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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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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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Medellin: A New Approach to Access and Inclusion

Written by Camilo Vasquez, Accessibility Specialist

A view of the comunas in Medellin, Colombia

There are cities around the world with the potential to conjure up negative images the moment you mention the name. My hometown of Medellin, Colombia is certainly one of those cities. It is no secret that Medellin is synonymous with Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug lord who paralyzed Colombia with constant violence and chaos over two decades ago. In 1988, TIME magazine named it the most dangerous city in the world. By 1991, it became the murder capital of the world. Yet in 2013, Medellin was announced the “Innovative City of the Year” by USA’s Urban Land Institute. How did Medellin go from a haven of narco-terrorism to becoming a hub of innovation? This transformation has been attributed to the use of urban infrastructure as a tool for inclusion, which was very apparent during my recent trip.

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Accessible Products of the Future…are Here!

Written by Victoria Lanteigne, Senior Accessibility Consultant

The GR-5: Winning Prototype from Marymount University’s 2017 Strong by Design-athon.

Every April during National Fair Housing Month, those of us on SWA’s Accessibility Team like to partake in activities that remind us why accessible design is so important – both in housing and otherwise. This year, I had the exciting opportunity to be part of a guest jury for a design competition with Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. The fourth annual Strong by Design-athon is a project exhibition that aims to raise awareness about the needs of veterans with disabilities and inspire the design, technology, and healthcare communities to embrace Universal Design.
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