The word “remodel” usually sparks a discussion about aesthetics. “How can this building become prettier?” But when the Cleveland Sight Center, a local non-profit serving the visually impaired community, began construction in 2011, the approach had to change; some of the clients simply couldn’t see the changes. But the center planned to make $8 million worth of renovations nonetheless. Rearranging and altering 75,000 square feet of the original structure, the changes benefited both clients and employees—many of whom have problems with their sight.
Government and public relations manager Kent Smith sums up the changes as “floors, doors, and colors,” which basically covers everything. The bathrooms, for example, incorporate all three. The women’s restroom door is orange; men’s—blue. The carpeting also switches texture in front of each, and clients push a flat panel to enter (instead of pulling a handle for an office). These differences, incorporated throughout the entire building, mark various places or services that clients can then identify. And the layout (which used to be a “maze,” as executive director Steve Friedman describes it) now has straight lines for easier navigation.
Smith added that the new layout makes the building “bigger, better, greener” (He’s a fan of threes). Aside from important details like large print and automatic light switches, the new floor plan has expanded client services to make them more accessible. The two most-used facilities, the Eye-dea Center and the Low Vision Clinic, moved to the first floor. Clients previously had to use stairs to travel between the two. The pre-school also has observation rooms now for parents and teachers. And the center implemented all of these changes while adhering to LEED regulations.
The changes even address its unique demographics—two levels of wall-holdings for clients of varying heights.
“We can serve a blind child—maybe 6 years old—and a blind senior—maybe 96 years old—and every age in between,” executive director Steve Friedman says.
The changes address employees’ needs, too. The offices, previously scattered throughout the building, have transformed into an open cubicle space that creates “communication, collaboration, and teamwork,” according to Freidman. (Apparently everyone is a fan of threes.)
The center didn’t want to go overboard with the renovations though. As one of the leading visually-impaired rehabilitation establishments in the country, the facilities need to simultaneously assist and challenge clients. And that’s exactly what they requested. “We could have come up with all sorts of ideas that would help with way-finding. And [our clients] said, “No, don’t do that. If you do that, you’re going to be the only building we ever enter.” So Friedman held off on some of his plans. For example, there’s no system that announces when you approach a bathroom or an office. Where else could the blind find talking walls anyway?
In all these ways, the Cleveland Sight Center can serve as a model for other businesses. Smith certainly hopes that will happen.
“Through some very strategic and intentional decisions about the design elements, any building can be more accessible and friendly for the visually impaired population,” he says.
And as the center has shown, implementing these changes can facilitate better service and business. The grand re-opening happens today from 4 to 7:30 p.m. . Sparkling beverages and hors oeuvres will ensue. But you’ll have to fight your way through the 650-plus people who have already RSVP-ed.
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