This project organized and developed a comprehensive evidence base on boarding and disembarking public transit vehicles, completed research to address key policy and design issues, and identified new research needs. The IDeA Center, as part of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Accessible Public Transportation (RERC-APT), conducted laboratory research on the usability of access ramps in transit applications by employing a full-scale simulation of a low-floor transit bus and an adjustable ramp. One study evaluated the usability of ramps of different slopes during ascent and descent. The second study focused on the ease of boarding, fare payment and disembarking under different conditions of fare payment and available floor space at the front area of a low-floor bus. The data collected in this study established a model for evidence-based practice in this field for the development of policies, standards and design tools. This project was part of a larger effort to research and develop methods to empower consumers and service providers in the design and evaluation of accessible transportation equipment, information services and physical environments. Data collected in this project was used to design and evaluate vehicle features, boarding technologies and design of stops and stations. Research on the anthropometry of wheeled mobility devices and their users indicated that current dimensions prescribed in U.S. accessibility standards for transportation are inadequate, e.g. clear floor area and ramp slope. The researchers included these findings when they submitted comments in response to the U.S. Access Board’s proposal to revise and update its accessibility guidelines for buses, over-the-road buses and vans. Findings from the research were also used to provide the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) with recommendations for new bus designs; two of these recommendations were incorporated in two new buses.
In an effort to attract awareness to this housing crisis and increase the supply of inclusive housing, the LIFEhouse™, a universally designed concept home, was built in Newport Cove on northern Illinois’ famed Chain O’ Lakes. This project is a collaboration between suburban Chicago custom builders, New American Homes Inc., and the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center) at the University at Buffalo. The LIFEhouse™ is based on a special concept home that emphasizes universally designed features and promotes safety and accommodation for people of all ages, throughout the lifespan. The IDeA Center’s staff collaborated with New American Homes Inc. to modify a typical Newport Cove house to include universal design features, while still reflecting neighboring houses in the community. This research/build partnership is working to develop residences that adapt to a person’s changing needs throughout his or her lifetime. Specifically, the house and site incorporate multisensory perception with universal design principles. Features include an unobtrusive bricked ramp; 42-inch wide front door with stepless entry; kitchen appliances all within reach, whether a person is sitting or standing; Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant faucets, sinks and cabinets; two fully accessible baths; special lighting; memory niches; and easy-to-use handles on doors and cabinets. In 2012, the LIFEhouse™ team was selected to receive the Gold Award from among over 50 projects for the Best Universal Designed Home at the National Association of Home Builders International Home Builders’ Show in Orlando, Florida. This award recognized the LIFEhouse™ project for producing a home that addresses the lifestyle and physical requirements of the baby-boom generation. LIFEhouse™ for a Hero is a second home currently under construction. When finished, the house will be given to an injured veteran through the Wounded Warrior program. The LIFEhouse™ for a Hero project is possible thanks to an anonymous donor who suggested the idea after visiting the original showcase.
As part of this study, investigators at the School of Architecture at University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland, and the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center), University at Buffalo, are conducting research to investigate the most effective means to develop and deliver a program of continuing professional development (CPD) in Universal Design for Irish architects and architectural technologists. There are a number of key policy documents in Ireland that reinforce the need for Universal Design to become an integrated part of everyday architectural practice in Ireland. In response to these policy developments, and supported by the Center for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD), the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) is seeking to introduce a new CPD program in Universal Design to support the respective roles of architects and architectural technologists as the lead professions advising on Universal Design in the built environment. This first phase of the project is research to inform the development and delivery of that CPD program. The research will include a detailed investigation of national and international good practice in the area of CPD and other postgraduate education and training in Universal Design for built environment professionals, with particular focus on architects and architectural technologists. Another key element of the research will be identification of the needs and preferences of RIAI members in relation to Universal Design CPD. Surveys, workshops and a prototype course are planned as part of the research.
IDeA Center staff are currently serving as universal design consultants to the design of Explore & More’s new site at Canalside. IDeA Center staff serve in the following roles: provide universal design education to museum staff and the design team; review schematic design plans for opportunities for more inclusive elements/practices; assist museum staff and the design team with planning for the incorporation of inclusive practices throughout all aspects of the museum, including its design, provision of services and community relations; contribute to the planning and execution of workshops with museum staff, museum board members, the design team, community members and local advocate groups to brainstorm strategies for ensuring the inclusiveness of the new museum.
Visitability is an approach to design that integrates basic accessibility features into newly built homes, including a stepless entrance, wider doorways and at least a half bathroom on the main floor. Visitability also promotes affordable, sustainable and inclusive design solutions. This initiative is founded in the belief that basic architectural access features in all new homes is a civil and human right that improves livability for all. Through a collaboration between the IDeA Center and Concrete Change, an organization founded by Eleanor Smith (a leader in visitability advocacy) of Atlanta, Georgia, researchers explored the growing need for accessible housing in the United States and the recent emergence of visitability as an affordable and sustainable design strategy aimed at increasing the number of accessible single-family homes and neighborhoods. The project examined the history and fundamental principles of visitability, the associated design features and requirements, the number and diversity of visitability initiatives and programs at a national scale, and the challenges and controversies currently surrounding the visitability movement. The research team has disseminated its research findings through a variety of publications. The IDeA Center’s involvement also resulted in the drafting of ICC/ANSI A117.1 Type C units.
The purpose of the study was to determine if Universal Design Standards (UD Standards) improve usability, convenience and safety for all people (including people with disabilities) who use residential life facilities and buildings in general. This project is a component of the 2010-2015 Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Universal Design and the Built Environment (RERC-UD). During the previous RERC-UD cycle, early drafts of the UD Standards for Commercial Buildings were used to design four buildings, one of which is located on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus. During this cycle, we had the opportunity to compare assessments of the newly constructed residential life building, Greiner Hall, with assessments of similar features in a nearby building that was not designed using the UD Standards. RERC-UD researchers evaluated the buildings through a post-occupancy evaluation (POE), which included three methods of data collection: (1) focus groups, (2) guided tours — a form of focused interview completed as part of a tour of a building — and (3) an online survey. The results provide information for improving the design of dormitories and other residential life facilities, including information on student preferences, usability, convenience and perceived safety. Additionally, the findings will be used to improve the UD Standards and to establish a model for continuous development of the evidence base for the UD Standards.
The Wounded Warrior Home Project at Fort Belvoir is the result of efforts by the U.S. Army and Clark Realty Capital to drastically improve the quality of life for wounded warriors returning to active duty. A diverse team of stakeholders, including the IDeA Center, was assembled and collaborated on two new single-family homes at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The project sought to move beyond accessible design and incorporate universal design features in order to provide enhanced usability for everyone. The design team built two demonstration houses (Patriot House and Freedom House) at Fort Belvoir that implemented numerous universal design features such as stepless entrances, open floor plans, home automation, adjustable sinks and cabinets, low windows, and roll-in showers. IDeA Center researchers then evaluated the Patriot House using guided tours and structured interviews with four wounded, active-duty soldiers, as well as members of the design team. Post-occupancy data on the Freedom Home was gathered using a detailed walkthrough and semi-structured interviews with an active-duty soldier and his family living in the home at the time. The research indicated that the design team successfully reinvented accessible housing for wounded warriors and their families. The evaluations confirmed that the soldiers generally think very favorably of the aesthetics and universal design features in the two demonstration homes, but they also highlighted some opportunities for improvement. For example, due to a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries among returning soldiers, many soldiers recommended including additional features to enhance perceptions of safety and privacy. A detailed report of the findings, including an extensive review of the value engineering, will be used by members of the design team and the U.S. Army to help refine the prototype homes for future phases of construction, which will include an additional 19 homes at Fort Belvoir.
The IDeA Center partnered with Touch Graphics Inc. to develop a series of Multisensory Interactive Models (MIM). These models provide an immersive wayfinding experience, offering a combination of audio, visual and tactile output to sighted, low vision and blind individuals who can all use the same device to learn about an unfamiliar environment. Project clients included: Carroll Center for the Blind, Chicago Lighthouse, and Perkins School for the Blind. The team developed a wayfinding device by combining three-dimensional rapid prototyping techniques and touch-base sensing technologies into a simple, intuitive interactive tactile model. The team documented the sites, produced preliminary 2D drawings and 3D prototypes, and printed the final models using a Dimension 3D printer. After testing and production, the models were installed for use. The team then conducted usability studies to evaluate the effectiveness of each prototype. Usability testing demonstrated that the MIMs were a significant help to the visitors, students and staff. Touch Graphics Inc. and the IDeA Center were able to develop the prototype into a fully functional, market-ready product that is customizable with the potential for widespread use in more public environments. Through the use of Touch Graphics’ in-house rapid prototyping machines and on-site manufacturing system, the final model is streamlined and cost-efficient. The installation of the touch-base interactive model proved to be a significant help to the availability of the model to others in similar institutions.
The IDeA Center provides design and consulting services for families and individuals, social service agencies, and nonprofit organizations. Over 800 projects have been completed, including workplace modifications, home modifications, home designs, renovation designs for group homes and a building signage system. Some projects are done on a pro bono basis and others are completed for service fees. To complete this work, IDeA maintains an extensive collection of product information related to accessible design and home modifications.
This project is a feasibility study designed to assess the viability of several measurement tools that are potentially applicable to quantitative evaluation of Complete Streets programs. The tools touch upon several areas of impact, including safety, economic and environmental impact, bike/pedestrian volume, and citizen feedback. The study deployed these measures in a field test conducted in Buffalo, N.Y., along six transportation corridors where Complete Streets projects have either been implemented or are planned. The goal is to establish the feasibility and sustainability of these data collection methods in order to identify those that might be implemented as part of an ongoing Complete Streets program evaluation.