Designing for All: What the Cooper Hewitt’s Access+Ability Exhibition can teach us about Accessible Design

SWA’s Accessibility Consulting Team at the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s Access+Ability Exhibition

SWA’s Accessibility Consulting Team recently had the opportunity to tour the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s Access+Ability exhibition, where the theme of inclusive and accessible design is displayed and celebrated. The exhibit narrates a history of design with disabilities in mind, focusing on the “surge of design with and by people with a wide range of physical, cognitive, and sensory abilities.” As we moved through the exhibit, I found it fascinating to see how products or designs that were initially intended to address a need brought on by a disability (like email or text messaging) have now been adapted into everyday modern conveniences. It’s interesting to bring this idea back to our work as accessibility consultants – often, if designers are willing to incorporate inclusive or universal design principles, it is possible for accessible features to blend seamlessly into the overall design intent, providing an environment that can be easily and equally used by everyone, with or without a disability.

Here are some thoughts on the exhibition from other members of our Accessibility Consulting Team…

 

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Access+Ability: An Evening at the Cooper Hewitt Museum

Students used props to simulate sensory and mobility disabilities.

As part of Cooper Hewitt Lab | Access Design Teen Program and the museum’s ongoing ‘Access+Ability’ exhibition (on view through September 3, 2018), the Design for Aging Committee of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), New York Chapter, was invited to facilitate a workshop with high school students to explore challenges experienced by seniors and people with disabilities. As an Accessibility Consultant here at Steven Winter Associates, Inc. and a member of the committee, I had the opportunity to attend the event.

Students at the hands-on workshop were challenged to develop design solutions to address the needs of a hypothetical group of older adults attending a lecture on the 3rd floor of the Cooper Hewitt Museum. Included among the hypothetical attendees were people with visual, hearing, and motor disabilities and those with limited knowledge of the English language.

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HomeFree – A Healthy Material Resource for Affordable Housing Leaders

Healthy Building Materials as Contributors to Overall Human Health

Healthy Building Contributes to Human Health

What do you think of when you hear the term “healthy living?” A balanced diet? Physical activity? What about healthy building materials? The concept of healthy living can — and should — be extended to include anything that can affect people’s health either directly or indirectly. With this in mind, the impacts of building materials on occupants’ health is a growing concern of building industry professionals because exposure to unhealthy chemicals used in building materials can trigger serious health hazards.

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Shifting Perspectives: Experiencing Accessibility Challenges

Katie negotiating a curb ramp and crosswalk with the aid of a cane while wearing vision-altering goggles.

Written by Katie Chevalier, Accessibility Specialist

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a training session entitled “Shifting Your Perspective: Experience and Plan for Accessibility Challenges,” which was hosted by the Dutchess County Planning Federation. The course syllabus was broken down into two components: experiential and site planning. The goal of the experiential portion of the course was to provide attendees with a variety of simulated sensory and ambulatory challenges and have them navigate the built environment. While the course was primarily geared toward local municipal planning boards, there were valuable lessons to take with me, both in my role as an Accessibility Specialist and as a county resident interested in learning first-hand the challenges that people with disabilities face every day.

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Tech Notes: Universal Design v. Accessible Design

“Isn’t Universal Design just a different term for Accessible Design?” We hear this from architects and designers a lot. While similarities exist, Accessible Design and Universal Design are actually quite different.

outlets, switches, env controls

This image depicts the prescriptive Accessible Design requirements for light switches and operable parts under the Fair Housing Act. Unlike Universal Design, Accessible Design is not intended to be flexible, with little or no room for tolerance.

The term “Accessible Design” typically refers to compliance with Federal accessibility laws and state and local building codes; including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, among others. Accessible Design requirements are based on anthropometric research – or the study of the human body – and are intended to address people with disabilities. Laws and codes that require compliance with Accessible Design requirements include little or no room for tolerance.

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