Do you know what architects, urban designers and occupational therapists have in common? A commitment to accessibility. Today is Veteran’s Day. As we look back and celebrate the countless men and women who have served our nation, it’s important to think ahead and acknowledge ways in which we can continue to create better design for veterans and citizens with physical challenges.
In 1946 just after the end of World War II, the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects joined forces with the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) to fight for vets’ right to accessible housing. PVA’s “Barrier-Free Design Program,” established forty years later, involved itself heavily in the design and construction of VA medical centers around the country.
The PVA works to write building codes on accessibility and educate people on how a built structure can aid mobility for someone with a spinal cord injury or disease. According to their website, PVA is the only veterans association with on-staff architects. Now that I think about it, why wouldn’t all vet organizations seek to have designers on board?
Good design is an automatic advocate for public unity. Removing barriers and allowing all people on foot and on wheels to be able to access the same local amenities is so important. Socially-minded architects should be looking out not only for veterans, but for anyone who needs access to a ramp, railway or elevator. After all, don’t we want all people to be able to enjoy our designs?
Many of the commercial projects that local architectural firms take on (including Open Atelier) work with the ADA to make businesses, education centers and healthcare facilities accessible. For example, the Gear Factory is currently adding a ramp and handrail to its front entrance. And as Funk ‘n Waffles builds its new downtown location on South Clinton, people are excited for the famous underground waffle joint to finally be accessible. Waffles for all, finally!
Businesses should be accessible. And so should housing. Housing developments do exist in Syracuse that are committed to serving people with disabilities, like VanKeuren Square on East Genessee, apartments for homeless veterans. Developers must also be thinking about providing accessibility in housing downtown, an area that’s seen over 500 new residential units pop up since 2012. Currently $147 million in residential development is already underway, including redevelopment of existing structures.
With major renovations happening in housing downtown, architects have to think about a bigger issue: Are we simply attracting millennials who are into the hype of downtown revitalization? Or are we looking for ways to include people who have physical challenges, but also want to live in the city?
Housing is for all. Local business is for all. Whether you walk through a door or wheel through a door, you have the right to access. What a better way to respect and thank our veterans than providing them with accessible design so they can live normal, active and self-sufficient everyday lives.
Update: It looks like accessibility is not only a concern for housing and downtown development, but on the Hill as well. Syracuse University students are demanding better accessibility on campus. The campus sit-in protest, which has been going on for eight days, is sparking a large debate on campus regulations. In response to the accessibility concerns, the administration appointed interim ADA coordinator, Sharon Therise, to investigate these problems on campus. The administration said it commits to begin a search for an official coordinator.