National Architecture Week 2012

Man in wheelchair in public walkway

Know of a project whose design embodies the essence of accessibility? Paralyzed Veterans is seeking nominations ( for its annual Barrier-Free America Award (BFAA).

Paralyzed Veterans is an active catalyst in generating/recognizing outstanding accessible design in the built environment. The BFAA is yet another means of rewarding that achievement.

"It recognizes architects who have gone beyond what is required for accessibility and have actually pushed the envelope to break down those barriers," said Maryia A. Boykins, associate AIA.

Past winners include a wide range of projects, among them the de Young Museum in San Francisco, Millennium Park in Chicago and Washington National Airport. The 2011 winner made 34 universally accessible treehouses throughout the United States.

"What we keep pushing is for architects to consider accessibility from day one when design ideas are in the concept stage. This always makes for a more holistic approach and successfully inclusive design," Lichter said.

National Architecture Week, American Institute of Architects' (AIA) public awareness campaign to increase attention to the role architects play as a force for positive change in communities, kicks off April 8.

The Paralyzed Veterans of America Architecture Department has a long history of advocating for accessible design and is the only veterans service organization with staff architects. Its history dates to 1946, when it collaborated with the New York Chapter of the AIA on accessible housing for paralyzed World War II veterans.

"Before then there wasn't a whole lot of knowledge about how to make things accessible, and people with spinal cord injury really had a poor prognosis," said Mark Lichter, AIA, Paralyzed Veterans' director ofarchitecture. "Through medical advances, WWII veterans with spinal cord injury were really the first to have the possibility of an extended and independent life."

Today, Paralyzed Veterans team of architects focuses on three areas:

Removing barriers with accessible design - Paralyzed Veterans' architects work with other architects and design teams to remove barriers from large public projects, such as sports venues and national memorials, as well as advise individuals on home accessibility.

Since 1986, Paralyzed Veterans' architects have worked with Department of Veterans Affairs design teams on every VA medical center (VAMC) involved with spinal cord injury/disease (SCI/D). They are part of the design team for new VAMC construction and recommend improvements to existing facilities. The objective? To ensure that not only are these facilities wheelchair accessible, but also to encourage the use of design and architecture to foster independence and "promote healing environments that produce better outcomes for patients," Lichter said.


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