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Kristin Nelson – Day 3

October 21, 2010

Among other visitors on Tuesday, September 21, Ed Acerkman stopped in to say how pleased he was that we’d taken interest in his house. He was unable to get in touch with us earlier, but he was pleased we were talking about accessibility that day, so he took time to tell us about the wheelchair ramp he has been hoping to build to make his house more accessible.

He drew various illustrations of his plans and together we explored the issue of building codes as things that both help and hinder projects seeking to increase accessibility. They are, we agreed, definitely helpful for safety and should be mandatory in the inclusion for new structures. That said, building codes can sometimes dissuade creative solutions in situations where there are limited options, or in particular, limited financial resources.

We also discussed with Ed his aesthetic and material interests relative to this proposed project and acknowledged there were parts of his plan that might not actually be helpful to people requiring standardized features for their needs. For example, if the grade of a ramp is too steep, it would be difficult to travel down safely, and almost impossible to get back up.

Ed offered to be the focus of short documentary tracking his process digging out the space in front of his house for a ramp. If time permitted, we discussed bringing a camera to his place to capture the beginning, middle, and end of his project. Alternatively, we invited him to document the project on his own and send a copy to us to present at aceartinc. and online.

After he left, Kristin and I continued to discuss building codes versus resources in an era of increasing economic difficulty, for cities and smaller groups of communities, families, and individuals. Kristin had been pondering making a bench for the young girls we met on Sunday and came across for plans online that should could build with resources she knew she had on hand. True enough, this bench wouldn’t be up to code, and maybe it wouldn’t stick around long after it was placed between aceartinc. And the former location of Plug In ICA (which is where we met the girl who needed it), but it seemed worth doing, anyway.


Kristin contacted a friend and asked if he could bring the materials in question, which he was able to do. In the meantime, she sketched her plan and went to aceartinc. to pick up a few necessary materials. Later, while Kristin painted the board of the bench in a fashion reminiscent of the toy giraffe the young girl was holding at the time of our meeting, we discussed a few of the other topics that had emerged in different ways over the past few days.

Sharing anecdotes, we noticed a problem concerning how power is exerted over people with disabilities in different ways including the spectrum of options available to them, and the occasionally limited types of programming claiming to help them lead more fulfilling lives. We also spoke about this in relation to the gate-keeping attitude we collectively encountered at different points in trying to connect with people, not only relative to this project, but in other situations in the past. This was clearly another way power is wielded. How can this be addressed? It appears that new forms of advocacy and accountability may be needed.

The paint on the bench was left to dry overnight and we planned to assemble it the next day and leave it outside where, hopefully, the young girl might eventually find it, although we realized that was highly unlikely, aside from the fact that it would probably be damaged or thrown away.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Daphne Enns permalink
    November 3, 2010 8:49 pm

    Once again your discussion zeroed in on issues that I have become frustrated by. I have begun to contemplate how to challenge the a number of archaic code designations. Why are railings only necessary when there are at least for stairs? Why are our street curbs so inconsistent in height? I know for a fact that the curb on my street exceeds the maximum height of 7″ in some areas.

    The stairs outside of my children’s school is not following code, the width of the steps far exceeds the depth of the landing. There are “only” three steps, each a slightly different height (again against code) and both sides of the stairs are open, or rather lack safety railings.

    The School Division Number One turned down my request last year for installations of railings because the building code has been created in a way that somehow suggests that one step or even three steps do not require a railing for either safety or accessibility. Clearly these are archaic codes and who knows how they came into being.

    I was an interior designer and while my work had to adhere to the building codes there seemed to be discomfort if I suggested more work than was legally necessary even if it improved accessibility for people.

    It’s time for people to begin asking for more from building codes and the expectation that the codes will be reinforced without individuals having to advocate for the many who have never thought that they could expect more.

    As for ramps, the ratio is 1:12 meaning that for every foot of rise (or height) there must be 12 feet of ramp. So if a ramp needs to reach a final height of 36″ the ramp would be approximately 36 feet long excluding landings to pause at as well as for turning direction.

  2. Milena permalink
    November 4, 2010 7:17 am

    Thanks again, Daphne! I’m so glad you have found meaningful aspects to this project. There needs to be a whole new re-thinking about what priorities are actually important, and who decisions affect – you’re totally right!! Thanks for clarifying the rise over run for ramps — that is what our research turned up. Kristin and I found it interesting talking about why this matters, and why differences won’t necessarily work. Safety has to come first!

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