A non-profit that serves Alaska’s seniors and people with disabilities has a new home that is universally accessible – that means anybody with any disability can work at or visit their office.
The entryway to Access Alaska is open and airy with high ceilings and exposed pipe, giving it an industrial look that’s contrasted by warm, birch-wood walls and soft earthy colors.
Eric Spangler, an architect who redesigned the nondescript, 1970s-era building in the Fairview neighborhood. He says he was tasked with showing that accessibility didn’t have to mean ugly.
“Access Alaska came to us with a mission that they didn’t want this to look sterile or hospital like,” Spangler said.
Access Alaska moved into the new building this March, but contractors are just putting on the finishing touches.
Before this, the organization was renting in midtown for mere than a decade, making modifications as needed to accommodate workers and clients. In the new building, hallways are all extra wide so people in wheelchairs and those walking on two legs can remain side-by side. Pocket doors slide open under the pressure of just one finger. But it doesn’t look institutional.
“We really wanted showcase it and to highlight that idea that incorporating above and beyond ADA standards, it can be easily done and it can look fantastic,” Maja Strand, the interior designer for the project, said.
In addition, all the furniture is on casters and is height adjustable.
“It was a very traditional clinic, long hallways with exam rooms coming and going down the long hallways,” Kellie Miller, the Executive Assistant at Access Alaska, said.
She says between Alaska’s aging population and the return of combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, Access Alaska needed more space.
“Some of our programs have grown exponentially between our personal care assistant program and our traumatic and acquired brain injury program are two that have grown and we needed more space,” Miller said.
The new building cost about $3.5 million and was mostly paid for by grants from the Rasmusson Foundation, the Alaska Legislature.
Access Alaska’s main focus is helping seniors and people with disabilities to live independently. They also refurbish, repair and sanitize used medical equipment, then loan it out for free.
Miller adds that besides looking good, the office has a lot of critical, practical changes, like new equipment to better carry out their mission. She points to what looks like a giant silver washing machine.
“One of the really interesting features that we have, I think we’re the only one in the state, if not the northwest, is that we have a hubscrub that fits a wheelchair or medical equipment,” Miller said. “So in this workshop here, equipment comes in the back door, then it’s sanitized and then it’s brought back out and provided to the community.”
With the redesign, the workshop has expanded to three times its original size. It was important that the offices be accessible not just for clients but for the people who work there. Because there’s a focus on peer support, more than half of Access Alaska’s employees have disabilities themselves.
Frank Box is an Independent Living Advocate with Access Alaska and he helps run the workshop that recycles used medical equipment. A welder by trade, Box has survived two bouts with brain cancer that left him unable to do his old job.
“When I couldn’t weld an fabricate anymore, I thought I was done. I thought that all of my experience was for not. And it’s not. All of my experiences in surviving brain cancer and three years off work while I went through rehabilitation gave me the skills to transfer what I already knew to help others,” Box said.
Box says he’s proud of the new design and of working for an organization that’s setting the bar for accessibility in Alaska.