Bill Green, Youth and Senior Programs Manager at the Blind Service Association in Chicago, also lent significant insight to the relationship between accessibility and housing, as well as navigation and wayfinding. In response to a few questions about the typical architectural barriers for blind and visually impaired people, Bill mentioned several aspects that I was previously unaware of. First, there are few codes that deal with audio and visual signage; most codes include diagrams where braille is inscribed beneath the writing on a sign, but whom does this serve? Not only are these signs difficult for blind and visually impaired people to find, Bill comments, not all visually impaired people read braille in the first place. Therefore, what other forms of signage could be more intuitive and helpful?
October was intense. Long working hours, project deadlines, along with several meetings made for a quick month with only a little time to look back. Even with a bit of distance, it’s overwhelming to think about everything that happened. A few weeks ago, I knew little about public / affordable / market rate housing, and now I feel lost in the details. After attending the last ADAPT meeting, moreover, it became clear how critical the housing question is for people with disabilities. My question persists; what role do architects have in creating accessible and affordable housing opportunities? How can architects exercise their skills in design and negotiation to make this happen?
Lastly, Bill mentioned that while most buildings themselves may be relatively accessible and easy to navigate, getting to and entering those buildings is a common obstacle that architects typically overlook. Entry doors should be easy to locate, especially when buildings are a uniform material. This applies not only to the blind and visually impaired community but also for wheelchair users. How does it make sense that a building will be accessible, but its approach won’t be?
The message is that architects must reconsider the physical limits of their buildings; the approach is just as important as the building itself.
This month I met with two particularly incredible individuals to discuss their perspectives about architectural accessibility and housing. We spoke about everything from user experience to sustainability to government regulations. The dialogue was quite revealing - architects do have a huge role in creating accessible/affordable housing opportunities, but it takes a lot of effort.
Trish Girdwood, the Accessibility Specialist at Landon Bone Baker Architects, posits that while federally funded projects involve more strict accessibility codes than non-government funded projects, this does not mean that overall the level of inclusivity is higher. For example, heavy windows, small door widths, and doorknobs present significant issues for many people, but even the strictest regulations in Chicago do not address the need for reconsideration.
So, while the code has not required levers to be installed on floors other than the 1st, LBBA was advocated for and received client approval to install lever handles on all of the floors, demonstrating that just because someone may not be wheelchair bound, does not mean that they may not benefit from a similar detail. Door levers now a company standard.
Inside the office, several Myefski employees demonstrated their familiarity in architectural accessibility and codes, and have supported my research in several ways. The MA staff has involved me in assembling accessibility details for new and future projects as well as the design of accessible units for a student housing project. Additionally, employees have lent detailed explanations of current codes and requirements and have shown how they are integrated in larger projects.
Only four weeks into the Kompas Fellowship, I could not feel more supported or stimulated by my new surroundings. Chicago has an enormous and powerful disabled community, including centers such as Access Living, Chicago Lighthouse, and organizations such as ADAPT and YPC. Over the past month I have connected with various groups, designers, and individuals to learn more about current issues within architectural accessibility and disability rights.
Images: A growing collection of projects that exceed current standards of accessibility. (Left to right: Ed Roberts Campus, Center for Veterans in Higher Education, Access Living, Gallaudet University, Shirley Ryan Abilitylab)
Two partners from LCM Architects, a local firm specializing in accessible design and consulting, lent their perspectives concerning the design of the Access Living building, a local center for independent living. Thanks to the time allocated to the Kompas Fellowship, I learned about numerous design elements and processes that increase the inclusivity of the space, which can only be understood through conversation and experience.
I am honored to be a part of the MA team as a Kompas Fellow. Before I started, I had no idea how much my skills, interests, and passions would overlap, and how much this firm would encourage direct experiences as the dominant form of learning.
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