Accessible Outdoor Table Design: A Case Study in Teaching Design Students to Think Universally

Date Updated


My name is Francisco and I'm an instructor in architecture and environmental design. The university where I teach developed a new outdoor courtyard and community space. The planning committee looked for design suggestions that incorporate universal design principles and create a space that is inviting to all students, faculty, staff, and visitors.

Access Issue

Typically, outdoor furniture is designed with fixed table and chair heights. These standard heights do not always accommodate people who use wheelchairs, children, or adults who are smaller in stature. We want to include furniture that is as flexible as possible, so that it allows everyone to have a place at the table.


I asked my students to design a table that could be used comfortably by as many different people as possible. The students consulted with a local independent living center to learn more about the needs of individuals with disabilities and universal design. The students built a proto-type of a table for which each height is adjustable and the chairs can move around the table to allow more space between them when needed. The university has agreed to order these tables for the courtyard.


This case study illustrates the following:

  • Access features can be built into a product to make it usable by people with a broad range of abilities.
  • Features that help people with mobility impairments can also benefit others, such as children or exceptionally tall or short adults.
  • Engaging with people who have disabilities can lead to a more accessible design.