GUAYNABO, Puerto Rico – Imagine trying to get into a place where you can’t access the entrance or having to maneuver around furniture that blocks your way. Imagine trying to choose a floor number in an elevator when you can’t read the panel.
These are only a few examples of the obstacles thousands of people face every day. It’s also why inclusion is vital in building design.
Inclusion is not only about incorporating people of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and disabilities into the community or workplace. It also means changing the way society thinks about design, especially public building design.
Universal design meets the needs of all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability, said architect Esteban Sennyey Halasz, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, School of Architecture.
It creates an environment that accommodates those with physical or mobility challenges as well as those with visual, auditory, cognitive and dexterity challenges, Sennyey Halasz said.
“We have to develop the sensibility and see how we can incorporate the idea of inclusion in our decision-making process,” said Sennyey Halasz, who is also principal architect and interior design partner at an architecture firm in Puerto Rico.
As a result of the damage caused by hurricanes Irma and María last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) launched a sector-based approach to recovery to prioritize critical issues in Puerto Rico and allow for targeted planning to address those challenges. The sectors aim to include members with years of experience in architecture, land-use planning, engineering, community planning, economic development, environmental policy and municipal management.
FEMA’s Public Buildings Sector is working closely with the Government of Puerto Rico and the island’s Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency to conceive and manage the
development of resilient and sustainable facilities to house essential public service functions.
Sennyey Halasz recently addressed about 150 people at a symposium hosted by the Government of Puerto Rico, the Public Buildings Sector and the University of Puerto Rico, School of Architecture. He shared statistics showing 11 percent of Americans live with someone with a disability and 18 percent have a disability.
Noting that the aging U.S. population includes increasing numbers of working seniors, Sennyey Halasz suggested that architects, interior designers and planners consider universal design in their projects, particularly in public buildings.
The main goal of inclusive design is to remove the barriers that create unnecessary effort, irrespective of whether the building is residential, institutional, recreational, commercial or industrial.
“It’s not only a legal process to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act or make the buildings accessible to people,” said engineer Jesús Garay Vega, president of the U.S. Green Building Council, Caribbean Chapter. “The objective is to achieve a holistic vision that integrates the whole community. It’s an ethical and moral commitment to society.”
The result is a welcoming environment that embraces the diversity of the people who use it.
For information on Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane María, visit fema.gov/disaster/4339.
Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362) 711/VRS - Video Relay Service). Multilingual operators are available. (Press 2 for Spanish). TTY call 800-462-7585.