Dear America,
We have a great opportunity to improve our housing market.

What's needed is more universally accessible homes, which starts with a new approach to how those homes are designed.

Hi, I’m Scott.

I’m Scott Pruett, co-founder of The Universal Design Project and a guy who has used a wheelchair for 20 years because of a spinal cord injury. This letter will help you understand how our work is a missing piece of the puzzle for addressing the major shortage of universally accessible housing in our great country.

What is the missing piece of the puzzle? Collaborative design that effectively equips home builders to build highly functional homes. Read on and I’ll explain…

The shortage of accessible housing usually doesn’t seem like a big deal because most people affected by disability aren’t homeless (though many are, which is another discussion). The reality is that a lot of people with disabilities struggle every day because of living situations that don’t work well for them. This regularly goes unnoticed and has long-term negative effects on their health.

We all know of at least one person who has less functional ability than someone in perfect health, which is what we mean by “disability.” This happens to everyone with age, but there are millions of us who have survived a life-changing injury or illness with irreversible effects, and there are millions more who were born with a condition that affects how their body and/or mind functions.

Sarah (my wife and our other co-founder) and I have gotten to know hundreds of individuals with disabilities and their family members over the years. Some of these people have had similar spinal cord injuries, but many, many, many others have different situations. We’ve learned that the lack of “accessible housing” is much more complicated than it may seem. Here’s why: the things that make a home accessible to me might not matter to someone else, even if that other person also has a disability.

Disability affects people in a lot of different ways. The more you learn about it, the more you realize that it’s nearly impossible to know everything about it. This is where the challenge lies with designing homes that are “universally accessible.” Is it possible to design something that provides usability for everyone?

We believe that it the answer is a resounding YES, but the only way to do this successfully is to bring designers together with people who understand the many different ways that disability can affect someone’s functional ability. Think of this like the health care industry. Why are there so many specializations?

I don’t go to our family physician expecting that he knows everything about quadriplegia. I have to go to a specialist, such as a physical medicine and rehab doctor. But I can’t go to any specialist. It wouldn’t be effective for me to see someone who specializes in cancer or mental health.

There’s a similar challenge with housing. If the goal is to design homes that are truly usable by anyone, there’s a very high level of knowledge required to do so, which is more than should be expected of a sole designer. Collaboration has to be part of the process.

Here at The Universal Design Project, we’re trying to tackle this challenge by bringing design professionals (e.g., residential architects, interior designers) together with health professionals (e.g. occupational therapists, rehabilitation engineers, environmental gerontologists) and a volunteer advisory group of individuals who have life experience with disability. We believe that if we can build the right team and facilitate collaboration between all of these people, no functional need will be overlooked. Our advisory group is our key to our success, as none of our design work can be finalized without their review.

As mentioned early in this letter, our goal is to empower home builders throughout America to easily and successfully build new homes that work for anyone. Imagine this for your community: there’s at least one home builder to go to who has access to our design work and can easily build homes (or an entire development of homes) that are, without question, universally accessible. Now imagine a network of home builders across America who are equipped to build highly functional homes anywhere.

Our aim is to create systemic change in America’s housing market. This requires us to focus on designing housing options that can be replicated by home builders on a national scale. We don’t provide direct services to individuals affected by disability, though that’s who will benefit the most from our work.

Right now, our biggest hurdle is raising the money to hire a team of design professionals and health professionals. We’re doing what we can right now on a tiny budget, but in order to do this right, we need over $1MM per year. That may sound like a lot (it is), but every little bit of support will help us get closer to that point! Our friends and family who are helping around $20/month are keeping us moving forward.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me personally.

Thanks and have a great day!

Scott Pruett's Signature

Scott Pruett
scott@universaldesign.org
(540) 908-3473

Why are we a nonprofit?

Because the design collaboration talked about in this letter is costly and addresses a systemic problem that isn’t yet driven by mainstream market demand. Public support is what will make this work.

We are a 501(c)(3); our EIN is 81-1119582.