People generally recognize the importance of better design in our communities when accessibility enters the conversation. Individuals of any age and ability should have an opportunity to live their life to the fullest without environmental or attitudinal barriers that are common today. The “need” isn’t abstract by any means, especially in housing.
- There is an increasing need for homes to be modified for safety and usability. Our current housing stock was not built for those with “less than perfect” abilities, and there is hesitancy from consumers in making changes due to financial concerns and/or a sense of denial.
- Newer housing isn’t being made with important universal design features. This creates more homes that need to be retrofitted in the future “if” (when) needs arise, and at that point, it’s often a time of crisis.
The challenge of helping people embrace universal design is not unique to us, thankfully. I’ve connected with lots of other professionals across the country who understand the need, but are also struggling to move universal design into the mainstream. Why?
- There is confusion about the differences between designing for accessibility (specific needs) and designing with universal design principles (for a wide range of people), and that anything “functional” or “accessible” is going to look “medical.”
- It’s rare to see health and human service professionals who truly understand functional needs integrated into typical building/design processes, which makes a direct impact on the functionality of the final product. We still believe that interprofessional collaboration is needed to “get it right.”
All that said, we’ve decided to move into the nonprofit sector because it opens up other opportunities (specifically related to funding) for us to make an impact without having to depend on inconsistent consulting income. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easier, just different.
We’re constantly learning.