Owner of Eastlake, Derry & Associates, LLC Accessibility Solutions
An original article contributed by John Salmen
Mark Derry is a true entrepreneur in the field of Universal Design (UD). While many in the field gravitated to UD while working as architects or designers, Mark’s professional expertise was honed not through formal education but practical experience. It is that practicality in finding solutions to problems that clients find especially helpful and quite often, cost effective.
Prior to founding his consulting practice, Eastlake, Derry and Associates, Mark provided technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to clients of the ADA Technical Assistance Centers in New York and Maryland, but his grass-roots activism in the area of independent living is what started it all.
Mark first became acquainted with an Independent Living Center (ILC) in Middletown, New York, where he had gone for an appointment with a prosthetist and learned about their amputee support group. The ILC wanted to start a home modifications program and Mark was quickly tapped to lend his creative problem solving skills to the team. It helped that Mark “knows how buildings are put up and taken apart” having worked on construction projects much of his life. As the Center’s home modifications expert, Mark was eligible to participate in the first comprehensive ADA training program offered by the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund under a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. There, Mark learned the fundamentals of the original ADA and the details of the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, making him one of only a handful of ADA experts in the Northeast in 1993.
One of the challenges Mark faced early on was helping contractors and code officials find the common sense solutions to remodel or new design challenges. Too often, contractors or code officials would try to apply one-size-fits-all solutions in their attempts at compliance. Such rightspirited but poorly conceived solutions sometimes missed the mark – badly, creating frustration and disappointment on all sides.
Mark recalls one home design problem he was called in on by a distraught homeowner who used a wheelchair for mobility. After spending $20,000 and being out of her home for two months, she returned to her beautifully renovated bathroom to discover she couldn’t use the toilet. A wall with a grab bar had been removed to make way for a roll-in shower. Her contractor wouldn’t modify it, claiming that all elements were “ADA compliant,” which may have been acceptable for a public use area but didn’t work for the homeowner. Unfortunately, he had not thoroughly discussed the plan with the homeowner or taken adequate time to determine what she really wanted. When Mark came in, he asked the homeowner to demonstrate how she accessed the toilet or would like to. She showed how she needed the formerly positioned grab bar to pivot from her chair to the toilet and that the technically conforming grab bars on the opposite wall would not work for her. Ultimately, Mark had to rebuild the wall positioning a 24″ grab bar vertically for her to use in her transfer. The wall also allowed the installation of a shower seat and grab bar in the shower so that she could transfer and use the shower independently.
As a trainer for the ILC, Mark lent his expertise to other organizations throughout the Northeast working with other Independent Living Centers, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the regional ADA Technical Assistance Center where he repeated his mantra that “the consumer is the first person on the team.” Mark also advocated the benefit to the remodeling or building professional of bringing in an Occupational Therapist or Physical Therapist to consult when an individual’s physical limitations were known or anticipated.
With that person-centered approach, Mark was a natural for a leadership position within the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL). NCIL promotes the concept that “people with disabilities are the best experts on their own needs, that they have crucial and valuable perspectives to contribute to society, and are deserving of equal opportunity to decide how to live, work, and take part in their communities.” He has served on the Governing Board and has chaired the ADA/Civil Rights Sub-Committee for the past 10 years, where he participated in the rulemaking process on the ADA Amendments Act. Mark has served his home state of West Virginia by participating on the Statewide Independent Living Council, a position to which he has been appointed by three Governors.
While Mark continues to provide accessibility training to advocacy groups, most of his time these days is devoted to consulting with health care facilities on bettering their design and practices to serve patients with any range of ability. Hospitals, quick care facilities, and imaging centers have been called out by the U.S. Department of Justice and private plaintiffs for a variety of concerns including inaccessible examination tables and a lack of interpreter assistance for deaf patients.
Mark’s approach as a consultant is to create a team to work through the facility and review the built environment as well as institutional policies to determine where barriers exist and find ways to eliminate them or create alternative solutions. His macro approach is one designed to be both efficient and save the facility the costs of having to solve problems sequentially.
Ultimately, Mark is pleased that his somewhat unplanned career allows him to influence and improve major facilities that will better serve all users. He acknowledges that there is still much work to be done, but it is very gratifying to know that some of those many trainees over the past 20 years have launched their own consulting careers and are working to provide a more accessible landscape, eliminating one barrier at a time. Mark hopes that collectively, they will create a wave of access improvements for a more usable world.