Harold Dean Kiewel


Registered architect and certified construction specifier (CCS)

Harold Dean Kiewel, AIA, CSI, CCS | Since 1998, he was worked with Ellerbe Becket, an international firm based in Minneapolis, as a senior architectural specifier, spending much of his time writing project manuals for health care facilities. Harold continues his advocacy to the architectural community through his presentations and volunteer work, and also by educating the Ellerbe Beckett staff about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In 1993, before he joined Ellerbe Becket, Harold founded his own company, Accessible Building Consultants, to provide independent accessibility consulting. His focus was the practice of architecture as an instrument of change in society, and his goal was to help clients and architects understand the real meaning of the ADA. Harold’s solid personal and professional grounding in accessibility issues, combined with his architectural training, made him a valuable resource in the years following the passage of the ADA. He led seminars at regional and national meetings of the AIA, the Construction Specifier’s Institute, and the International Facilities Managers Association and served on numerous committees and task forces of architectural and disability organizations. During that time, Harold was also affiliated with Universal Designers and Consultants, a Maryland-based national consulting firm specializing in ADA compliance.

Harold was born in South Dakota, but following his bout with polio, his family moved to Minneapolis to be near the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital. There, Harold received treatment for post-polio paralysis and learned to walk using leg braces and crutches. His father was a farmer and a carpenter; Harold worked with him on the farm and was active in 4-H. One early influence in Harold’s choice of career was seeing the blueprints for construction projects on which his father worked.

A high school civics and social studies teacher who was an architect encouraged Harold’s initial interest in a career in design. Today, Harold reflects somewhat wryly on the fact that this man taught high school for a living. “I might have missed a clue there about the vicissitudes of this profession.”

Harold was mainstreamed in public school and graduated sixth out of one hundred students in his class. Although he felt encouraged to follow his interests, he also got the message that a “more passive career” would suit him best. Oddly, architecture was among the careers considered more passive. “I guess my counselors didn’t know much about site visits or site work.”

The state vocational rehabilitation program provided tuition and housing for Harold’s first undergraduate degree, which he received in 1973 from the University of Minnesota. Harold studied architecture initially, but towards the end of his sophomore year he was strongly dissuaded from continuing on this path. A design studio professor suggested that if he changed his major he’d do all right, but if he continued with architecture, he would flunk out. Harold has always suspected that this incident reflected the professor’s strong negative feelings about disability in general and had little to do with him or his design skills. Unfortunately, as a result, Harold dropped architecture and explored several other majors before settling on one just for the purpose of graduating.

Immediately after graduation, he worked in retail. The happiest parts of these years were meeting Patricia, falling in love, and getting married. But he felt unfulfilled in his work. “It was as if I heard a bell ringing. I thought about my drawing board and knew that’s where I wanted to be.” Vocational Rehabilitation wouldn’t fund a graduate degree, but they would fund vocational training. So Harold enrolled at the Minnesota Drafting School to get the skills he needed for an entry-level architectural position.

Harold’s first job in his career of choice was with the City of Minneapolis as an access consultant, in 1975. He helped educate building owners about the state’s new accessibility code and then moved on to the State Council on Disabilities, where he provided the same sorts of education on a statewide basis. Out of this work came the book Accessible Architecture, co-authored with John Salmen in 1976. Toward the end of the decade, Harold transferred to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, where he gave technical assistance to a program that offered funding and design assistance to families with special needs.

Still determined to be an architect, Harold went back to the University of Minnesota, taking courses at night part-time until he earned his Bachelor of Environmental Design. Then, in 1982, with the support of his wife and family, he decided to leave his state job to pursue a Master of Architecture degree at the university. His thesis, User Sensitivity in Architecture, offers a methodology for understanding accessibility as a qualitative design issue, rather than as a quantitative building code issue. See more at HumanCenteredDesign.org


Universal Design (UD) is an approach to design that increases the potential for developing a better quality of life for a wide range of individuals. It is a design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). It creates products, systems, and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation.