Accessible For All
When ACUHO-I chose to purchase a building constructed in 1929 to be the site of its new offices, we knew there were going to be some challenges. Not only was there the question of updating the building to today’s working standards, there was the (fortunate) issue of the building being on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s not unlike challenges that many ACUHO-I members must face on their campuses. How do you prepare for the future while honoring the past?
One of the biggest challenges in this area would be ensuring that the building is accessible to everyone, regardless of any physical restrictions they may have. For ACUHO-I (as on many of our members’ campuses) it wasn’t going to be enough to just comply with the letter of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The photo below displays what “compliance” looks like. Currently, for a person in a wheelchair to enter the building it meant they would have to follow a narrow sidewalk around the back and side of the building to reach this courtyard. Then they would use the lift, not much larger than a telephone booth, to be raised about three feet to a first floor entrance. It is certainly a less-than-ideal solution.
Rather than simply following ADA regulations, ACUHO-I made the commitment to strive to reach the ideal principles of universal design. The term universal design was coined by architect Ronald Mace to mean the “concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.” It’s a mindset and an approach that doesn’t aim to create “different” experiences for people but, instead, creates experiences that everyone can experience.
So how will this manifest itself in our office?
First of all, it was decided very quickly that everyone would be able to access our office the same way. That meant no ramps up the front steps, or lifts in the back of the building. Rather, the decision was made to create an entirely new primary entrance along the west side of the building where the parking spaces will be. As shown in the rendering at the top, this doorway will be at the same elevation as the lot and plenty wide to accommodate a wheelchair if necessary.
Of course, making such a change to the building (as well as the planned removal of the old lift in the back) required a number of conversations with the local historical preservation board. (That’s a subject for an entire other post to come.) Fortunately, when the board heard about how accessibility and universal design were cornerstone’s of our members’ work, and saw the new design plans, they quickly gave their okay to proceed.
There are many other considerations that have been made in the building’s design. By working with Scott Lissner, the American’s With Disabilities Act coordinator for The Ohio State University, some of the concepts that we have taken into account include but is not limited to:
- The office space layout provides plenty of maneuverable space, including space for a wheelchair to access workstations, restrooms, kitchen, and meeting spaces.
- Office space layout and lines, as well as variety in floor surfaces, are well-defined and open, which will help accommodate those with impaired vision.
- Elevator and other signage will include braille.
- Conference and training rooms are being planned with the needs of the visual and hearing impaired in mind.
- The opening force of all doors will be monitored and adjusted properly.
- Task lighting will be incorporated where appropriate.
- Ergonomic furniture and equipment will be available for staff.
Whether it has been the design planning process or addressing accessibility questions, it has been a unique experience for the ACUHO-I staff to address some of the same issues and practices that ACUHO-I members experience. Fortunately, we know a lot of talented and knowledgable individuals who can help us find the answers and create an office space that anyone and everyone will be able utilize.
James Baumann is the ACUHO-I Director of Communications & Marketing.