26
May
08

Inclusive Design Philosophy Shaped by Experience of Practitioners

Accessible Design

The whole month of May, Older Americans Month, is not long enough to contemplate all the facets of inclusive design. “Aging in place” is only a part of the overall concept of accessibility or universality. Often the needs of different groups overlap, and one of the interesting things about the field is how many professionals within it were inspired by their own struggle with disability. Take, for instance, Philadelphia real estate agent Valarie Costanzo, recently profiled by Janet Pinkerton, who says:

Costanzo, 57, began concentrating on the accessibility niche after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis two years ago. She began helping MS Society clients in search of affordable handicapped-modified housing. Searching listings for homes with ramps, enlarged doors, and bathrooms with walk-in tubs or roll-in showers, Costanzo realized: “A lot of this stuff also applies to baby boomers with bad knees, bad backs, etc.

Concentrating on accessibility and usability, Costanzo searches out homes and apartments where people with restricted abilities, whether caused by age, injury, or a medical condition, can live in independence and comfort. The overwhelming majority of older Americans want to remain in their own homes for the duration of their lives, and they look for things like an absence of stairs, wide doorways, reachable electric outlets, and so on, through a long list of helpful features.

Pinkerton also spoke with architect Rene Hoffman, who notes that even young home-building clients are likely to have parents either visiting or living with them. One of the ideas suggested by this forward-looking designer is the elevator shaft that can be used as storage space for many years, until such time as stair-free access to the second floor is needed.

Seattle architect Karen L. Braitmayer is another of the many individuals who became intensely interested in universal design principles because of her own physical limitations. Confined to a wheelchair because of osteogenesis imperfecta, Braitmayer became a nationally prominent consultant in accessible design and one of the technical advisers whose knowledge helped shape Washington State’s building code to the barrier-free standard.

In Florida, Walter Dutcher, who sustained an injury fifty years ago that left him quadriplegic, helped design the Freedom Home, which has been called America’s first affordable fully-accessible home. A very pragmatic element of Dutcher’s philosophy is that undertaking the renovation of a standard house can cost several times as much as building it according to accessible design principles, from the outset. He is also quoted as saying, “The devil is in the details.”

SOURCE: “Preparing a Home for Golden Years” 05/08/08
photo courtesy of peterme, used under this Creative Commons license

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