mary free bed ymca first universal design award progressive aeThe new Mary Free Bed YMCA has received the world’s first Global Universal Design Certification from the Global Universal Design Commission (GUDC). The GUDC created guidelines for buildings and spaces to help meet the needs of different populations, including: the elderly, individuals with disabilities, those recovering from injury, and people with hearing and sight challenges. The guidelines are based on a decade of extensive research and are expected to be the new standard for universal design in architecture and construction.

Michael Perry, AIA, LEED AP, served as the project’s lead architect. Perry and an entire team of architects, engineers and designers worked closely with the GUDC, the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids and the Mary Free Bed Guild to design an inclusive environment for people of all abilities.

Highlights of the new facility include:


  • Accessible parking (including bicycles, scooters and hand cycles)
  • Wider walking paths
  • Hard surface viewing areas for wheelchairs of outdoor fields


  • Oversized elevator cars with horizontal call buttons with braille
  • Bold-colored feature ramp serves as primary vertical circulation
  • Ample seating arranged below the ramp

Mary Free Bed YMCA Progressive AE

 Visual and Hearing Accommodation: 

  • Color schemes and lighting provide cues to people with all types of visual ability
  • Wayfinding system is designed to be consistently recognized by multiple age groups and cultures
  • Acoustic techniques, including sound dampening and sound-absorbing ceiling bubbles help minimize noise

 Amenities and Functional Spaces: 

  • Locker rooms have ergonomic design extending to equipment and fixtures.
  • 16 large family changing/restrooms
  • Two changing rooms include queen-size mat tables for side transfer
  • Zero entry roll-in showers and pull-down benches
  • Self-operated transfer stations at the swimming pools
  • Wheelchair softball field

The certification award was presented at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new YMCA facility on Thursday, December 3, 2015. The award was presented by Joshua Heintz, board member of the GUDC and Peter Blanck, chairman of the GUDC.

Learn more about the Mary Free Bed YMCA project.




Photo credit: Tony Norkus at Mary Free Bed