Editor's Note

Stephanie Stroud 

As you scroll through the photos featured on our “This is Landscape Architecture” campaign for April’s World Landscape Architecture Month (WLAM), you will see award-winning landscape designs that invite the visitor to lounge, play, recharge, move and connect with the natural environment. These places are not only beautiful and desirable spaces, they are designed for everyone to cherish and enjoy.

As I was cruising through the photos on our feed, I remembered the voices of several disabled folks that I heard speak recently at a conference. Their stories echoed in my mind and I thought about how they may experience the landscapes captured in the photos. When I saw them speak, it was clear that the individuals were strong-willed, strong-bodied, and filled with humor and spirit. They described their experiences—some good and some bad—of using facilities and accessing landscapes. One woman described how for years she relied on her husband to carry her up pathways so she could access certain site features. Another man, once able-bodied and recently disabled, described the lengthy and involved process he endured to leave his hospital bed to go fishing for a few hours. One gentleman, with a visual impairment, shared his experience of walking into water fountains and floating staircases, both placed in the center of a walking path, with no indication of their presence to give warning to those who couldn’t see them. He then shared the design solutions to fix the problems: the water fountain with a beautiful border to warn the visually impaired, and a floating staircase, still floating, but with small features that those with a cane could sense before they walked into the side of it.

These stories of resiliency were inspiring and motivating, and encouraged the audience to think beyond the ADA requirements and challenge themselves to consider the real-life implications of the work we do as designers. The speakers I saw encouraged designers to learn from disabled persons by asking questions and listening carefully to the responses. We can follow the ADA recommendations and make a safe place for people with disabilities, or we can follow them and make a memorable space for all. After all, at some point, we all will experience what it is like to be disabled.

Whether it is a mental disability, which is invisible, or disabilities that occur after an accident or as a result of aging, everyone will experience landscapes without their physical selves working at 100 percent capacity. Because of this, the importance of universal design for every landscape is critical. If you’re designing a public park, you’re truly thinking about how folks without full vision, hearing, mobility, or mental abilities will encounter your design. If you’re designing a private backyard, you’re thinking about how a family or single person will age and enjoy their space ten, twenty, or thirty years from now. For more information about universal design, check out the National Center for Accessibility.

If you haven’t had the chance to see the WLAM campaign, I encourage you to view the images of the work of your colleagues and think about what motivates you as a designer.

Thank you, as always, for the ongoing encouragement and inspiration! 

Until Next Time,


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