A Modular Approach to Universal Design

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This week I found an example of universal design close to home. It was a bitterweet experience.

On a walk around Almaden Lake my wife and I noticed an attractive apartment complex. Three stories tall with ample, south-facing balconies looking over the lake, we decided to stop in and take a tour.

The first surprise was that the back parking lot was the terminus of a light rail spur and a hub for the city bus system. Off the lot, connecting the walking trails along both sides of the creek, a new pedestrian bridge is under construction. Very nice urban planning!

We were surprised to discover that the site's elevators only went down from the first floor into the underground parking. That is, the choice balconies overlooking the lake are not available to wheelchair users -- even to visit. Not sure how building codes could allow this in a new building.

But, for those with no aspirations to "upward mobility," the agent offered a well-thought-out package of modularity. This made any first floor apartment potentially wheelchair-friendly. The complex offered to replace plush carpet with a low-friction industrial grade alternate, swap out appliances such as a stove with controls placed high in the back, and remove typical obstacles to foot pedals such as low-level cabinet doors.

Another case where someone almost got the universal design message. Almost, but not enough. The building still impudently asks the disabled resident or visitor, "Can you walk?"

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