Posts tagged with "Accessibility":

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House votes to roll back Americans with Disabilities Act protections

In a 225-192 vote yesterday, the House voted to pass a bill that would make it more difficult to sue for discriminating against the disabled. H.R. 620, or the ADA Education and Reform Act was supported overwhelmingly by Republicans and 12 Democrats. First introduced by Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) in 2017, H.R. 620 would require businesses that aren’t in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to be given written notice of their non-compliance, as well as six months to make improvements, before legal action could be sought against them. “This bill makes businesses comply,” said Poe, according to The Hill. “Puts them on notice. If they don’t comply within the time period, then file the lawsuit. Go after them. But businesses should be able to have the notice of what the problem is so that they can fix it, which is the goal of the ADA.” The bill was ostensibly written to cut off overly litigious law firms who were pursuing ADA lawsuits for cash without even visiting properties, but disability advocates warned that it would shift the burden of proof to the disabled. Businesses would have 60 days to respond to a written notice with an action plan, and another 120 days to implement the changes before being deemed culpable. The ADA was originally passed in 1990, and advocates have argued that 28 years is more than long enough for businesses to comply with the law. In an open letter signed by over 200 groups, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities describes the bill as a giveaway to business owners, saying: “The burden of protecting the right to access a public place is shifted to the person with the disability, who first has to be denied access; then must determine that violations of the law have occurred; then must provide the business with specific notice of which provisions of the law were violated and when; and finally, the aggrieved person with the disability must afford the business a lengthy period to correct the problem.” Disability advocates have been out in full force to oppose the bill’s passage, including a protest in the Capitol where ten activists were arrested on February 13. It’s unclear whether H.R. 620 will be able to pass through the deadlocked Senate.
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After a $21M renovation, a Bronx subway station still isn’t wheelchair accessible

The non-profit group Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) has filed a federal class action lawsuit against the MTA over a Bronx subway station that remains inaccessible to wheelchairs despite a major overhaul. According to DRA, the MTA’s failure to make the station wheelchair accessible is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects people from discrimination based on disability. The Middletown Road station in the Bronx was closed between October 2013 and May 2014 for improvements, which included replacing staircases and other parts of the structure. The costly renovation also included new ceilings, walls, and floors, but failed to add an elevator. The station lies in the middle of a four mile stretch—which contains ten stops on the 6 line—that are not wheelchair accessible. According to the DRA, New York City has one of the worst public transportation systems in the country for handicapped people, with only 19% of subway stations accessible to wheelchairs compared to 100% of stations in Washington, D.C. and the San Francisco Bay Area. While city busses are all wheelchair accessible, they're often a much slower and less efficient way to get around. According to DNAinfo, the MTA claims it was not in violation of the ADA because adding an elevator would have been impossible due to the physical constrains of the station. The DRA asserts that it could've been done. Minor accessibility improvements to the station were implemented, including new handrails and tactile signs. The suit, which was filed on behalf of Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS) and Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York (DIA), claims that an elevator would have been technically feasible. According to Anthony Trocchia, President of DIA, the suit is meant to call attention to the broader issue of wheelchair accessibility on the New York City subway system.
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This app makes it easier for people with disabilities to find accessible restaurants

Non-accessible spaces are a daily frustration for people who use wheelchairs. Like many city-dwelling seniors, Chong-Wey Lin's grandmother was once an outgoing patron of her neighborhood's restaurants but became hesitant to leave her house as her age climbed and her mobility decreased. Pained by his grandmother's increasing isolation, Lin harnessed his background in information and data sciences to approach accessibility at a systems level. He created OurCityLove Social Enterprise, an organization that produces a suite of apps for people to rate restaurants on food and accessibility in select Asian cities. Lin connected with disability rights activists in Taiwan to develop OurCityLove's content and user experience. The app primarily serves wheelchair users, as well as people with vision and hearing impairments, and operates under the rallying cry of marginalized people across social movements: "Nothing without us about us." A space may seem accessible to a person without disability, Lin explained, but reviews from users often describe a too-steep incline to the door, or cramped floorspace that makes getting to the tables impossible. To generate content for the app, 400 paid ambassadors with disabilities go to restaurants, bars, hotels, and public spaces to take photos of entires, door handles, the width and height of tables, restroom accommodations, and parking facilities. The pictures often feature the ambassadors themselves: Users can see, for example, if their electric chair will be able to squeeze through a narrow entryway, or if a parking space would be able to accommodate a specially-designed vehicle. OurCityLove has rated 4,000 restaurants so far. OurCityLove certifies accessible restaurants and has an in-app service that reads menus aloud for visually-impaired users. Founded in 2012, OurCityLove now operates in 12 Taiwanese cities, as well as Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. Lin is looking to bring the app to North America and Europe in the next few years. The information is helpful to restaurant owners and people without disabilities, especially as the number of mobility-impaired people in cities grows. "Oftentimes, restaurant workers don't know how to serve people with disabilities. They offer too much help, or not enough." OurCityLove helps to educate restauranteurs with initiatives like priority seating for customers with disabilities or temporarily limited mobility, similar to the near-the-door seats on public buses, Lin explained. "We invite restaurants to have priority seating. Of the approximately 3,000 accessible restaurants in Taiwan, about 2,100 now have priority seating." Lin pulled up OurCityLove on his phone. Users choose a category (restaurant, hotel, transportation) and whether they are looking, for example, to eat at a restaurant with wheelchair access and priority seating, or a restaurant near an accessible metro stop. (OurCityLove's Friendly Metro Taipei even keeps tabs on elevator maintenance, so users aren't inconvenienced by out-of-service lifts.) "The issue of accessibility is not limited to disability. Everyone gets old, or has kids with strollers, goes on crutches. Everyone will once or occasionally have limited mobility." While dismantling barriers to physical accessibility through universal design is a crucial long-term goal, it takes time and money to modify the built environment, especially in older districts. OurCityLove bridges the gap as infrastructure catches up.
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Frank Lloyd Wright’s only handicap-accessible home opens for public tours

Decades before the Americans With Disabilities Act, Frank Lloyd Wright designed an accessible home for a World War II veteran. Now Wright’s only home designed for a person with a disability will open to the public. Wright’s Kenneth & Phyllis Laurent House in Rockford, Illinois opens for tours on June 6, two days before what would have been its architect’s 147th birthday. When Phyllis Laurent in 1948 urged her husband, who used a wheelchair, to contact Wright about designing a home for him, the architect reportedly responded, “Dear Laurent: We are interested but don’t guarantee costs. Who knows what they are today - ?” The brick and cypress structure’s design is a celebrated example of Wright’s “Usonian” single-story homes. It features an overhang sheltering a carport and a “solar hemicycle” shape typical of the style. The State of Illinois bought the house in 2012 and added it to the National Register of Historic Places. Wright himself referred to it as a “little gem.” Several other Wright buildings have opened to the public lately, including the Emil Bach House in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, the SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine, Wisconsin, and the architect's home studio in Oak Park, Illinois.
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Michael Graves’ paralysis informs design for Omaha Rehabilitation Hospital

The architect of Omaha’s new rehabilitation hospital says his own paralysis has given him “greater empathy,” which has informed his designs for the healthcare industry. Local firm DLR Group and Texas-based engineering firm Page are working with Michael Graves, who lost the use of his legs in 2003 as the result of an infection, on the $93 million Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in west Omaha. Expected to be complete in 2016, the facility will use technology to afford sedentary patients greater control over the TV, thermostat, nurse call system, and other things in their room. Omaha’s World-Herald describes how Graves, 79, drew from personal experience while designing the 250,000-square-foot hospital:
Giving patients some control over their environment is important, said Graves and Patrick Burke, a principal in Graves' firm. Graves recalled one instance early in his rehab when he was being transferred from his bed to a chair using a motorized sling. “I was getting into the chair that day and I was up in the air, in a sitting position over my chair but not in it yet. The nurse's aide's friend came in and said, 'It's time for our break.' So they left me there dangling in the air and they went on a break. That's as low as it gets.”
The average stay at Madonna is more than 30 days, but residents tend to be more mobile than many hospital patients. That creates a need for active social spaces, Graves said, but also a pitfall: many architects want hospitals to resemble hotels. “Well, I don’t,” he told the Omaha World-Herald's Bob Glissmann. “I don't think it needs a big atrium and I don't think the rooms have to look like a hotel room. These are hospital rooms, and you want to have good care. What makes the difference is the empathy.”
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Michael Graves Appointed to Federal Post on Accessibility in the Built Environment

President Obama's second-term White House is still in transition, with Ray LaHood out and rumors of an NTSB replacement, Sally Jewell likely in as Secretary of Interior. Among the non-Cabinet-level appointments, the President appointed Michael Graves to a member of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, an agency "devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities." Graves, who uses a wheelchair after an illness-induced partial paralysis, has been a leader in promoting accessibility in architecture, recently designing prototype houses for wounded and disabled veterans. This month, Graves will also be launching a new line of more than 300 products at retailer J.C. Penney, including kitchen appliances, candlesticks, and a toaster shaped like a piece of toast. The Indianapolis-born architect will return to his hometown on March 28 to give a lecture at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and he recently spoke with the Indy Star about delivering papers for the publication as a child, architecture, and the new product line. An exhibition of Graves' work, From Towers to Teakettles, is also on display at the Virginia Center for Architecture through March 31.
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Benepe Walks the Ten-Minute Walk

Gone will be the miniature civic history lessons that punctuated ribbon-cutting speeches made by Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. With yesterday's announcement that the commissioner is moving on to the non-profit Trust for Public Land (TPL), the plaudits are pouring in. But as the Bloomberg Administration begins is slow-motion wind down, New Yorkers should be wary of comparisons to the "good" Robert Moses, builder of parks and playgrounds, despite the scale of public works undertaken under Bloomberg. But in terms of Parks, there is little doubt that Benepe's tenure was historic in scope. Now, one of the mayor's signature initiatives—that a park be within a ten minute walk from every home—is about to go national. But will what flies in NYC fly in Louisville? "If I’ve learned one or two things in this job it's that no one model will work for every situation," he said in a telephone interview yesterday. Last month, TPL launched ParkScore, a platform that rates park systems in America's 40 largest cities, with the "ten-minute test" as one of the major criteria in ranking the cities. While widely lauded for drawing attention to the need for accessible park space in cities, there has also been some grumbling about the survey's methods, or even its effectiveness in helping draw attention to the plight of urban parkland. D.C. blogger Richard Layman worried that DC's respectable 5th place position might take the pressure off leadership to make improvements. But Benepe said that the ParkScore is a good way of "spreading the news." The commissioner added that the city's data differed from that of the Trust's when it came to accessibility.  The Trust found that 94 percent of New Yorkers live within walking distance of a park, while the city's more conservative estimate places it at about 84 percent within the ten minute range. "It's a ten percent improvement and that has largely had to do with the Schoolyards to Playgrounds initiative," said Benepe. The initiative to turn moribund schoolyards into after school playgrounds was funded in part by the Trust ($200 million in land purchases and design). It's an initiative that might work elsewhere, "within limits," he said. Funding will, as always, prove to be the central challenge. "Most cities don’t have the density that New York has and most don’t have great wealth," he said, adding that while he believed that the Obama administration would do more if they could, the days of FDR-level federal support for parks dissipated in the seventies. Nevertheless, the public/private model widely touted in New York  may well become the national way of doing things. "New York didn't corner the market in creative wealth," he said .
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Taxi of the Day After Tomorrow?

John Liu, New York's City Controller, is set to reject the much hyped "taxi of tomorrow" because it is not 100% handicap accessible. In rejecting the new design Liu claims that it if adopted as the standard taxi for the city it would become "a symbol of exclusion by telling wheelchair users ‘find another ride.' That's not what New York City is about.” I guess Liu is not talking about the present taxi standard the ubiquitous Crown Victoria which has become an iconic symbol of the city for the past decade but is barely accessible by the public. The design for this taxi of tomorrow—the first purpose-built vehicle designed and engineered to serve as a New York people mover—is really the result of three pioneering initiatives from the Design Trust for Public Space: Designing the Taxi, Taxi 07 Exhibit, and Roads Forward. The Design Trust fought to have the design address a whole host of irritating design features of current Gotham taxis but Nissan Design America, the creator of the car, seems to have forgotten about styling and delivered the ugliest mini van imaginable. Lets hope if they do go back to the drawing board and provide an entirely ADA-compliant passenger vehicle they come back with something more stylish. A Turkish car company Karsan has proposed building—in Brooklyn—a wheelchair-accessible taxi that is far more stylish! Cars manufactured in Brooklyn sounds like a great idea!
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Michael Graves Designs Dignity for Wounded Veterans

In speaking to wounded veterans and their families, the Wounded Warrior Home Project found that soldiers returning home face a cumbersome and costly adaptation to their environment. A private-public partnership, including Michael Graves and Associates, global design firm IDEO, and Clark Realty Capital, has unveiled two universally-accessible prototype houses at Fort Belvoir in Virginia where every element is designed for ease of use. Sinks and stovetops are on motorized lifts, halls and doorways accommodate a wide turning radius for navigating wheelchairs, sliding doors open with a light touch. Architect Michael Graves, who was left paralyzed after an illness almost a decade ago, wanted the space to offer independence and dignity to returning soldiers. For example, the design team concluded through conversations with wounded veterans that the therapy room should be secluded from the rest of the living space to offer privacy and retreat; at the same time, the need for visibility inside and outside the house for security and to keep track of playing children necessitates wide windows and clear doors within the house. These homes are intended to be both starting points for future dialogue on accessibility and laboratories for continuing research as more accessible homes are built.