Charlie Downs's story helps us understand who to include in "design that's usable by all people."

And not just in Waynesboro, Virginia, but anywhere.

Charlie was diagnosed with polio in 1944 when he was only 6 years of age. Not only does he have the perspective of living with a disability for over 70 years, but he also brings prior work experience and knowledge in accessible design. He is a well-known advocate for accessibility and has served on multiple city boards in his community.

Charlie offers a unique perspective as he discusses his life living with a disability prior to the issue of access and the ADA even being addressed. He shares a wealth of information regarding the design of homes, the community, and general advice for living life more fully.

Location: Waynesboro, Virginia, United States


Watch the interview:

Notable quotes from the interview:

After 2 ½ years the doctor told my folks that, “well, he’s going to be an institutional case. He’s going to be a vegetable.” And my mom was a pretty stubborn lady. And so she said, “well, if he’s going to be a vegetable case, he’s going to be at home with his family.” So they took me out against medical advice.

Now, this sounds like I’m from the 1800’s, but my elementary school was actually a four room schoolhouse. We had two grades in each room. But, it did have an upstairs and my… the principal for that little school was so… I think of him, Mr. Card so often. He wanted to be… me to be included, you know. And so, when they would have an assembly program, my dad would have to come in, and take me upstairs you know. And they wanted me to to get involved with the sports; so I would you know, keep score during a ball game. So, you adapt yourself to whatever the situation calls for. So but, he was always encouraging to get me included. I’ve never felt excluded in things.

I’ve got a pretty independent spirit about myself.

I have traveled on five continents in my wheelchair. Including two South African safaris.

You know we loved to go to the beach. I would get up at 4:30 went, after my wife first wife died, I would get up 4:30 in the morning so that I could see the sun rise at Virginia Beach on the beach and then I would crawl into the ocean, you know, and crawl back and get in my wheelchair by myself, and do all sort of things. I love the water.

I enjoy volunteer work and everybody knows that. I do a lot of… plan trips for seniors and programs, educational programs for various church groups. Active in my own church; First Baptist Waynesboro.