Design for Independent Living
Raymond Lifchez on Rethinking Architecture
“Generally, in their efforts to solve the problems of accessibility, architects and educators (as well as recent literature on barrier-free design) have placed undue emphasis on dimensions and abstract performance criteria. But such emphasis only transforms handicapped persons into objects, for example, into wheelchairs with specific measurable requirements. These are important criteria, but only as adjuncts to broader questions about life as a handicapped person in a world constructed for the able-bodied. Understanding these issues requires knowledge and empathy on the part of designers and handicapped clients, as well as willingness to learn about the range of disabilities and their environmental consequences.”
Raymond Lifchez and his colleagues spent several years conducting research to understand the needs of people with disabilities within the environment.
“Rather than focusing on the activities that are unique to people with severe disabilities, we have studied the wide range of everyday activities' common to all people. Through extended interviews and visits with 150 disabled individuals living in Berkeley, we have sought to learn how they experience the physical environment and how they modify it in order to live in noninstutional settings in the society at large.”
Excerpts from Raymond Lifchez, “The Environment as a Support for Independent Living,” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 1979.
Left: Architectural Barriers. Photos taken by Professor Raymond Lifchez to document the daily life of wheelchair users and the obstacles they encounter in navigating environments designed for able-bodied people. Images from the Raymond Lifchez slide collection, Visual Resources Center, UC Berkeley
Left: Design for Accessibility. These instructional slides were used by Professor Lifchez to teach students guidelines for designing for people who use wheelchairs and other assistive devices. These guidelines were only one facet of Professor Lifchez’s approach to teaching students to design for people with physical disabilities: he taught students to understand and employ these standards empathetically. The unique methods he used in his studio courses are showcased in the next section. Images from the Raymond Lifchez slide collection, Visual Resources Center, UC Berkeley.