Abraham Lincoln Issue
Abraham Lincoln's Fight with Depression
What do Women Really Want ?
Ability House, Birmingham, Alabama
Abraham Lincoln's Fight with Depression
It was a house conceived with the compassion that one man can have towards another man.. .and so on.. .and so on. It was a house which was built by human integrity, fortitude and vigor.
It was an event where individuals, corporations and other entities pitched in with contributions, hard work and sweat, all so a man with a disability and his future bride would have a "simple, decent, place to live."It was an accessible home that would be well suited for a modern world where persons with disabilities now number around 54 million and aging "baby boomers" will significantly expand the senior population in the years to come.
The human spirit can be gracious and giving. People with diverse backgrounds and abilities can come together to share and create. The heart is accessible. Misconceptions about persons with disabilities lacking ability to participate can be challenged and erased.
The idea for the first ABILITY House began when Chet Cooper, Founder of ABILITY Magazine, met with Millard Fuller, Founder of Habitat for Humanity. In that interview, ideas were shared and the idea of building an accessible home for a person with a disability, by volunteers with disabilities, was borne. The idea grew to an actuality when the Greater Birmingham Habitat for Humanity in Alabama decided to become the first Habitat for Humanity "affiliate" to participate. It just so happened that Chris Wright, the home recipient, had applied for ownership of a Habitat house. Chris is a paraplegic who lost use of his legs at age 29 from transverse myelitis - an infection of the spinal cord. Chris was a candidate who would benefit greatly by the construction of an "accessible" home.
For those unfamiliar with the term, "accessible" means a world without restrictive man-made barriers. It is a building adapted to individual as well as public needs. Accessibility facilitates a "visitable" world. Whether you are a design student studying Ron Mace’s concept of "Universal Design" (The Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University) or a person with a disability concerned about your needs, independence and a nonrestrictive world environment, the concept of "accessibility" is the way of the future.
Cost, marketability or attractiveness of a building need not be sacrificed to include "accessibility" features. Understanding people’s needs and utilizing good planning in design and product selection can go a long way towards meeting accessibility goals. Aesthetically, "accessibility" can be integrated into home and landscape design so that it is either unnoticeable or even an attractive feature of the property.
Chris Wright will purchase his home for $40,000 with an interest-free loan from Habitat for Humanity. In new construction, accessibility features are generally easier and less costly to implement than when renovating a structure. The Birmingham Independent Living Center cites in Concrete Change that: "In new construction, $200 per house is a reasonable average for planned-in-advance basic access to a home. In renovation, depending on the situation, adding basic access to houses or apartments may or may not be expensive."
In planning buildings with a view towards accessibility for persons with disabilities, designers need to pay attention to priorities. The most important "visitability" needs are entry into the home and fitting through interior doors, especially the bathroom. Persons with disabilities have varying special needs including visual, hearing, speech, cognition, and physical considerations. They may have multiple disabilities. An accessibility designer attempts to accommodate as many of those needs as possible. An example of an "accessibility" feature which has been used successfully in public buildings is elevator design. In buildings that have rows of elevators, a current system is to have a chime and a light to signal which elevator is approaching a given floor. This system has helped not only persons with disabilities but the public in general reach the elevator in time to board it before the doors shut. This accessibility feature has also been a cost saver by reducing the time an elevator needs to visit a floor, making the elevator more efficient and allowing buildings to be built with fewer elevators.
The most commonly seen accessibility features include: curb cuts; ramps instead of stairs; wider doorways and hallways; lever door handles; grab bars in bathrooms (and reinforced walls to support them); roll-in showers; hand-held showers; recessed bathtubs; heights adjusted on counters; cabinets, shelves and chairs with usage needs in mind; "Rocker" light switches; and carpet with shorter pile for ease in maneuvering a wheelchair. Such features in building make sense and we see them more and more in the busy world around us. We may not even be aware of these features in our daily lives until our attention is drawn to them or we become a person who needs to use them. Design elements such as curb cuts help not only persons with disabilities in wheelchairs but mothers pushing baby- strollers as well. Accommodating the current needs of the population in this expeditious way is convenient and helpful to us all.
So, let’s go back to the ABILITY House. About a year after the idea was conceived, through hard work and dedication of Habitat for Humanity, ABILITY Magazine, BellSouth, other major sponsors, individuals and volunteers, Chris Wright does have his home. It is a beautiful home with many features which make it an accessible, visitable home. Specifically, Chris’ three-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot home includes a wrap-around deck, a front and back entrance ramp, wide 3’ doorways for a wheelchair to fit through, raised electrical outlets, barrier-free interiors, levered door handles, an automatic door opener, a roll-in shower, lower shelves, adjusted counter heights, a special stove, a carport for Wright’s handcontrolled van, and other accessibility design elements.
The ABILITY House also includes products tailored to meet Chris’ specific needs. Take, for example, the telephone system. BellSouth was one of the major sponsors of the ABILITY House. Chris Wright worked with Ron Talley, a BellSouth specialist at the Telecommunications Center for Customers with Disabilities, to design communication features for Chris’ home. To help Chris communicate with callers at the front or rear doors of his home, BellSouth donated a SMART intercom system. This allows Chris to screen callers and buzz them into his home. Also, Chris’ home features the latest phone technology, including an electronic, remote-control speaker phone and talking caller ID.
The ABILITY House project ran from May 30 through June 4, 1999. The site was a pleasant, quiet residential community in Ensley, Alabama settled in lush greenery. The building crew was a robust team including volunteers, sponsors,onlookers and media. Sounds of hammering, camaraderie and the shouts of instructions given by Habitat for Humanity site supervisors were heard everywhere. The mood was festive but seriously goal-driven. "This is like the old barn raising," said one volunteer, "people coming together to help build." Many volunteers came with their own poignant stories of why they were participating in the ABILITY House. All came with a high level of commitment, energy and goodwill.
Generous sponsors provided travel arrangements, lodging, meals and even entertainment at the end of each day’s building. For those who participated, the ABILITY House project and the hospitality of Greater Habitat for Humanity of Birmingham were something to be remembered.