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.
Age Friendly Erie County is a collaborative initiative of local organizations in Western New York committed to creating a vibrant, inclusive community for residents to grow up and grow old. The initiative is facilitated by the Erie County Department of Senior Services, UB’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA) and AARP. The goal of the Age Friendly Communities Erie County Initiative is to connect the numerous local efforts already contributing to an improved quality of life for the aging population in Erie County in order to create a unified and dynamic network dedicated to ensuring a prosperous future for Erie County residents throughout their lifespans.
Students at Waterfront Elementary School, Futures Academy, East High School, and Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts are served by the Liberty Partnerships Program (LPP) for the purposes of dropout prevention. Staff have engaged at-risk students in grades 5-12 with research-based interventions, including growth mindset/brainology and student success skills curricula, both designed to bolster students’ soft skills and increase academic achievement. As a result of these multifaceted interventions, overall GPAs and standardized test scores have increased, and students’ levels of risk, in terms of dropout, have also decreased across the board. As a partner with Buffalo Public Schools, LPP has established a pronounced and effective presence in the schools and continues to connect students to resources available at UB.
Worked with Erie Community College (ECC) to align the college’s architecture technology program with UB’s undergraduate architecture program. Received a “Partners in Education Award” on May 1, 2015, at ECC’s North Campus. Advised ECC administration and faculty on curricular adjustments to the college’s two-year program so that graduates may be eligible for advanced standing in UB’s four-year undergraduate program.
“Anchor institutions” are organizations with a stable commitment in the community; they have major investments where they are located and are not readily moved. Economic development that involves anchor institutions as foundational to its success is a strategy that has been utilized in urban communities to foster collaboration among and between education, health, business and government sectors. Such collaboration maximizes the impact of economic development initiatives. The anchor convening, “Anchor Institutions and the New Economy in Buffalo” was an outgrowth of the Economic Opportunity Panel (EOP) Report project. Led by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and as a result of EOP Partner discussions, several EOP partners agreed on the need for facilitating a city-wide discussion about an anchor institution strategy that could expand upon and enrich the workforce and economic development goals inherent in recommendation one of the EOP Report. A city-wide convening was held in February 2015 to provide a forum for national foundations and other leaders in this movement to begin exchanging information about this approach with local community leaders. National co-sponsors included the Ford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the F.B. Heron Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and the Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities.