AIA New Jersey President Steven B. Lazarus, AIA, Is Reminded to Embrace Our Differences at Grassroots 2020

February 26, 2020

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Grassroots 2020 Reminds Us to Embrace Our Differences

L-R: Panelists Greg Burke, AIA, Chris Downey, AIA, Karen Braitmayer, FAIA and moderator Immediate Past President of AIA National, Bill Bates, FAIA.


by Steven B. Lazarus, AIA

Central to an architect’s core values is the belief that the built environment should adapt to people rather than people having to adapt to their physical environment. The one-of-a-kind session, Embrace Our Differences, dealt with the ADA and its minimum requirements. The moderator was Immediate Past President of AIA National, Bill Bates, FAIA. The panel included Karen Braitmayer, FAIA, Chris Downey, AIA, and Greg Burke, AIA, professionals with varied disabilities sharing their personal stories, challenges and triumphs.

The learning objectives were to increase knowledge about people with disabilites, to confront stereo typical perceptions, address innovations and providing examples of promising practices in firms and communities.

They discussed concrete examples of things that work and things that don’t work. Each speaker shared their unique persepctive as an architect: one in a wheelchair, another blind and the third panelist was born with two fingers on each hand and two toes on each foot. They shared their experiences, issues, and potential solutions beyond the ADA minimum requirements. Included were tools and resources to encourace attendees to shift their thinking about designing for the disabled.

The takeaway from this discussion is architects should think from the perspective of the end user when they design, beyond the minimum requirements of the ADA. Imagine being blind and 6’-5” tall; you need to be cognizant of objects that you might hit your head on.  Each panelist told of their difficulties and made the participants really think beyond the minimum requirements, so that people with disabilities can enjoy their built environment in the same way that non disabed people enjoy. 


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