accessible design

As a result of an automobile accident in 1999, Jessica is a C6/C7 quadriplegic.  Obviously, this impacts nearly every aspect of her life.  Thus, her home environment must be barrier-free.  The design quest is to eliminate all barriers to an accessible life and do so in a manner that renders the lack of barriers unnoticeable.  In other words, Jessica’s house must be appear and function like a “typical” home.

Some accessible design strategies are easily attained, i.e.: wider (36”) doors.  Some are subtle and detail-intensive, i.e.: foundation details to lower door sills and eliminate the typical “bump” at the door.  The kitchen presents many obstacles. Design solutions here include thoughtful selection and locations of appliances (i.e.: the wall oven is situated to allow Jessica to “park” in front with the open oven door providing protection from hot spillage when transferring from the oven to the nearby countertop, and vice versa) ; proper countertop heights to accommodate access, comfort and safety; kitchen layout that optimizes Jessica’s mobility (she has greater strength and dexterity with her right arm/hand); careful consideration of common kitchen activities (i.e.: pot-filler faucet at stove so Jessica can fill a pot on the stove); and, remote switching at exhaust hood fan and lights (Jessica can’t reach the controls mounted on the hood).

Much thought was devoted to site and building design relative to one-story vs. two-story building configuration.  The site (land use restrictions) could have accommodated a one-story building, but would have resulted in very little useable exterior area, an important program requirement for Jessica and Todd (and their big dogs!).  As a result, a two-story scheme was developed.  Second floor access is provided via a wheelchair lift (enclosed with a door at the ground floor – virtually no visual evidence of a lift in the house).

Another site-related design consideration is the garage and vehicle access.  Jessica recently purchased a new van that will allow her to drive again.  Much thought has been given to parking the van in the garage, loading/unloading, etc.  Jessica will back the van into the garage to allow the side-mounted sliding van door to open and deploy a ramp that will directly align with the entrance door into the house.  The garage floor is 4” lower than the house floor (code required minimum).  This helps to minimize the ramp angle into the van resulting in easier and safer entering/exiting the van in a wheelchair.

In summary, many of life’s details that able-bodied folks take for granted must be carefully considered for Jessica to live a more “normal” life.  A forthcoming post will present more examples of accessible design at 363HOUSE.

c'mon, tell us what you're a thinkin'!