CTAers get lesson in importance of designing with the disabled in mind


The CTA Boise office hosts a “Mentor Monday” every other week. The intent of the 45- to 60-minute sessions is to teach new/younger staff about the resources available at CTA.

From code books to energy modeling to blog basics, topics vary and strive to provide interesting discussions and lasting impressions. A recent mentoring session focused on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the laws written that designers must follow to allow access and use of buildings, sites, and landscapes. The session started with a Hollywood trailer of the movie “Music Within,” based on the story of how the ADA came to be law back in 1990. We discussed the various laws and how they affect everything we do as designers — from parking to bathroom use, handrails to grab bars — and why they are extremely important not only from a compliance standpoint, but also to provide buildings that can be used by anyone, regardless of his or her ability level.

Read more about the history of the ADA and
the ADA Legacy Project (#ADA25).

The session ended with homework. The Boise office rented a wheelchair and created a sign-up sheet for the week, so all mentees — across a bevy of disciplines including architects, engineers,  and more — committed to an hour in the wheelchair and agreed to complete a list of suggested tasks. These included riding from the lobby of our building to our office on the eighth floor, getting coffee, rinsing and loading a dish in the dishwasher, going into the bathroom to wash their hands (using the facilities was optional), maneuvering around our office, and adjusting work stations to be able to work while in the chair.

CTA_ADA-disabled-testing_JamesColburnI personally fulfilled these tasks as well as accompanied a few of our colleagues during their sessions. The exercise is doubly important for me because my professional focus is on healthcare design. Everyone took the activity incredibly seriously and most were surprised by just how difficult it can be to get around in a wheelchair. I, myself, ventured into the handicap stall in our office and couldn’t begin to think about how to maneuver my body onto the toilet. Needless to say, I have a new and thorough appreciation for challenges the disabled can face.

Overall, it was a great session, the lessons from which will be applicable throughout future processes, from initial design work to final details. It also made our team even more aware of the importance of accessible routes.

A few team members weighed in on the experience and how it will affect their work in the future:

Will Chivers, structural engineer-in-training:
A lot of buildings’ interior spaces need to be thoroughly planned out to allow the disabled to freely flow through the space, at the same time maximizing function for the space. Designing an ADA-compliant building means we need to incorporate more space and functionality, but at the same time limit expense and the building’s footprint. This experience has allowed us to see what a true ADA building is. It may meet the basic needs of ADA compliance but we can adjust our designs to take care of the little things for a better, simpler, and truly beautiful solution — one that works for all, and that the client loves.

Holly Dawson, landscape architect-in-training:
From a site perspective, it is easy to see why meeting cross slopes and having proper ramps are important features. You could get going too fast or tip easily if there isn’t an accessible or properly graded route for someone in a wheelchair. You never know in what capacity clients/users might have a disability and how some of our unique designs may look great, but aren’t necessarily the easiest or most accessible spaces. Creating a space everyone can effortlessly enjoy is definitely a challenge but a great and attainable goal!


Images: Designer Tracy Baker navigates the main entrance to Boise’s 8th & Main Building (top), while architect-in-training James Colburn adjusts to a new perspective on his workstation.

For more information on facilities management and other learning resources for health professionals, visit medassisting.org.


  • Alison Johnson

    April 28, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Great post Lindsay Erb and what a great exercise. Wish more companies would think outside the box like CTA. What a great place to work.

  • Travis Estvold

    Travis Estvold

    April 28, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    I really like this post, Lindsay. It’s one thing to design according to guidelines and law; I’d assume most firms do that. You took it a step further and encouraged others to experience what it is we design at CTA to further their real-world understanding. That’s downright smart, and will pay dividends down the road.

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