Recently, Marsha K. Mazz was selected by the U.S. Celebration of World Standards Day Planning Committee as the recipient of the prestigious Ronald H. Brown Standards Leadership Award. Named for the late U.S. Secretary of Commerce, the Brown Award recognizes demonstrated leadership in promoting the important role of standardization in eliminating global barriers to trade.
Mazz was nominated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for her outstanding contributions to the use of standardization to improve access for persons with disabilities to structures worldwide, including office buildings, sporting arenas, train and subway stations, cruise ships, recreational vehicles, manufactured housing, airport terminals, and courthouses.
For more than 20 years, Mazz has worked to educate standards experts, architects, engineers, code officials, and countless other professionals about the need and benefits of accessible design. Her contributions have resulted in the development of coordinated national standards that make the built environment far more accessible for people with disabilities. She has also worked tirelessly to coordinate and harmonize federal criteria for accessibility.
As the Director of the Office of Technical and Information Services for the United States Access Board (USAB) in Washington, D.C., Mazz oversees the technical assistance programs for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA). Her office is responsible for the continued development of the ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines, the Section 508 Standards for Accessible Information and Communications Technology, and the Standards for Accessible Medical and Diagnostic Equipment. This also includes the USAB’s research, training, and technical assistance programs—and provides online guidance as well as toll-free and email responses to questions about the USAB’s guidelines and standards.
In addition, Mazz is the USAB’s representative to the model code organizations and is a member of the ICC/ANSI A117 Committee on Architectural Features and Site Design of Public Buildings and Residential Structures for Persons with Disabilities; as well as the NFPA’s Disability Access Review Advisory Committee. Her prior experience includes service with a center for independent living as a member of the Maryland State Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities, as a board member for the National Council on Independent Living, and as chair of the Washington Metropolitan Area Advisory Committee on Transportation for People with Disabilities.
Mazz recently presented a lecture entitled: Accessibility Standards and the Americans with Disabilities Act!—which delineated the biggest challenge for Universal Design (UD) today. In it she explains that UD is a set of principles—adherence to which should ensure that a building, product, environment (or even a process) is accessible to and usable by a broad range of users with and without disabilities—but that accessible design differs from UD because of the prescriptive nature of accessibility standards. “However, both UD and accessible design require active problem solving on the part of the design professional. Whether conforming to accessibility standards or implementing UD principles, designers must question their understanding of the ‘normal’ human condition and revise their assumptions about the beneficiaries of a design project—they cannot do this successfully without accurate information about the user population,” she adds.
According to Mazz, by their very nature, UD principles and accessibility standards challenge a designer’s creativity by narrowing his options. In fact, these demands on the design are most defensible when they are supported by reliable scientific data. She explains, “The greatest challenge to UD and accessible design is the lack of in-depth human factors research that includes individuals with disabilities. Better data of this type will provide tools for evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of alternative designs and standards—and it will give designers and standards developers more confidence that the choices they make will achieve the desired outcomes for people with disabilities and others.”