We recently conducted an interview with Allen Garrett of Access Able Designs to ask him about founding a successful accessibility minded business, his experience, and where he sees the industry going in the future. For the last 23 years his company’s Access-Able Transfer Benches have been instrumental in helping hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, restaurants, cruise ships, airports, convention centers, and even homeowners to meet and/or exceed the ADA standard for their handicapped accessible facilities.
1. We wanted to say congratulations on the success of your business! Could you tell us a little more about your company and mission?
Thank you so much. After 28 years of running my own company, I can honestly say that it is quite amazing to have a successful business as a quadriplegic wheelchair user. I get compliments on that all the time.. And I do feel that I have been able to add a better point of view for homeowners and architects who are looking forward to user friendly products and I am able to give an opinion from a user’s standpoint.
2. For our readers that may not follow you on social media and know your story, why is accessibility your design focus?
I became frustrated with accessibility in my bathroom and I made my own toilet and shower transfer bench out of PVC pipe that was much stronger than the flimsy aluminum style that stores sell. It gave me the idea to patent and sell the toilet transfer bench which was a unique and much-needed product. This led me to find a factory that would produce the product and then I would begin eventually selling other shower benches and grab bars along the way.
3. What can you tell us about the importance of accessible design in the bathroom?
America has come a long way in mandating accessibility for all places and all users. I am still shocked by the hotels that try to get away with the flimsy plastic or aluminum seats, but most places are doing a wonderful job of helping us to access the bathroom.
4. What design elements should be considered when renovating or designing a bathroom for accessible living?
Obviously the correct grab bars and sturdy wall-mounted shower seats are essential, but one of the aspects that I try to educate others on is that there really is no need for a great big shower area. In many cases smaller is safer. I feel much safer in an area where I can touch each wall in case I was to slip or fall forward.
5. In regards to accessible and universal design, what are some current trends you have been seeing?
I would have to say that I am most excited about the new grab bar designs with the curves and contemporary look. It's about time that accessible bathrooms don't look like hospitals.
6. When did you first hear about CSI Bathware and what would you say is most important in terms of style, quality, and accessibility of products when specifying or recommending to a client?
I have been working with CSI for about 10 years and I would say that quality and style is competitive with any other factory. One of the best aspects is that they stock so many items so the customer can receive their item quickly instead of waiting for two or three weeks. And the CSI team is extremely friendly & easy to work with.
7. What would you say most architects, interior designers, or specifiers, overlook in most accessible design projects.
I do think many of them are still overlooking the dressing benches that are needed in every area where a wheelchair user may need to lay down to redress. Though the smaller 42 inch bench is an option, there aren't a lot of 42 inch wheelchair users out there so I always recommend to go with the 48 inch if possible. And maybe one of these days we will see a 72” become more common, since that is closer to a normal height. Most people don't realize that we have to lay down completely to change out of our shorts, etc.
8. Where do you think the world of accessible design should be in the next 10-15 years?
Maybe we'll see grab bars and shower benches that recess into the wall and somewhat disappear until needed. Most managers of hotel properties in commercial buildings that I talked to would prefer that their rooms do not look so “handicapped”.
For more information on Allen Garrett and his company Access Able Designs, be sure to check out his website to get his full story.