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Around The House: A Brilliant Mentor

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News December 2016

Remembering a friend

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I am saddened, yet honored, to share some thoughts about my good friend, Wally Dutcher, a stalwart of Universal Design (UD) and accessibility, who died at 79 years old this past July.

After I was a caregiver for my grandfather, who had suffered a series of strokes, I became interested in home accessibility and then discovered UD in its infancy. I discovered the Home-modifications Listserv, and it was there I was introduced to Wally in the mid-1990s. I suppose it was destiny along with good luck and a definite blessing.

I had started my schematic home plans prior to 9/11. When that tragic day occurred, I knew my idea of creating plans for mobility-impaired and with UD must be completed, as there was surely more war on the horizon. 

It wasn’t until 2003 that my first book of 52 plans was published. I asked Wally to review the book. It was clear that nothing takes the place of firsthand experience when it comes to designing for impaired mobility. Wally continued as my mentor and a great friend for the next 15 years.

Don’t Tell Me I Can’t

When I met Wally in St. Petersburg, Fla., I was amazed to see that he created all of his computer research and designs with just the use of a pencil eraser with a hand-assist, self-invented device. Wally later rolled over to his van, dropped the lift and invited me along on a tour of some of his local design efforts. 

The first stop was the sailing club, where he designed a floating ramp system that raised and lowered with the tide while remaining wheelchair accessible.

I visited Wally a couple times in successive years, and perhaps one of the most enjoyable was when we toured the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg on opening day. He suggested doing an unofficial Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) review. 

You would have to have known Wally to appreciate his complaining about this and that, even though it met ADA requirements of the law. Picture if you can, dumb and dumber, taking a stroll through the dedicated Dalí exhibition playground. Dalí himself was probably rolling in his grave as “those two” reinvented the meaning of surreal. 

After that, it was a tour of the freedom home that Wally designed for wounded veterans. 

Continuing Education

We had so many great experiences. I discovered more of Wally’s genius every time I went down to visit. He enjoyed analyzing my PN articles, too, but I made sure they were in print first. I had the honor of continuing to work with Wally through the years.

I am happy to say that I have reached an exclusive business agreement with Wally’s family heirs to continue development of some of Wally’s older and more current designs. Plans will be available for viewing and for sale on my websites, as well as in future books. At this time I am still adding plans, so they may or may not be available at time of this publication. 

I am creating a series of new books and distinctly separating UD and home accessibility, as I’m including assistive technology and home health care that is not traditionally UD, perse. The first book is Child Accessible Bed and Bath, A Parents Design Guide, available at accessiblehealthhome.com. You can also find the books at universaldesignonline.com.

Wally will continue to be with us in spirit. He would be pleased. I miss you, Wally. I hope you like the new plans, articles and books to come. Thank you for all you did for the mobility impaired and in helping us all become mobility empowered.

To learn more about Wally, visit The Tampa Bay Times’ website. 

For more information, or to provide comments or plan reviews, email the author at CharlesSchwab@UniversalDesignOnline.com

The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the position of Paralyzed Veterans of America.   

 

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Around The House: A Brilliant Mentor

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