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Designing for Everyone and Designing for Someone

by Hazel Ryerson, CAPS | Job Caption/Project Designer

One of the challenges I’ve run into at the KMA Design Studio is how to balance the regulatory accessibility requirements for multifamily housing with the needs of an individual resident. Sometimes it works out that we get to meet a resident before designing their unit renovation, and sometimes we don’t.

Mission Park in Boston is a great example of this challenge. In 2015, Josh Safdie AIA, designed the renovations for the accessible units at Mission Park.  This spring we received a call to come back and help them figure out how to make one of the accessible units actually work for the resident who planned to move in.  The unit was recently renovated, with a new accessible bathroom, a new accessible kitchen and new 42” pocket doors.

I looked over Josh’s plans before going to Mission Park to meet the future resident, Ms. Levine. In terms of space allocation and minimum dimensions, this unit exceeded the requirements in many places.

side-by-side unit floor plans

The unit on the left is the existing unit pre-renovation. The unit on the right is the renovated unit.

When I met with Ms. Levine on site it became clear that many of the features in the apartment did not work for her, despite meeting the accessibility requirements.  First off, Ms. Levine uses a scooter, not a wheelchair.  Her scooter has a much larger turning radius than the required 5’ turning radius. This meant that Ms. Levine could not turn around in her kitchen, and making the turn from the hall into either the bedroom or bathroom was extremely difficult.  In addition, Ms. Levine primarily uses her left arm, and because of the length of the scooter, she needs to make a side approach rather than a front approach to her appliances.

young white woman dressed in red sitting on her scooter with dimensions overlaid on the image

We came up with four modifications to the apartment to meet Ms. Levine’s specific needs. We rotated the controls for both the kitchen and bathroom sinks so that Ms. Levine could reach them with her left hand.  We increased the opening size of the pocket doors by retrofitting the doors to be fully recessed into the pockets so that Ms. Levine would be able to make the turn from the hallway into the bathroom and bedroom. We installed additional grab-bars around the tub and toilet in locations requested by Ms. Levine during a discussion about her daily routines.  The updates that we made to Ms. Levine’s unit fell into the category of “reasonable modifications,” and the building management company was more than willing to make the changes.

Ms. Levine’s kitchen sink after renovation

Ms. Levine’s kitchen sink after reasonable modification

Ms. Levine’s bathroom sink after renovation

Ms. Levine’s bathroom sink after reasonable modification

Ms. Levine’s tub after renovation

Ms. Levine’s tub after reasonable modification

The truth is, if Ms. Levine moves out, these changes will likely be reversed as it is unlikely that another person with similar needs will be the next person to move in. For me, this renovation of a renovation brought home the point that there really is no single “accessible user” who will move into an accessible unit.  To make accessible units work for their actual users, we need to design for modification. We need to make accessible units as flexible and easily modified as possible.


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Accessible Starbucks’ Brewer

KMA Senior Access Planner, Lisa Pilorz, recently spotted the new Starbucks’ Serenade Single-Cup Brewer during one of her multifamily accessibility construction audits.

ISA icon on Starbucks Single-cup server kiosk

Single-cup brewers are often included in lounges and common use kitchens and are frequently cited because the controls are not within an accessible reach range.   The new Serenade Single-Cup Server has an International Symbol of Accessibility icon within the accessible reach range, that when pushed allows a user to scroll through the menu using a forward and back arrow.

We hope to see more of these and similar accessible dispensers in our audits.

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To Russia, with Love

by Josh Safdie | Principal

The sixth Paralympic Games, held in the Netherlands in June of 1980, were originally intended by the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees to be held concurrently with the 1980 Summer Olympic Games in the Moscow.  The Soviet organizing committee, however, declined to host the Games, with one official infamously explaining, “There are no invalids in the U.S.S.R.”   Fast forward 34 years to the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, and we can follow the slow and difficult arc of social inclusion for people with disabilities in Russia.

The progress, or lack thereof, in this arena in the US and Russia since the end of the Cold War offers a study in marked contrasts – and nowhere is this truer than in the accessibility of the built environment.  The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1991 set in motion 25+ years of progress here in the US, while today the Moscow subway system remains entirely inaccessible and the “SNIP” (a federal technical standard with accessibility requirements parallel to those found in the ADA) was enacted only in 2003.

I have had the good fortune to travel to Moscow on several occasions over the past four years to run educational programs for architecture students, developed in collaboration with the Russian NGO Perspektiva.  These programs bring together young designers and people with disabilities, or “user/experts,” from around the country for anywhere from three to seven days.  The students learn first-hand from the user/experts what daily life in the city is like for them, walking together through the streets and squares and discussing their experiences in real time.

Then, through a speculative process of design, they envision a future Moscow that is accessible to people of all ages and abilities. The students and user/experts work together to turn the barriers of the city into the seeds of innovation, articulating a shared vision of inclusion through vivid illustrations of a Moscow that could be.  By way of this work, they come to understand how cultural, political, and physical barriers can stand as an impediment to social progress – and how we as architects must approach our own work in order to break down these barriers.

Teaching and working in foreign settings has always been compelling to me.  I believe that somehow the mild discomfort of not being able to speak a language, or even read a train schedule, opens one up to unexpected discoveries.   For my students in Moscow, I think something similar may be true when working with a foreign instructor.

As a child of the 1980s, I was taught that the Russian people were hard, closed-minded, and authoritarian, with little interest in equality or justice.  The young people with whom I have worked in Moscow, however, have proven to be just the opposite.  This post-Soviet generation has received me with open minds and open hearts, and they have embraced the content of my teaching in the same way.  Despite the physical and attitudinal barriers that are still so pervasive in their country, these students seem truly to relish in the opportunity to learn and implement principles of inclusive and Universal design as they apply to the built environment.  As long as their enthusiasm continues, I hope to keep returning to Russia, with love.

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Accessibility in Haiti (\ak.sɛ\)

by Stéphane Pierre Louis | Intern Architect/Access Planner

What is accessibility in Haiti?

The Haitian people are known as a resilient people, primarily because a lack of resources forces people to find ways to deal with what is, or should I say what isn’t…  Being a developing third world country, the vast majority of people are born in harsh situations which may cause short or long term physical disabilities they aren’t able to properly care for.

Handicap International was established in Haiti in 2008, working mainly in orphanages, but accessibility remained a foreign term in Haiti for a very long time.  After the earthquake of January 2010, Haiti was dealing with an increased number of the population who, 1) had lost their vision due to ocular trauma from being trapped under the rubble/in dust for days; or 2) had lost limbs and/or the physical capabilities they once had.  Integrating accessibility in new designs in Haiti became a pressing issue.

At the time, and until recently, the Secretary of State for the for the Integration of People with Disabilities was Gerald Oriol, Jr., a quadriplegic from the higher economic class in Haiti. Oriol was in a unique position to have his voice heard by the local authorities and consequently be the voice of a historically stigmatized group.  Under the direction of the Secretary of State, new construction, renovations, and consulting emerged that focused on accessibility.  On March 13th, 2012, the Haitian Senate, accompanied by different international organizations, voted into effect the first law in favor of people with disabilities. Enacting this law was the first step toward new projects, groups, and efforts, all directed towards creating an inclusive society not only in design but also in social activities.

On December 3rd, 2012, Haiti celebrated its first official “International Day of People with Disabilities”: it consisted of a sale-exposition of artifacts made by disabled people, a solidarity walk of about 15 miles, a soccer game in collaboration with the Haitian Association of Amputee Soccer, and various other activities involving people with disabilities.  Highlighting disabled citizens’ talents and their abilities to engage in physical activities not only shone a light on the large number of people with disabilities living in Haiti but also gave them a platform in a society that simply did not know how to deal with their disabilities.

On last year’s “International Day of People with Disabilities”, I saw multiple friends showcase beautiful pieces of clothing on Instagram created by a disabled woman, with the hashtag #InternationalDayforPeopleWithDisabilities.  It warmed my heart to see this had become a trend in Haiti; not the “hashtagging” movement but supporting and showcasing people with disabilities.

As a young professional evolving in a firm that specializes in accessibility and universal design, it makes me want to share all of what I’m learning with my homeland, and join forces with the people who have begun the movement in Haiti.  I look forward to seeing KMA involved in access consulting in projects in Haiti and finding ways to invite KMA as guest speakers into the design colleges for workshops and/or conferences.  I believe it would be efficient to start at the educational level: instructing architecture/design students the importance of, and how to integrate, accessible/universal design into their projects.  In this manner it becomes habit to make a facility accessible; it isn’t just what is left to do in a project if there is extra budget.

Links of Interest:

Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of People with Disabilities (BSEIPH)

Coverage of the Haitian National Amputee Soccer team


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Creating Lively Spaces

by Hazel Ryerson, CAPS | Job Caption/Project Designer

I’ve been a fan of Lawrence Halprin since coming across, “Cities” in grad school. “Cities”, written in 1969, is a catalogue of the basic elements of a successful city. Each element, for example, “moving water,” is accompanied by multiple photos of fountains and water features with short captions describing the positive impact they have on the city. The book serves as an inspirational manual for creating lively city spaces.

Halprin's Freeway Park stretching over the highway in SeattleI finally came across a Lawrence Halprin design in person for the first time in Seattle. Josh Safdie and I were in Seattle teaching the last of nine Aging-in-Place Charrettes with Enterprise. The day before the charrette I took a rainy walk in downtown Seattle and bumped right into Freeway Park which I immediately recognized for its brutalist concrete geometry.  Even though I had seen photos of the park before, it was not until I walked through the entire park from end to end did I realize that “Freeway Park” is an accurately named highway overpass.  It connects the downtown financial district of Seattle with First Hill across the I-5 Expressway. But it feels like a park, with joggers, dog walkers and the mossy green vegetation that is all over Seattle.

The charrette the next day went well, it was the final charrette and Josh and I really knew our material. We had already facilitated three charrettes in Boston, as well as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, and New Orleans.  These charrettes are full day events where designers, building managers, community development corporations, service providers, residents and policy makers (to name just a few) get together and hash out their agreed upon priorities for making a particular building meet the needs of an aging population.

Enterprise developed a took kit for these charrettes that includes design guidelines, checklists and recommendations. The nine charrettes that KMA facilitated were Enterprise’s way to pilot these new tools.

At the charrettes we discuss everything from where to locate light switches to strategies for encouraging residents to add a little more exercise to their day. Taking care to get these details right matters, it helps people “age-in-place” or live independently and comfortably for longer. These are the elements of the physical environment that we have the opportunity to get right.

Green space in Halprin's Freeway Park. Every charrette is different, and every city provides a different perspective, but one theme that came up again and again was the challenge of how to help aging residents stay connected to a larger community. This is not something that can be solved with a checklist, it is more than the sum of multiple good design decisions. The logistics of aging, grocery delivery, good light in the kitchen, and visits with an onsite nurse, are all much needed and necessary, but community is the holy grail.

Freeway Park is an example of going beyond the elements of a logical solution to create something new and valuable. Instead of simply getting people from one side of the highway to the other while they grit their teeth, Freeway Park creates an altogether new destination and connects the two places. This is what I want for myself as I get older: my baseline expectation is an apartment where I can independently use the bathroom, cook my meals and entertain my friends and family, but what I really want is to live an engaged, purposeful life as a member of my community.

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Micro-units and Accessibility

by Kathryn Denis | Access Planner

I recently took part in a panel discussion at the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) on micro-units and accessibility.  Along with Bill Henning, executive director, Boston Center for Independent Living, Dianna Hu, software engineer at Google, and Michael Muehe, executive director/ADA coordinator, Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities; I facilitated the night’s discussion on accessibility in this ‘tiny’ trend.

I began the discussion by looking at micro-units through a regulatory lens.  In Massachusetts, most privately funded multifamily housing projects are required to comply with 521 CMR, Massachusetts’ accessibility code, and the design and construction requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  I reviewed two sample micro-units modeled in the BSA One Room Mansion exhibit; the uhü and the 1-BDR micro-unit.  The uhü, short for urban housing unit, is a 385 SQFT prefabricated travelling unit developed by the Mayor’s Housing Innovation Lab and the BSA.  The One Room Mansion 1-BDR micro-unit is a diagrammatic simulation of a micro-unit that exists in the BSA Space.

full scale diagrams of turning space in micro unitOverall, the units appeared to be meet the FHA and 521 CMR Group 1 requirements.  The units even appeared to meet many of the more stringent 521 CMR Group 2A requirements, with a few issues residing in the bathroom/ kitchen layouts. For example, the uhü bathroom lacked the required clearance at the toilet, which is a common issue.   To make this analysis more engaging, KMA printed full-scale diagrams to place in the 1-BDR micro-unit exhibit.  The full scale clear floor space diagrams were printed in green, for compliance, and red, for non-compliance.  Seeing the requirements in scale helped people to visualize the design changes that needed to be addressed.

This analysis led to a broader discussion regarding the need for accessible housing in Boston.  Dianna and Michael, both chair users, shared personal stories about the difficulties of finding accessible housing. Their stories brought some valuable perspective on the many challenges disabled people face when searching for a place to live.  The housing stock in Boston is expensive, old, and often lacks vertical access.  Both Dianna and Michael ended up renovating spaces because they could not find units that met their needs.  Bill Henning brought up some great points about how cities, which seem to put a lot of focus on affordable housing, need to bring attention to the lack of accessible housing as well.  He emphasized the difficulties people with disabilities and people with low income face when trying to find housing.

Personally, I was a surprised with how accessible the micro-units were.  Typically, when people think about accessible units they think large and open spaces, not micro-units. However, having gone through the regulatory requirements, it’s clear creating an accessible micro-unit is very possible.  With a little extra thought and some careful design, perhaps micro-units could help alleviate the need for affordable and accessible housing in the Boston area.

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Bar Seating Follow-up

KMA determined it was appropriate to clarify our recent Access Alert on accessible seating at bar counters.  Ms Paarlberg’s article provides an interpretation of the requirements for accessible seating under A117.1-2009 – referenced by an increasing number of local building codes.  As with the adoption of any model code, local amendments and interpretations by local building officials should be reviewed for your specific project.

For places of public accommodation, the 1991 ADA Standards allowed the provision of accessible table seating in lieu of accessible bar seating as a form of “equivalent facilitation.”  In the 2010 ADA Standards, specific examples of equivalent facilitation were eliminated.  The relevant requirements in the 2010 ADA Standards are found in 226.1 & 2:

226.1 General.  Where dining surfaces are provided for the consumption of food or drink, at least 5 percent of the seating spaces and standing spaces at the dining surfaces shall comply with 902.  In addition, where work surfaces are provided for use by other than employees, at least 5 percent shall comply with 902.

226.2 Dispersion.  Dining surfaces and work surfaces required to comply with 902 shall be dispersed throughout the space or facility containing dining surfaces and work surfaces.

226.1 states “at least 5% of the seating spaces and standing spaces” implying that accessible spaces can be distributed amongst the seating and standing spaces as a whole.   However the ADA, law and implementing regulations, contain a broad prohibition against discrimination including the requirement that accessibility services and elements be integrated.  Careful consideration of operations and policies, as well as architectural elements, is necessary to determine whether accessible seating locations at bar counters are required in any given project.   This multifaceted analysis must also be applied for common use areas in projects covered by the FHA.

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Accessible Bar Seating Requirements

KMA recently clarified the accessibility requirements for dining counters (bar-type).  Accessible seating locations at bars are not required if other accessible seating is provided within the same area.

Kimberly Paarlberg, who is Codes and Standards Senior Staff Architect for the ICC, provides clear guidance on the requirements of Section 1108.2.9.1 of IBC in an article, “Are Wheelchair Spaces Required at Bars,” in Building Safety Journal Online. If the bar-type seating is part of the general dining area, or if other accessible seating is provided within the bar area, then the bar itself does not have to provide accessible seating.   KMA confirmed with the US Access Board and Fair Housing FIRST that their interpretations align with the ICC’s.

Please contact Kathryn Denis if you have any questions.

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McGuinness Retires!

katie-mKatherine (Katie) McGuinness tells KMA that, after 33 years together, it is time for her to retire. Katie started KMA in 1983, and David Kessler joined her five years later. Together they have built a new kind of consulting firm – one that specializes in accessibility planning and universal design. Early contracts included programing of the first corporate intergenerational care center for children and seniors at the Stride Rite Corporation in Cambridge, and accessible design support for several MBTA projects. Over the years the firm has grown to 10 people – all of whom are focused on the very specialized field of planning and design for people of all ages and abilities. David Kessler leads the Fair Housing work with multi-family developers across the country. Lisa Pilorz works closely with him reviewing plans and visiting construction sites all over the country. Luis Loya leads accessibility planning work at hospitals and universities, and volunteers as a Member of the Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities. Katie Denis, our newest Access Planner, is doing pro bono work with Habitat for Humanity to develop universal design standards for their homes, when she isn’t improving ADA and FHA compliance on projects nationwide. With a strong bench of access planners and universal designers, Josh Safdie, KMA’s newest Principal, is building our architectural practice with a focus on universal design and aging in place. He is leading Aging-In-Place Charrettes for Enterprise Green Communities nationally, and providing universal design support on the Massachusetts State House Senate chambers and other projects with a strong design focus. It is with great pride that Katie moves on – or as she says, ‘regresses’ – to playing with fabrics, reading whole books, visiting friends down under, and simply sipping coffee that is not in a to-go cup.

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BIDMC Update

KMA began working with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) – Boston’s premiere hospitals and health care providers – shortly after it learned that it was not in full compliance with the ADA’s accessible facilities and equipment requirements. BIDMC took the removal of barriers very seriously, as it understands accessibility is a critical aspect of patient care. Working with BIDMC staff KMA helped to identify and remove architectural barriers – adding van accessible parking spaces, automatic door openers, grab bars in toilet rooms, and directional signage. In addition to making its facilities fully accessible, BIDMC installed accessible exam tables and scales for all of its departments and clinics as well as seven videophones for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing in main lobbies, the ER, and Labor and Delivery.
As work progressed, BIDMC became aware that providing accessible facilities and equipment was just the first step. With KMA’s support, it formed a Universal Access Advisory Council of staff, family, and patients with disabilities. The group included people with different types of disabilities, all of whom receive care at BIDMC. This group helped BIDMC understand the gaps in accessible service, leading to additional access improvements, including:

  • A process of identifying access accommodations a patient will need while making an appointment. In this way, the patient who needs an accessible exam table can be assigned to that room.
  • Use of the one question on the Press-Ganey questionnaire to collect data on patients’ experiences and make appropriate adjustments.
  • Development of a “Tool Box” on the BIDMC staff portal so that they can easily find resources for how to solve access-related issues.
  • Sharing patient advisors’ experiences – the good and the not-so-good – so that management can address problems and support exemplary services.
  • Development of resources and training for staff around specific issues such as how to be sure that a patient with dementia is safely escorted to and from appointments, or how to ensure that a wheelchair user is assigned an inpatient room that is accessible.

KMA is proud to be partnering with BIDMC as it carefully expands its remarkable work to provide people with disabilities the same quality care that others receive in their hospitals and clinics. Their process could be a model for hospitals – all of whom are learning new ways of providing health care for all.

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