Universal Design 3

ARCHITECT SEEKS ACCESSIBILITY FOR ALL

Dave Boeck has a deep and personal understanding of the needs of those requiring special accommodations.

Following four surgeries to address knee, back and rotator cuff injuries, Boeck had the “opportunity to discover” the many challenges facing those with mobility issues: at the time, he lived in a two-story house in which all the bedrooms and bathrooms were located on the second floor.

Those experiences helped propel Boeck, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Oklahoma, to expend increasing amounts of his time, energy and expertise in an effort to raise the community’s awareness of accessibility issues.

Recently, Boeck—who also continues his own architectural practice that focuses on aging-in-place designs—planned a duplex and a four-plex (now being built on Vicksburg Avenue in east Norman), in which accessibility features include stoves with the controls located in the front, lever handles on doors, push buttons for lights and night lighting. He also is working with a developer on a 20-unit complex on Triad Village Drive designed to accommodate those with special needs; among its special features are individual storm shelters.

As a member of the Norman Planning Commission, Boeck works with area builders to educate them about the importance of building homes with accessibility in mind, and he is often called upon to discuss this and related topics by various organizations.

Boeck recently was appointed by the mayor to serve on an Americans with Disabilities Act 12-person steering committee, which will begin work this year to develop a transition plan to help move the city beyond the original ADA guidelines established more than three decades ago.

Boeck explains that while the ADA originally addressed primarily issues of building access and wheelchair-accessible restrooms, the concept had broadened to “Universal Design,” a term that means “designing for all ages, sizes, abilities or disabilities so the building will support at the highest level the independence of the user/s.”

“The concept of Universal Design,” Boeck added, “expands the definition of accessibility beyond physical limitations, to address issues of wellbeing and independence, whether you’re talking about a 2-year-old or someone who’s 80, 2 lbs. or 300, blind or can’t hear, or is mentally or emotionally handicapped. How do we design buildings and communities that accommodate all those people?”

Boeck has approached all the major builders in the area about how they can adjust their stock house plans to make them more accessible.

Some of these changes are relatively inexpensive, such as replacing door knobs with levers, widening doors and eliminating steps. Other adaptations are more costly. For example, widening bathroom doors means a slight increase in a bathroom’s square footage.

“We’re trying to figure out how to not make the space a lot bigger, but still be accessible,” Boeck explains. “They (the builders) are kind of skeptical, as it’s all about profit margin. Adding square footage adds a couple of thousand to the cost of the house–who pays for that?”

He notes that the ADA steering committee’s charge goes beyond housing; they also will develop recommendations for improving disability access to public transportation; infrastructure changes ranging from park design to making sidewalks and street crossings more accessible; civic engagement and participation: supporting social personal connections and communications in neighborhood as well as the whole community.

As to the house that Boeck built?

“Our house is the poster child for accessible design and aging in place,” said Boeck, noting that it would have been too expensive to retrofit their former residence. “We’ve been in it almost four years now, and we love it. It has no stairs and no steps to the garage or front door. All of the doors are wide–3.0 feet–and the hallways are 4 feet instead of the standard 3. The floor materials are easy to maneuver in a wheelchair or walker. And to add more natural light, we made the ceilings 10 feet high with transom windows.”

Other recommendations to increase home accessibility include: using different colors on the floors and walls to provide better definition for those with low vision; creating spaces underneath stoves and sinks to accommodate wheelchairs; and replacing cabinets with pull-out drawers. In bathrooms, install comfort toilets (a bit higher than standard ones), zero-step showers and grab bars.

At some point, everyone requires special accommodations, whether it’s to remain in the home for a longer time or to navigate to and from the workplace and other places. It behooves all of us to ensure that our community is as accessible as possible.