Friday, 1 March 2013

The American stair fixation

I had always been led to believe that the US was probably the most accessible nation in the world - until I observed the following singularity in their sensitivity. This concerns the standard design for houses in America. And that is that almost all bedrooms in almost all houses are on the first floor (actually second floor as per their nomenclature - i.e., not the ground floor), and the typical house does not have elevators;  and if, by some miracle, there does exist a bedroom downstairs, it will almost surely not have a shower downstairs!

This disturbing fact was brought home to me in striking fashion the following way. It turns out that I have been invited to conferences/workshops in Berkeley in May, and in Toronto in July. Rather than flying back and forth across the globe twice, I thought I would use the opportunity to take a holiday visiting various friends and relatives in the US. That is when I did a quick memory check on the various houses I had spent time in during past visits to the US.

For instance, when I was visiting Iowa some years ago, we stayed in this house - very quaint - but nevertheless one with bedrooms only in the first floor and a shower only in the basement, thus necessitating about 50 steps down and then back up after the shower. And these days, even just the very act of having a shower takes so much energy out of me that I totter the 10 feet on level ground (in my home) to my bed straight after the shower, and lie flat on my back for some 5 minutes before I am halfway ready to face the world. I would have died if I had had to undergo that Iowa experience now!

So I wrote to a bunch of people saying the same thing - that I would like to be able to spend some time with them in June; and would it be possible to stay with them -  provided they had a bedroom and full bathroom (including a shower) on the ground floor of their house - or stay at an accessible hotel near their home?

And these were all people with whom I knew I could take the liberty of inviting myself to their place, and be warmly welcomed to stay with them. Taking this group of people's responses as a sample (albeit probably not a large enough one to be considered statistically significant), it appears that at most 1 in 4 American houses can have a wheel-chair-bound resident visit or live in them!

Will the American architects please wake up and think?

1 comment:

  1. We at Arushi, a small voluntary organization in Bhopal working for accessibility and inclusion follow your column with interest. One of our volunteers, an Asst Prof at the Ohio State Univ. has sent us this link which we wanted to share. A completely barrier-free home in the US is still news, which means we have such a long way to go. best regards, Shefali

    - A LEED Certified, environment friendly, completely accessible home in Columbus, OH.!prettyPhoto