Exercising Empathy Helps TSP Better Understand the Importance of Accessible Building Design – SiouxFalls.Business


October 5, 2022

This paid coin is sponsored by TSP.

An intentional effort to step into the shoes of others, even if only for a short time, helps TSP team members become more aware of the challenges some people face when navigating built environments.

Michelle Klobassa, director of TSP and principal architect, was thinking about an idea and contacted DakotAbilities, which provides services for people with developmental disabilities.

After a conversation with DakotAbilities Director of Development, Jennifer Smith Hoesing, a manual wheelchair and an electric wheelchair were delivered to the TSP office.

Klobassa thought it would be valuable experience for the TSP team members to have a first-person perspective on how wheelchair use affects a person’s experience in a building.

“My goal was to help us be more thoughtful in future design and also help our customers end up with facilities that work better for a wider range of people,” she said. “We’ve always designed with accessibility in mind, but it sticks with you more once you get around.”

Participants unanimously report that using a wheelchair in the office is not easy.

“I was really surprised by the challenge of navigating through a typical 36-inch-wide doorway,” Klobassa said. “This width is a standard architectural doorway dimension, and it meets accessibility guidelines, but it felt really narrow when trying to get through it in a wheelchair without scratching your hands.”

For interior designer Emma Velde, the initial excitement of what she thought would be a fun experience quickly turned to reality.

“I had trouble maneuvering around corners, opening doors, and mostly felt impossible to reach the things I grab on a daily basis,” she said. “As a designer, I’ve known about these issues for a while, but it’s only when you really experience them that you can see the importance of inclusive design. Many people face these challenges in a world that is not made for them, and I am grateful to TSP for addressing these topics and challenging us to design for everyone.

The doors were a struggle for architect Chase Kramer, who is TSP’s design director.

“Even in the motorized wheelchair, I struggled to maneuver through doors properly, simultaneously trying to open the door and control the wheelchair at the same time,” he said. “I found myself wishing for those automatic push buttons everywhere.”

Based on his experience navigating TSP’s ADA-accessible ramp at the front of the building, Kramer also thinks the ramps could be difficult, even scary, especially in the winter.

After the TSP staff had time to try out the wheelchairs, some of them visited DakotAbilities’ Longfellow Center in Sioux Falls for a follow-up discussion on best practices in accessible building design.

DakotAbilities Executive Director Nathan Stallinga praised the group for taking the time and effort to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users.

This meeting, accessible to a company-wide TSP audience, was an opportunity to share the experience of using wheelchairs and learn more about how DakotAbilities is making its buildings more usable. for the customers.

These feature efforts include 42-inch doors free from congestion and the use of durable materials such as cement board and stone countertops.

The discussion also focused on automatic sliding or swinging doors.

“They’re a good thing to consider for ease of access, but it’s really important to think about where the push buttons are, how long the doors stay open, and the direction of the wind, which can create problems,” Klobassa said. said.

Wheelchair access and conversations with DakotAbilities helped to be more thoughtful and intentional when reviewing the design of the building.

“We don’t always think about these different limitations and how that actually affects a space,” said TSP architecture graduate Bret Holt, who found it eye-opening to see the amount of circulation space DakotAbilities requires.

“It’s a completely different experience, but it helps you be more mindful,” he said.

Klobassa predicts the experience will lead to more accessibility discussions, adding that sharing lessons learned will inspire successful building design for people of all abilities.

Kramer found the experience valuable because it increases empathy.

“I now have a better first-hand knowledge of how doors and clearances work when using a wheelchair and this will inform my understanding and design of building entry sequences.”

Velde appreciates the recent opportunity to test wheelchairs and looks forward to similar experiences that can change the way people perceive a space.

“It may take more design thinking and conversation, but we can truly change lives with good design,” she said. “I want to help people feel comfortable in any space they walk into, and opportunities like the one we’ve had are just one of the many ways we can get people’s perspective. others.”

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