Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Which We Go To The Seattle Home Show, With Mixed Results

Today Jer and I once again left Connor with our fantastic respite care worker and went out!  It's nice to have a little time to play since this next week is going to be so crazy.

So we threw the crutches in the car and drove up into Seattle to catch the last day of the Seattle Home Show and see what kind of exciting new forays into Universal Design we could find.  The results were rather mixed.

On the one hand, we did find this absolutely gorgeous Universal Design prefab model home, called the FabCab, which was set up to be fully wheelchair accessible.  Jer and I talked with the architect for a while and then wandered around inside.  It was pretty neat, and it was very interesting to compare our new house with the model to see how similar design requirements were executed in different ways for very different looks.  That was by far the highlight of the day, and made the trip up more than worth it!

We also walked past a large number of elevator and lift companies.  Nearly all the appliance companies had front loading washers and driers, French door and bottom freezer refrigerators, and induction cook tops as a matter of course.  And we did see a couple of bath companies featuring accessible bathtubs and showers. 

Now for the downside.  Other than that one model home, we saw zero examples of accessibility in home builder, interior designer, or model kitchen displays.  Not one roll-under counter top or island.  Not a single lowered counter.  Not even a picture of one.  And this was not exactly a small home show, as you can see.  That photograph I took is of one third of the main floor of the show.  We were standing on the second floor (with even more booths) when I snapped it.

The other two model homes there had wheelchair ramps tacked on as an afterthought and absolutely no other concessions to accessibility of any type.  Both ramps were at the back ends of the houses (and added nothing to the decor, being standard ho-hum uncreative varieties).  In one case the ramp had an "exit only" sign on it.  Seeing that the only marked entrance seemed to have a large number of stairs up to it, I ran up and asked the builder where the accessible entrance was.  He pointed us to the exit ramp.  So we walked up the ramp and through the back door, to discover that the line of people going through the house of course went one way, and we were now walking upstream.  Glorious.

The other model home had a relatively long line to get in.  The ramp was around the corner, hidden from the line.  We asked the gentleman standing outside the ramp if that was the way to get in. 

"Yes, but there's a line," he said.  He pointed to me.  "You'll have to wait in it."  He pointed to Jer.  "You can wait here."

There was no way to see the ramp from the entrance of the house.  Apparently I was supposed to wait in line until I made it to the front, immediately walk through the house (in another one-way line) to the exit, pop my head out the door and let Jer know that he was now allowed to walk up the ramp.  Then we could once again fight our way upstream to see the interior of the house. 

I mean, I'm not saying we should be allowed to cut in line.  But come on-- seriously?  Obviously accessibility was an afterthought with these houses-- the general line of thought seemed to be "let's make all the disabled people go up the back because accomodating them would make the front of the house ugly."  That's more than a little insulting.  Granted, these are all prefabricated homes.  But it still seems to me that there could have been a little more thought put into this, even if the home layout couldn't have been changed.  The ramp had to go on the outside of the house, after all.

And some of the comments made by vendors as we were walking by were just plain rude.  Jer had shorts on as it was a lovely, sunny day outside, so his heavily scarred calf with its interesting profile was visible to all.  One gentleman called me over and handed me a bunch of candy, telling me that Jeremy was "so brave to be out like that."  Vendors hawking various pain management solutions (they're at every home show I've ever been to-- don't ask me why) were yelling at us down the aisles about how they would miraculously cure Jeremy's nonexistent knee and back pain.  Another guy tackled us in the parking lot and shoved one glass pebble in Jer's pocket and another in his sock "free of charge," telling us that they would "help his nerves make the connection."  He asked Jer if the problem was a staph infection.

I think the most befuddling one was the lady who yelled: "HEY!  WALKING WOUNDED!" at the top of her lungs and gave Jer an excited wave as we walked by in a sort of stunned silence.  I can't even remember what she was selling-- I think it was windows.  I mean, who does that?  We considered going back by and yelling "HEY! STANDING UGLY!" but ultimately decided to take the high road. 

So all in all I'd say that the day sort of balanced; the sad design concessions and odd interactions with people were kind of canceled out by the sheer awesomeness of the accessible prefab home.  At any rate, we finished up the day with some yummy Italian food and our usual date pastime: reading at one of the myriad of coffee shops we patronize.

It was a pretty good break.  Now it's back to business!



Niksmom said...

I clicked away then had to come back to comment...I'm APPALLED at the Home Show experience. I mean, never mind the plain weird and rude behavior of individuals...the builders should be ashamed of themselves. This hits home (ooh, bad pun, sorry!) for me as my sister is the Exec VP of our state's home builders association; she would be kicking butt and taking builders names over this.

Seriously, because I know you have nothing better to do with your copious amounts of spare time besides eat bon-bons and read romance novels (oh, wait, that's what **I** do!), I would suggest that you drop a note to the president of your local home builders assoc. (looks like WA has 16!! who was, most likely listed as a sponsor of the show. Clearly, they have a long way to go.

Greymare said...

The level of idiocy presented by the general public never ceases to amaze me. The percentages seem to get higher when people are out to sell things too...

Julia O'C said...

Hey...walking wounded? *Really?* In what universe is that a clever or funny thing to say?

I,um, wow.

leah said...

I think your "standing ugly" remark was just about perfect- even if you never said it, lol! Thanks for the chuckle.

Sounds like you need to take some animals from the Predator Breeding Program to the next home show...

psychologizer said...

Gosh, I'm so jealous! Nothing cool or awesome happens when Will and I go out. I mean, sure, people are rude, but only the regular kind. You get this extra special warm and fuzzy people who think they are kind are idiots kind of rude.... You get to question the fabric of humanity even more hardcore than I do, which is really hardcore!

Anonymous said...

I wish I could say that your experience was unusual, but unfortunately, it isn't. I specialize in remodeling to empower people with disabilities, and ran smack into these attitudes in design school. Not to mention in life; the only difference being that my disabilities are less visible than Jer's.

Thanks for sharing your un-lovely experience.

I have written about this topic rather often in my own blog, and I THINK I'm pleased to tell you that the post in which I wrote about designers' attitudes was the one which generated the most commentary among fellow designers. At least I hope so, because I sure want to shake 'em up a bit.

Here's the post, in case you're curious:

Wherever HE Leads We'll Go said...

I cannot believe people say such things! Really, I have no words!

maura said...

HI There-
I just saw this post and wanted to thank you for writing a great review of FabCab. We are passionate about creating gorgeous spaces people with a range of ages and abilities can thrive in and it is gratifying getting a positive response. We hope we can push design boundaries and look forward to keeping up with your blog. I am glad you are happy with your new home too! Kudos to you too!
Maura (FabCab Design and Development)

Konrad Kaletsch, said...

Nice entry. Great evaluation of UD in the home shows. Pretty much my experience in NYC. I also went to the 2008 AARP show in DC and there too didn't see what I would sas is enough mention or application of UD. My pitch is this: Boomers, time for one more legacy: show the world how to age. 6-minute speech at:

Appreciate your commitment!

- Konrad Kaletsch

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