This week was of particular interest to me since I would potentially like to work for housing/campus planning in the future. I started with “Applications of Universal Design to Higher Education Facilities,” by Goldstein. While I at first very excited by reading this excerpt, I quickly became a little disgruntled. As frequently happens, life outside of the classroom and the building it is in were neglected. I was really hoping to read about the Residence Hall environment and what to do to make it accessible. While I have been coming up with ideas regarding this on my own, I am still waiting to see the place that students spend the most time completely neglected (Mind you, some students with disabilities are prevented from living in University housing altogether because of the lack of accessibility of living spaces on-campus). I think that the hall presents many additional things that need to be considered for accessibility. For instance, in relation to the adjustable height furniture discussed in the classroom, beds in the halls should have adjustable heights and staff during opening to assist students in changing the height. Another thing would be to have an adjustable desks and less built-in furniture, to allow flexibility in room layout. I could continue with more ideas I had, but I would exhaust myself (and probably those reading this as well).

The second reading I did was “Oppression, Disability and Access in the Built Environment,” by Rob Imrie. I found his argument to be interesting, but I didn’t exactly feel that I was in agreement. From the beginning, Imrie puts the “blame” on the architect for building buildings to serve one purpose. I found this argument to be leaky for a couple of reason. First, the company/person who hires the architect tells the architect the purpose of the building. They decide how it is going to be used, and then the architect builds to their specifications for use. While I think it would be great for the architect to recommend ideas for usability, it is ultimately decisions left to the person paying for the space to be built who have the decision. I relate a recent experience I had regarding such a decision. I was in a meeting where there was discussion over how new showers were to be built in a residence hall. The question arose as to whether there should be adjustable shower heads (that adjust to different heights) in the new showers. The architects for the project were happy to have adjustable shower heads, as long as that was what the client was looking for. Ultimately, the client decided they wanted to go with a stationary shower head, except for in the “accessible” bathrooms. Because the purchaser of the renovation didn’t feel the shower head height in the other bathrooms was important, the architect went with their preference. (This is not an attempt to say the architect is blameless in these types of situations, as they could advocate harder for using them, but it is ultimately up to the purchaser.)

So, if we want to make sure that accessibility is at the forefront of buildings, we should look to change policies that allow for “separate but equal model” as opposed to a more Universally Designed model. When I say this, I, of course, reference the separate facilities for blacks during the beginning of the twentieth century, but isn’t that what we have now for people with disabilities? There has to be an accessible bathroom in newly built buildings, but it doesn’t mean that it is with the other bathrooms or in a place that is easily accessible. There has to be an accessible entrance, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be in the back of the building when there is an inaccessible entrance prominently in the front. These are separate facilities that both provide access to the building, but do result in treating some as being “out of the norm”… separate, but “equal.” So, if we looked to reform policies about new buildings, lets make it so that accessibility is required for all spaces, not just some of the facilities. If they are building bathrooms, build all of the stalls to be wheelchair accessible (I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like the extra space.). Rather than blaming people along the design process for not being inclusive, let’s create policies that require it.

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