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Kompas Fellowship | Ellis Wills-Begley

Oh, another interesting thing -

To show love and support of the city, the Chicago Fire Department sent out a boat to do water cannon performance for us, which I find just as amusing as how much I appreciate their effort - how can people with impaired vision enjoy a performance that’s purely visual? Hmm...We need to come up with more ways to implement multi-sensory experiences so that our fire department can think of better entertainment ideas.

In the next few months, I hope to get to know more members at the Chicago Lighthouse, study ADA code, read more papers, visit nursing homes,and iterate designs as I learn more. Stay tuned!

Angel's Blog

September 2019

Hi, it’s Angel here!

The first month and a half at Myefski Architects has mostly been software training (thank you Anu and
Cesar!), and I can finally say that I feel a little more ready to take on more responsibilities in the office.
Meanwhile, my exploration of design solutions for visual-impairment issues within the urban built
environment starts.

With the Kompas opportunity, I am interested in easing the stigma towards people with disabilities
through architecture, in the hope that more inclusive spaces can allow people to see past the physical
differences and connect upon other qualities. Design for visual-impairment is not just for our neighbors
who are blind, our parents who have decreasing vision, but also our future selves. “There is no one
without disabilities; there are only people finding their disabilities later.”

How can architecture help people see beyond differences? With that question in mind, my research has
two main foci of improvement: dignity and efficiency.

Dignity : Believing in the value of universal design, I’m interested in improving spatial experience
for visually-impaired individuals, both in public and private spaces (home), without making them
isolated from the people who are without disability. If everything is by default accessible, people
with disabilities will not have to be physically separated from those without; with the increased
visibility, conversations, conflicts, and collaborations will become more inclusive. In other words,
I’m looking forward to a day in which the description “accessible” will be taken out of the room

Efficiency : I’m interested in exploring domestic spatial solutions that take equal, if not less,
amount of space to the regular units without sacrificing the quality of care. The thing that hinders
the implementation of more accessible facilities is cost, and cost is mainly from square footage
“loss” and hardware installations (think ramps and wheelchair clear floors). I wonder if square
footage savings can be done from the design’s end, so it would not be as much of an economic
loss for development. This also speaks to my love of cities and the belief that urban shared living
is the future. With aging and increasing population being the world’s trend, inclusive design will
become more and more relevant.

Aside from reading papers of experiments on navigation strategies of visually-impaired individuals from
cognitive science field, I started my research with volunteering at the 14th Disability Pride Parade and the
Visual-Impairment Cruise with Chicago Lighthouse and Chicago Yacht Club. Just like me, it was the first
yacht experience for many Lighthouse members, too. Everyone seemed to enjoy the guided lunch at the
Club and the cruise: the taste of the beef patty, the smell of the lake, the touch of breezes on our
faces...which got me thinking about what the pleasure of architecture is beyond vision.

Getting everyone on the boat was the most challenging task in the day; though our captain was very experienced in guiding the guests. To demonstrate the drop height and the length of the stride needed to be made, he held the guest’s hand holding the white cane, tapped on the pier and then the boat, so that the guest can hear the sound of different surfaces and feel the drop distance. Next, the captain would instruct the guest of where to put his feet and how to adjust his/her step as the person steps down. As expected, the process took longer to board than people with full vision do; but everyone was very patient and helpful. This experience gave me some insights on how to ease the fear of navigating in unfamiliar, irregular environments - can architecture provide some non-visual signals before the visitor approach the destination, so that he/she knows what to anticipate and what decisions need to be made?

Angel's blog