Universal Design and Determination

18 Jul 2019 1:58 PM | Lora Bigcraft (Administrator)

Back in April 2019, the Disability Advocates of Kent CountyIleana wears a white tee shirt, red pants and heels sits in her wheelchair on the stage at 2012 Ted Talks hosted their inaugural launch into Absolutely Accessible Kent.  An initiative to bring together the disability community with those involved in building design.  Resulting in a room filled with Architects, Designers, and Builders gathered listening to a glass ceiling shattering, world renowned Architect, Ileana Rodriquez.  Ms. Rodriquez has already earned global recognition utilizing Universal Design in her projects.  Ms. Rodriquez is so sought after, the country of Kazakhstan specifically contracted her to design their first fully accessible building.  She has done consulting in countries such as Japan, Germany, and Peru to name a few.  If that wasn’t impressive enough for you, how about throwing in that she is in a historically White Male profession as a Cuban born female that due to an Arteriovenous Malformation in her spinal cord at age 13, she can longer walk and uses a wheelchair for mobility.  After relocating with her family as a teenager to South Florida for better medical opportunities, Ileana joined her high school swim team and continued her education going on to graduate from Florida International University with a Bachelors and Masters in Architecture.  Still not enough for you?  Ileana set a U.S. record in the 200 Breaststroke and is also a former Paralympic Swimmer, representing the United States at London in 2012. 

All of these global accomplishments and accolades and she hasn’t turned 35 yet. 

With a high caliber of information and experience in Universal Design, but limited time, some of the key takeaways I have are as follows:

  • 1.   Education is important all around.
  • 2.   Who has a seat at the table?  Missing input?
  • 3.   Design. Plan. Design.
  • 4.   Not if, but when this happens.

Education cannot be stressed enough.  As a society we can help each other.  Architects and builders have their technical backgrounds, but they may not know what is best for people with disabilities within their buildings.  It is important we do our part to share information on what is needed and beneficial for full inclusion and access.

When discussing a new project, where are you getting input?  Who is giving the input?  Who is your target?  Heard from them?  Who is not at the table?  Should they be?  Has this been done elsewhere?  If so, what did they encounter and would they do anything differently?  These questions need to be asked, and more than once.  Re-evaluate to check if the answers change.  If not, what changed?

Beginning design matters the most.  If designed poorly or the information is not clearly followed correctly there is a greater chance of coming back having to re-do.  Taking more time, money, while upsetting both workers and customers.  Plan accordingly by talking with all parties to be involved.  Design the project around these factors.  Design to help all people instead of just a few (ramp to be accessible aside from main entry)

Lastly, don’t think “If ….happens I will get…” think “When….happens I will have…”.  It just makes sense to think long term.  If you think of what you will need in the future and what accommodates those needs, design/plan and make it now.  When the need arises, accommodations aren’t needed.  They are built in because of the knowledge you used, and in the end it just makes sense.  Make changes for the long term benefits and uses by all people.  #Awareness



disAbility Connections, Inc.      409 Linden Ave.  Jackson, MI   49203      Phone:  (517) 782-6054      Fax:  (517)  782-3118

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