Paralyzed Veterans of America Celebrates Accessible Design

PVA members and staff in accessible court house in BostonAn obvious need for paralyzed veterans is physical accessibility. For a decade, Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) has recognized people who have made accessibility a priority.

The Barrier-Free America Award (BFAA) recognizes an individual for sensitivity to the importance of accessible design as well as the difference the individual has made through a particular project in achieving a barrier-free environment.

The Barrier-Free America Award was inaugurated in 2001 with Bob Vila as the winner. When his television show Home Again aired an episode on home accessibility (with technical assistance from Paralyzed Veterans’ architects), it generated immense interest among the show’s viewers. Vila parlayed that interest into a special section on his website to provide information about accessible home design (again, with help from Paralyzed Veterans).

With Vila as the award’s first winner, the precedent was set to recognize architectural projects that have made a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. “These projects go far beyond minimum requirements for accessibility and make ‘access for all’ a cornerstone of the design philosophy and intent of the project,” said Mark Lichter, AIA, director of Architecture. “It is Paralyzed Veterans of America’s goal to illustrate that accessibility must be a fundamental element in the built environment.”

Since 2001, award winners have been recognized for projects of various sizes and scope. In  2003, for instance, Cesar Pelli, FAIA, took home the award for his work with the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which was followed in 2004 by Frederic Bell, FAIA, and his work in the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan. Other projects differ in scope yet are fundamentally important in achieving Paralyzed Veterans’ goals of accessibility. In recent years CBT Architects won the award for the John Adams Courthouse in Boston and Antoine Predock won for the Indian Community School of Milwaukee.

Reflecting on these winners illustrates points of progress in the fight for more accessible settings. “Accessibility is beginning to become an integral component in the design and construction of the built environment,” Lichter said. “No longer is it only included as an afterthought in order to satisfy codes and regulations. Architects are recognizing the benefit in designing projects that address accessibility, not only for persons with disabilities, but for everyone.”

Such news is quite encouraging but there is still a long way to go before all architects and designers adopt this approach. Paralyzed Veterans will continue to encourage accessible design and to bring needed attention to the subject through its Barrier-Free America Award.

“Future BFAA winners will incorporate accessible design in the fundamental concepts of the project,” Lichter said. “It will be included at the initial phases of the design process. It will be a major factor in how decisions are made and will affect the overall project design.”

Lichter added that the ultimate goal is for persons with disabilities to be given the same opportunities to easily function within the space and to experience the elements of the design.

Make a nomination for the Barrier-Free America Award (Due May 16) 

Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, North Carolina.

Barrier-Free Award Winners & Projects 

CBT Architects
John Adams Courthouse – Boston, Massachusetts

Antoine Predock, FAIA
Indian Community School of Milwaukee – Franklin, Wisconsin

Marca Bristo and John H. Catlin, FAIA
Access Living Headquarters – Chicago, Illinois

Fong and Chan Architects
de Young Museum – San Francisco, California

Edward K. Uhlir, FAIA
Millennium Park – Chicago, Illinois

Frederic Bell, FAIA
Redevelopment of Lower Manhattan – New York, New York

Cesar Pelli, FAIA
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport – Arlington, Virginia

Bob Vila
Bob Vila’s Home Again television program

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