Access Living: An Example in Universal and Green Design

On Thursday, July 19th, 2007, several members from CNU visited the new state-of-the-art headquarters for Access Living . Access Living is an advocacy agency focused on changes that benefit people with disabilities in a variety of areas (i.e., healthcare, youth services, housing, civil rights and economic development).

Beginning with introductory remarks from the Access Living president, Marca Bristo, the staff gave a thorough description of what, why and how Access Living provides services to those with disabilities. Additionally, they showed an informational video that detailed many of the Universal and Green features of the new building.

Following the video, participants broke into four groups and took tours of the facility. Completed in the spring of 2007, the Access Living (115 W. Chicago Ave., chicago, IL) building is innovative in its integration of both Universal (accesibility) and Green design elements.

Universal Design: Refers to creating spaces that are usable by everyone. Therefore spaces in this building are to accomodate wheel-chairs, walkers, those with seeing impairments, hearing impairments, etc. For example, each work space provides adjustable shelves, drawers, and cabinets, as well as expanded elevators and drop-off ramps for ease of access.

Green Design: Refers to creating spaces and buildings that create an environmentally friendly by achieving goals of reducing energy consumption, reducing water usage, utilizing recycled materials and providing new technologies to conserve energy. While these are only a few of the features included, this building not only meets but exceeds the minimum criteria wstablished to a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) building, making it eligible for Silver LEED certification.

Except for the fact that 70% of Access Living's staff has a disability, I was amazed by how similar these buildings appeared to be the office experience I am accustomed to.
Which brought me to two conclusions:

1. The fact that I thought this building was similar to other office experiences (which definitely could not be classified as Universal or Green) says a lot about my expectations as an undisabled adult. It is easy for the challenges of a disability to become marginalized by those who are not directly concerned. Therefore more examples and tours of places such as the Access Living facility provide important opportunities to spread the word of Universal and Green design.

2. A lot of the Universal and Green designs were quite creative and provide for work spaces that are enjoyable for all users regardless of physical complications. Then why can't these design guidelines extend to ALL buildings? Many would argue economics, but in every example I have seen those observing must look beyond the immediate benefits and grasp onto the long-term economic benefit, as well as the social utility that designs such as these illicit.

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