Observation Requirements for New Interns: A Case Study on Field Work in Architecture

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Background

Karen Braitmayer was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a collagen disorder. Her symptoms of fragile bones resulted in orthopedic anomalies and short stature. She uses a manual wheelchair for mobility. Karen earned a Masters degree in Architecture. When she entered the workforce as an intern architect, she encountered barriers to completing her work assignments.

Access Issue

New interns in architecture are expected to observe construction that is underway to gain valuable knowledge about the construction process and how design actually goes together outside of the studio. Construction sites often pose significant barriers to wheelchair users due to conditions such as lack of clear floor space and working elevators.

Solution

After brainstorming solutions with more senior architects, Karen chose to observe construction in tenant improvement projects. These projects are construction projects inside completed building shells. They have hard floors and usually have working elevators, yet the construction issues are just as complicated as those at other construction sites. Karen was able to learn from these site visits and, when appropriate, gave feedback about the accessibility of the site. With the knowledge she gained as an intern architect, Karen went on to have a successful career and now owns her own architecture company, Studio Pacifica, Ltd. In September of 2010, President Obama appointed Ms. Braitmayer to the U. S. Access Board, an independent Federal agency that provides leadership in accessible design under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws.

Conclusions

Accessibility problems regarding a work experience may be solved by brainstorming and determining the core experience that is required. A senior colleague can often suggest alternative ways to gain that experience. Colleagues in design fields who value diversity in the workforce and see the value in practicing universal design, may be particularly eager to explore solutions to accessibility barriers.

AccessDesign has been developed in partnership with Access to Design Professions, Institute for Human Centered Design, (IHCD) Boston, MA and funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Last update or review: May 14, 2014