My architect told me they’re experts at ADA accessibility and that’s all they need to create my accessible building.
This is like having your family doctor perform your heart surgery.
ADA accessibility is generic, but you are not; each person has their own set of abilities, dimensions, and preferences that no building code can address. At The Art of Access we have the lived experience of disability and the professional experience to be the specialist you need.
For 30+ years of the ADA, the building professions have viewed mere compliance as an aspirational ceiling that magically yields a perfectly usable environment. But it’s actually just a floor - and as a profession we need to build up from there to create better buildings.
How can I prevent my home from feeling institutional when I want it to be accessible for myself, my family, and my friends, or plan for aging in place?
Don’t accept commercial or institutional solutions for accessibility and comfort in your home. The ADA and the State Building Codes were designed for commercial buildings, so of course you’ll get an institutional-looking result. We avoid this with with a three-step process that resolves the imbalance between great design and great access:
1. INQUIRE: We think of ourselves as architectural anthropologists, and delve deeply into understanding your family and your needs (around everything, not just disability) and use that as the basis of design. We push commercial requirements to the side, and focus on you with our Dream Home Workbook. We “inquire” rather than just “listen” because with 30 years of crafting solutions for unique clients, we know the key questions to ask. So don't worry if you don't know where to start; we do.
2. FILTER: We filter what we learn through our lived experience with disability, deep knowledge of the code, and experience creating hundreds of accessible homes and other buildings. There’s a unique insight that people with disabilities have about the built environment and the minutia of daily living that is simply missing from most architects’ worlds. We live it, know it, and put needs through our reality filter to figure out what you actually need now and into the future.
3. RESOLVE: At every moment of the two steps above, we’re also thinking about creative design. Opportunities open up as we learn about your site, your programmatic needs, and your life.
Other accessibility designers forget about beautiful, aspirational design. Similarly, artistic designers forget about or don't really understand accessibility when they’re focused on beautiful design. The two approaches need to be in balance.
That is our architectural alchemy: balancing artistic design and deeply insightful accessibility. In fact, we’re so passionate about balance in all parts of our projects that the A’s at the beginning of Art and Access in our logo are crafted to be inspired by the yin/yang balance we all seek in life.
Does it cost more to go beyond basic code to achieve Universal Design?
Much of accessibility it is just smarter design that has no added cost. Key to this is starting early in the schematic design with a clear idea about accessibility. Whether it’s an airport or a single-family home, more thoughtful design…done right from the beginning…creates a more integrated design that works better for more people without adding costs.
Some Universal Design adds dollar costs, like giving some space for having two accessible bathroom stalls rather than the one required by the ADA. But with Universal Design everyone benefits from the added space.
We should also ask ourselves “What's the cost of staying with the status quo?”. There are costs in usability and comfort, a cost in embarrassment when a family or someone changing clothes takes the one accessible bathroom stall, making a wheelchair rider wait 10 minutes for it. And a dollar cost for remodeling to address changing user needs or future codes.
As for the nominal additional dollar costs for Universal Design, we need to recognize that the ADA is a 30-year-old compromise between building owners' cost concerns and the actual needs of people with disabilities. In a society with an aging population and where people with disabilities have more work opportunities than ever, we also have to change the narrative about the cost of accessibility and inclusion; we need to get unstuck on the cost debate and accept that it takes a little more investment of time, creativity, and money to create a world that offers true inclusion.
There are already a lot of accessibility requirements in the ADA and building codes - what’s wrong with just applying those in an aesthetically nice way?
The ADA requirements were written as a compromise, and we now know we can do better. In the public hearings of the late 1980’s where the details of the ADA were debated, people in the Disability Rights Movement went up against the powerful building owners and contractors lobbies. Much of whats’ in the ADA has as much to do with what those lobbyists would accept as they do about what people actually need.
And just as with every other piece of Civil Right legislation, which is what the ADA is, we see a need to adapt and update it as society grows and changes and past prejudices fall by the wayside.
Today, the design process for anything from a product to a building to a city needs to ask new questions about what people, in all their diversity, really need.
As an architect, I already have complex code requirements to deal with. How can I understand Universal Design when there are no clear standards for it?
That’s what teams are for. The Disability Rights Movement of the 1990’s started using the phrase “nothing about us without us”, meaning don’t design something for us that you think we need without having us be part of the design solution, whether it’s around city services, transportation, products, buildings, or anything else. As a California State Building Standards Commissioner involved in the code-creation process and a wheelchair-riding practicing architect, Erick Mikiten understands the code’s requirements as well as its limitations.
We have lived experience
and code experience to bring to the table, but what sets us completely apart from other accessibility consultants is that we’re designers teaming up with designers.
Just as when we work with single-family clients and deeply investigate their personal needs, we completely understand - and can even help define - your design goals around not just accessibility, but how that fits into every aspect of your project.
We know Universal Design overlaps many of our complex team’s responsibilities, so don’t know where to start.
Three steps: Teach, inspire, and empower.
We can teach your team about the genesis of Universal Design, inspiring them to understand the deep value of it, and empowering them with tools they need to implement it in their work and spread the word.
A shared goal for the public good, usability, and inclusion, can help a team do better work in every area. And that inevitably leads to improvements on their next projects, and education of their next team. Inclusion and Universal Design can become a chain reaction through the profession.
The power of an inspiring idea is described perfectly in the book The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:
If you want to build a ship,
don't drum up the people
to gather wood, divide the
work, and give orders.
Instead, teach them to yearn
for the vast and endless sea.