Friday, September 23, 2016

A Day With Ed

Image description: The Red Ramp at the Ed Roberts Campus, which descends from the second to the first floor in a large spiral and seems to hang from the ceiling with white thread.

It's affected me much more deeply than I thought it would. Indeed, I never really thought about the emotional aspects of being in any physical space before. Yesterday I had the honour to do a day long presentation in the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley. I of course know who Ed Roberts was and of the work that he did and the fights that he fought. From the moment I knew that this was one of the venues, I looked forward to simply being there. I'd never been in a building that was named after a leader and advocate with a disability who fought for social justice issues regarding disability. So, cool. Very cool. I arrived with anticipation.

The first several minutes were simply about getting in, meeting our host (Hi, Marc) and getting set up. Only then did I get a chance to roll around and begin to experience being in the place. A place of fully intentional accessibility. A place where welcome was built into the building's DNA. It was astonishing. I went to the bathroom there and was able to operate the doors easily with a push of my foot pedal, I didn't have to negotiate to get in to the exact position necessary to push the button with my hand.

Throughout the place I found rollable floors, wide doors, easily accessed elevators, and one marvelous and absolutely beautiful ramp. The ramp, which comes down from the second floor to the first is a thing of beauty, a work of art. I waited until lunch time and headed out to go down it. Joe was coming with me but was called back to the book table. I should have waited but couldn't. I rode up the elevator, pushed over to the ramp and down I came. It was exhilarating!

I had to bring Joe with me so, I did it again. It wasn't as much fun for him walking down it as it was for me sailing down it and letting my chair pick up exactly the amount of speed where safety and 'shit this is dangerous' met. It was wonderful.

We left the building after the day was over and rode to our hotel.

Now, our hotel has an accessible room.

It meets our needs.

But my definition of accessibility has changed, been broadened.

This room I'm in, it's been adapted for me. Non disabled people are used to places that were built for them, not adapted for them. There is a difference. I didn't know that before, but I do now.

I'd been in a place that was built for me. And the marvelous thing is, it was built for you too. Disabled or not, it's a building that makes it easy to be in, to accomplish what you want to accomplish, that is thoughtful in it's design for everyone.

It's going to be difficult moving away from that day in time and in memory. It's going to be difficult being in places and seeing what could have been and knowing that it's simply not there.

There is intentional welcome and intentional accessibility. I've always known that.

But the flip side is, of course that there's another kind of intentionality, the kind that simply doesn't think that everyone matters in quite the same way.


Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...


What a pleasure.

I haven't been in such a building.

Thing is, non-disabled people can use a building designed for disabled people inclusively - it's not that hard to walk down a ramp, and large accessible bathroom stalls with grab bars don't bother anyone.

The other way around - us using spaces designed only for able-bodied folk - that doesn't work.

Hmmm. You'd think it would be obvious - design for disability, include everyone by default. A no brainer.

Girl on wheels said...

That is a stunningly beautiful ramp, it is definitely a great candidate for whizzing down with an unrestrained shout of joy. Ramps and steep slopes are my favourite thing about being a wheelchair user, I feel sorry for those who have never experienced that feeling. It's just not the same as going down a slope on a bike.

One day I hope all new buildings will be like the one you described, instead of accessibility being paid lip service at best. I am sick of feeling like no one thought about wheelchair accessibility until the last minute and then made the minimum adjustments to stay legal. There is absolutely no reason that all new builds shouldn't be planned like that centre, as not only accessible but designed for wheelchair users.

Mary Nau said...

Beautiful... on many levels!

Cari Watrous said...

Do you publish any calendar of your travels ahead of time? I'd be sure to catch up with you if you came to Baltimore, no, there's no place like that but lots of good folks, a bunch of whom are on a march called Feel the Power of the Disability Vote going from Baltimore to DC - that's the Ed Roberts mentality!

Unknown said...

Architects should spend time here, and review how the building was designed/constructed, to help them 'get it' about why and how these design strategies work and why there are important...
"we are all just temporarily able bodied", as the song lyrics say.

D. said...

You were in town???

Sorry to have missed you. It is a beautiful and wonderfully accessible building (although some people with pedal neuropathy can't use ramps) and it connects to the adjacent BART station.