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what is universal design?

I’ve been emailing a bunch with Aimi Hamraie, soon to finish her Ph.D. at Emory University. Aimi’s researching universal design and disability politics in the built environment, among other things. We have a lot to talk about, and I’m hoping to post a long exchange between us here. It was Aimi’s research that pointed me to one particularly striking example of new construction with elegant, considered, universal design: The Blusson Spinal Cord Centre in Vancouver, home to a large interdisciplinary research group called the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD).

Blusson Spinal Cord Centre

The building houses a continuous 200 meter ramp with a 5% incline. Every 5 meters is a level “landing” built in. You can see how dynamically this structure was achieved; the architects wanted to obviate the need for the International Symbol of Access. (You all know how I feel about that particular icon…)

Blusson Spinal Cord Centre

Spinal Chord Gala at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre, November 5th, 2011

Blusson Spinal Cord Centre Opening

Spinal Chord Gala at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre, November 5th, 2011

I’m thinking about ramps quite a lot these days, especially since writing about the subtleties of transportation access in Curitiba, Brazil. I’ll be launching a big networked architecture project in the coming weeks. I’ll want your feedback. More to come (here and elsewhere).

photo credits, linked to Flickr: petetaylor, rickhansenfoundation, Vancouver Coastal Health. Thumnbail image via.

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4 thoughts on “what is universal design?

  1. Hi Sara,
    I note that the person using the wheelchair in the picture of the party will have a difficult time engaging all those people standing at fashionably high tables. Being able to get there is nice, being at butt level is not so appealing. There is something counterintuitive about designing an expensive building so you can invite people and be rude to them.
    Gus Reed

    • You know, Gus, I couldn’t find photos available of *any* users of wheelchairs in the space! This is partly because of rights issues, but partly just weird. I know there are chair users there every day, but I couldn’t find documentation. (More by email.)

      • Part of the reason is that this building is a hospital and research center. One has to get permission and check in to enter. When I visited for research, there was a typical amount of hospital traffic. Most people took the most efficient route to the upper floors, however, using the elevators (which are themselves technologically interesting, with enlarged buttons one can roll into or kick, auditory announcements, and other features).

  2. I visit this building frequently and there are wheelchair users but the foyer (in the photos) is exactly that — a foyer. Most people proceed to elevators to the other floors. One of the floors is for research studies and I find that’s where many of the wheelchair users end up going.

    I also heard that there will soon be some sort of adaptive fitness room in this building, on the first floor. It’s not open yet but from what I heard, it’s being tested out right now by wheelchair users who work or volunteer in the building.

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