forward between them.

By the mid-nineties, Scott had decided that he wanted to work for Ron Mace at the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State, in Raleigh. It took him a year of patient perseverance until the center was ready to have a full-time intern, and in 1995 he began a two-year stint as intern architect at the center. He provided technical assistance through the center's toll-free phone line on the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, conducted plan reviews, supervised students, and produced architectural drawings. When the position at the Access Board, which required many of the same skills, opened up, Scott made the move to Washington.

He attributes some of his career satisfaction to mentoring. "I'm happy doing this work. Mentoring made a difference for me. I absolutely would do that for someone else." He believes that mentors who can offer help and advice are essential, disabled or not. He points to three in his own career: Ron Bevans, his major professor at the University of Idaho; Ray Pankopf, his first boss at the facilities design department, ("He was an awesome guy; he taught me a lot about design"); and Ron Mace.

"Now it's a very absorbing time with my young family. I have a loving wife, Susan, and two beautiful daughters: Sarah, who is three years old, and Hannah, who is six months old. You can probably guess where most of my spare time goes, although I am also a fan of auto racing."

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