Universal Design Knowledge Community in the AIA

Posted on - Friday, September 16th, 2011

This is an interview that the AIA National posted on their website on the Trend Banner.  It is about Universal Design and how their Knowledge communities can assist their members

Marcela, what inspired you to focus on accessibility design as a career path?

I grew up in Panama which is a country that is not built for accessibility. My grandmother had Parkinson’s Disease and was in a wheelchair. I remember how hard it was for her to be independent and get around. She was completely dependent on my aunts and was never able to enjoy her environment without assistance.

After I became registered as an architect, I wanted to start my own firm so I could be home with my kids. I debated whether I could handle being a design architect. Knowing how much time it took to be a principal of a firm, I looked for something else I could do that still utilized my design ability and my license in architecture.

Accessibility was a logical choice for me. I was lucky because in Texas public projects must be reviewed and inspected by an accessibility specialist. The more I did it the more passionate I became about the subject. My grandmother must have been nudging me to make things better for the disabled since she had to suffer through her disability.

How do you view the design profession changing as a result of the 2010 ADA Standards?

I hope that the 2010 ADA Standards will spark a new interest in accessibility in our community. The new ADA is really an extension and continuation of the original ADAAG. Designers will need to be aware of the changes. The AIA has an online course that I gave at the AIA 2011 National Convention in New Orleans that is a good primer on the new standards.

As a growing number of baby boomers reach retirement age, how do you think the design profession will change to accommodate their needs?

I think the field of architecture will be nicely impacted by the baby boomers and their needs. If architects pay attention, they will find many opportunities. For instance, there is a new movement besides the ADA that is called “Aging in Place” where a person remains in the home, and the home is adapted to the client’s needs as she ages. When a person becomes disabled the design professional takes cues from the ADA to help adapt the residence for the client.

Also more senior living centers will be developed. Knowing the ADA standards will assist architects in being more sensitive and knowledgeable for their senior clients.

How has your collaboration with other architects driven your work in Universal Design?

One of the ways that I market my services is through a monthly newsletter that I put together and a blog that I try to write weekly. As my target audience is architects, their questions help me to develop my topics of discussions. I see them as partners in my learning and education process. I couldn’t do what I do without that collaboration.

You’re an active participant in AIA Knowledge Communities. How does that participation support your work in Universal Design?

I like to share my posts and read others on AIA KnowledgeNet. I visit it periodically and try to begin discussions by posting questions. I am a big proponent of using social media to spread my message and AIA KnowledgeNet is one of my ways.

What would you tell another member who was considering whether or not to join a Knowledge Community?

I think we as colleagues should share with each other the knowledge we have so we can all be better architects and make ourselves more of an asset to the built environment. I always learn something when I visit or comment on AIA KnowledgeNet. It is a great forum for exchanging ideas.

How do you feel your membership with the AIA has supported your professional work as an accessibility consultant?

My membership with the AIA is the main reason why I’m successful as an accessibility consultant. Most of my clients are other architects who I have met through the AIA. Ever since I graduated from architecture school at the University of Texas at Austin I have been involved in one way or another with the AIA. As an associate I began meeting my colleagues at happy hours, associate events, conventions etc. Then as a registered architect, I continued my involvement in committees as a chair or volunteer.

When I decided to be an accessibility consultant and educator it was a built-in network of potential clients. I am lucky that in Texas having a consultant is required and a Barrier Free CEU is also required. My most supportive clients have come through the AIA!

About Marcela Abadi Rhoads, AIA, RAS: She is the owner of Abadi Accessibility, an accessibility consulting firm that is dedicated to educating the building industry about the laws of accessibility. She received her Bachelors of Architecture in 1991 from the University of Texas in Austin and became a registered architect in 1999 in Texas and a registered accessibility specialist in 2001. Marcela is sought after by owners and architects across the country that look to her for guidance to understand the accessibility standards throughout the design and construction process. She is the author of The ADA Companion Guide published by John Wiley and Sons.