Design for Humankind

Design for Humankind

By Kelly Vencill Sanchez
Architect and healthcare design visionary Michael Graves shares his thoughts on how paralysis has affected his approach and practice.

"On the first day I got my wheelchair I was also given all my clothes for the next day, a little pile on the chair. I was so proud of myself for getting it all on—the socks and everything. Dressing is a struggle and it can take up to an hour and a half. After I got dressed I got myself into the wheelchair and into the bathroom to shave. Now, I was told this was a hospital that boasts physical therapy facilities built by experts. So I reached to get the faucet and it was in the back of the sink, instead of the side where it should be for the people who would use that room. So I thought to myself, well, tomorrow I’ll have someone from my office bring my electric razor. Then I looked for the outlet, and it was in the floor. So that was out, too. Then, I looked up at the wall to the mirror, and it started here [gestures to his forehead]. It was for someone standing. That was extraordinary for me. I couldn’t turn on the water; I couldn’t plug in the razor; I couldn’t look in the mirror. And this is a hospital very well known for therapy. At that point I said to myself, ‘I am going to do something about this. I am a designer, I’m an architect, I’ve got the bully pulpit. I can do something in this industry that would require architects that call themselves experts to sit in a wheelchair for a week and go to their office and to their home.’ I’m not sure you could enforce it, but it’s important for people to understand what living in a wheelchair does to you."

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