Architects, designers, facility owners, developers, and other key decision-makers play an important role in removing the barriers that people with disabilities face everywhere, every day. Accessible design can help those with mobility impairments maximize their independence—from the elderly person who relies on a walker, to parents pushing strollers, to the paralyzed veteran using a wheelchair.
Since 2001, the Barrier-Free America Award has recognized exemplary accessible architectural design projects, and the people responsible for their success. With this annual award, Paralyzed Veterans of America seeks to uphold exceptional accessible design while spreading the word about equal access as a civil right.
Past Award Winners
Previous recipients of the Barrier-Free America Award have included architects, facility owners, philanthropists, and television personalities.
Karen M. Goering and Mackey Mitchell Architects
Soldiers Memorial Military Museum
St. Louis, Missouri
A $30 million, two-year renovation project led by Karen M. Goering of the Missouri Historical Society brought the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum and the adjacent Court of Honor into ADA compliance while maintaining its historical integrity.
Dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a tribute to World War I veterans, Soldiers Memorial now has ramps, elevators, and tactile exhibits so all visitors can share the museum experience together. The design by Mackey Mitchell Architects incorporates these accessible features while sensitively preserving the building’s unique art deco detailing. Today, the museum not only meets, but exceeds, ADA standards—no small feat for a historic building that opened in 1938. Learn more and view photo gallery.
Luna Middleman Architects
Morgan’s Wonderland & Inspiration Island
San Antonio, Texas
Luna Middleman Architects was honored for the construction of Morgan’s Wonderland & Inspiration Island, a fully inclusive water park. The park’s founder, Gordon Hartman, was also recognized for his vision. By thinking outside the box, Luna Middleman eliminated boundaries to allow visitors of all abilities to enjoy every aspect of the attraction. Learn more and view photo gallery.
Virginia Governor’s Mansion
Then-Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe worked with architectural and preservation experts to expand access to one of America’s oldest executive residences, while respecting the building’s historic and architectural roots.
Prior to the renovations, visitors with mobility disabilities had to enter the mansion through the basement, at the back of the building. Now wheelchair users and all those with disabilities can enter via a ramp connected to an existing breezeway, leading directly to the first-floor reception area. Learn more and view photo gallery.
Founder, Concrete Change
Eleanor Smith, founder of the national organization Concrete Change, was honored for her ongoing advocacy around accessibility and the idea of “visitability.” From wheelchair lifts on public buses to zero-step entrances on every new house, her unstoppable vision is to see housing communities that not only allow easier access for people who use wheelchairs but also benefit the elderly, blind, temporarily disabled, and even parents pushing strollers. View photo gallery.
Ed Roberts Campus and DREDF
The Ed Roberts Campus is named after the late Ed Roberts who, throughout his distinguished career, led the movement in California to bring people with disabilities into the mainstream of society. The 82,000-square-foot building sits atop a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station and houses several organizations that serve people with disabilities, including the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund.
A major goal of this campus was to build a noninstitutional, barrier-free building that would eliminate the need for exterior ramps for accessibility. The building exceeds existing accessibility codes and demonstrates how accessible design can disappear through seamless integration. Learn more and view photo gallery.
The SPIRE Institute is one of the most unique sports, fitness, and athletic training complexes in the world—a place that empowers athletes by unlocking the full potential of the human spirit. Designated as an Official United States Olympic and Paralympic Training Site, the $85 million facility not only provides resources, facilities, and programs for Team USA, but is a destination and source of inspiration for athletes of all ages, skills, and abilities.
The award was presented to SPIRE Institute founders Ron and Tracy Clutter. Chris Smith of ThenDesign Architecture, one of the architects behind the design, was also honored. View photo gallery.
Nugent Residence Hall & the Disability Resources & Educational Services Program
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
The DRES Program and the design of Nugent Residence Hall set an accessibility standard for higher-education buildings and structures. The hall’s state-of-the-art amenities include bedrooms with proximity card readers; adjustable furniture; ADA vertical auto operators that can open bathroom and room doors from the inside; and a wireless paging system for notifying staff when assistance is needed.
Nugent Residence Hall is named for Tim Nugent, who pioneered the accessibility changes at the university. Learn more and view photo gallery.
James Roth, The Treehouse Guys, LLC
John Connell, special recognition award
In the past a treehouse would have been off-limits to people with disabilities or the elderly, who may have limited mobility. Through The Treehouse Guys (formerly Forever Young Treehouses), James Roth has built universally accessible treehouses in private camps and public parks across the country.
The treehouses include a universally accessible ramp system that makes getting to the top an easy and enjoyable journey, as well as a structure that allows people of all ages and physical abilities to experience the treehouse together. Roth’s work sends an important message to architects—that the sky’s the limit when it comes to making our nation more accessible. John Connell, the architect behind the first prototype designs, received honorable mention for his work. Learn more, view photo gallery, and watch interviews from the ceremony.
John Adams Courthouse
This marked the first time the award was given for renovation work on a listed historical landmark, demonstrating that a 100-year-old building can be re-adapted for both contemporary judicial needs and accessibility. Like many historic buildings, the John Adams Courthouse was not originally designed to accommodate accessibility for all.
The restoration included accessible solutions that preserved the property’s character. From new entry ramps to wider aisle spacing to Braille signage, the new designs allow all people to enter and experience the building. Learn more and view photo gallery.
Antoine Predock, FAIA
Indian Community School of Milwaukee
The Indian Community School of Milwaukee is a privately owned and operated urban intertribal school educating over 300 American Indian children from kindergarten through 8th grade. Access was a core value in the new facility’s design, to remove both physical and educational barriers for students and visitors. Throughout the building, stairs and elevator circulation routes are inclusive and balanced, and wider corridors and main areas accommodate groups of people with disabilities.
Set on 130+ rolling acres, the breathtaking building also serves as a community center—a testament to both its architect and the 12 Indian tribes that brought the project to life. View photo gallery.
Marca Bristo and John H. Catlin, FAIA
Access Living Headquarters
The 2007 award went to the Access Living Headquarters and the two people who helped make it possible. Marca Bristo, President and CEO of Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, and John H. Catlin, FAIA, Partner in LCM Architects, are leaders in combining Accessible/Universal Design and Green Design.
Access Living Headquarters offers accessible features such as hands-free main doors; large elevators with doors that open front and back; and wider corridors and conference rooms to accommodate wheelchair users and others with disabilities. View photo gallery.
Fong & Chan Architects
de Young Museum
San Francisco, California
The de Young Museum needed a new campus after its original building was damaged by an earthquake in 1989. The resulting $135 million project opened in Golden Gate Park in 2005 and instantly earned accolades.
Working with Swiss architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, Fong & Chan Architects addressed accessibility issues throughout the facility, from implementing smooth flooring transitions for wheelchair users to posting high-contrast wayfinding signage that’s crucial for people with vision impairments. With a design that exceeds ADA standards, all visitors can enjoy the museum’s art collections. View photo gallery.
Edward K. Uhlir, FAIA
From its very inception, the goal for redesigning Millennium Park was universal inclusion. Uhlir served as project design director, ensuring the world-class park could be enjoyed by visitors of all abilities. View photo gallery.
Frederic Bell, FAIA
Redevelopment of Lower Manhattan
New York, New York
Bell was honored for his efforts to prioritize accessibility within the Lower Manhattan redevelopment program, including plans for the World Trade Center memorial site. View photo gallery.
Cesar Pelli, FAIA
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Cesar Pelli’s design has made a tangible difference in the lives of disabled travelers who visit the nation’s capital, knowing that National Airport is accommodating and obstacle-free. The new terminal was designed as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) were being passed and implemented, when most architects and designers were still learning about accessible design. View photo gallery.
Bob Vila’s Home Again
Home improvement expert and television host Bob Vila partnered with PVA to bring attention to the importance of accessible design for individuals with physical disabilities and senior citizens, showcasing the topic on his television show and website. View photo gallery