Book Review: Accessible Architecture—Beyond the Ramp

A volume by architect Ron Wickman, whose parent had a mobility impairment, is a plea to the architecture profession for mindful design that is inclusive for all.

By Ron Wickman (Gemma B. Publishing, 2020)

Ron Wickman is a passionate advocate for accessible architecture that goes beyond the minimum requirements of the Building Code. Having grown up with a parent with a mobility impairment, Wickman learned the limitations of the built environment for those with disabilities at an early age. His 1991 Master’s thesis at the Technical University of Nova Scotia focused on barriers to accessibility, and he has since forged an Edmonton-based practice specializing in barrier-free design.

Neither an academic nor a comprehensive work, Accessible Architecture is a plea to the architecture profession for mindful design that is inclusive for all. Written in a personal and anecdotal style, the book’s six chapters include nine concepts for creating accessible architecture, and eighteen case studies from the author’s practice that illustrate his approach. Of note is chapter four, which defines the clients for accessible architecture as those with visual, hearing and cognitive limitations—in addition to those with mobility limitations.

While the book articulates a message that needs to be heard by the architecture profession and those engaged in architectural education, what is missing for this reviewer is a grounding in the increasingly large canon of research and resources created by those engaged in accessible design, disability studies, and related organizations. For example, the book could have included references to the Canadian Institute for the Blind’s comprehensive manual, Clearing Our Path, which details the design needs for those with visual impairments. For the case for inclusivity in architectural design to be truly heard and understood, the case itself should be inclusive of the work of others in the field. The book would greatly benefit from the inclusion of a list of references for further exploration of accessible architecture.

As a book that primarily catalogues the author’s work in the field, Accessible Design is a practical set of case studies set within a framework of working principles for achieving inclusive design.

Loraine Fowlow is an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Calgary, currently on Long-Term Disability leave, and a member of both the City of Calgary’s Advisory Committee on Accessibility and the Access Design Sub-Committee.