Conflict of Interests
However, I find I really can't endorse a lot of small-space projects for one simple fact: Almost none of them are accessible, let alone handicap-friendly.
Yes, if you want to reduce the amount of square footage a structure's footprint uses, up is a great direction in which to build. But even I, who am pretty able-bodied by the standards of non-able-bodied people, am really really not enthused about the prospect of having to climb a ladder to go to bed at night, because the designer of my tiny space has thoughtfully created a "sleeping loft." Assuming that the entire bedroom space is supposed to be in such a loft, I can't even fathom trying to, oh, say, haul a laundry bag up there. (Has any loft-happy designer ever thought to include a dumbwaiter?) Let alone trying to get up and down between bed and bathroom when I'm sick, for instance.
Also, I don't think I've ever seen a tiny space that's wheelchair-accessible, let alone crutches-friendly, owing to narrowness. I realise that smallness is a goal here, but my counterargument is, I guess, that there are lots of things about the small-space living design aesthetic and movement that could be used to enhance handicap-friendliness and wheelchair accessibility in spaces (such as making sure everything was within easy reach, providing easier-to-manipulate and well-designed furniture and fixtures, making housework easier for disabled people, and maximising space and design and function considerations to provide useful, safe, and accessible spaces for handicapped people).
I mean, really, can you imagine how well the small-space living movement's same care and attention to detail and willingness to privilege function over tradition would work for desgning handicap-friendly bathrooms?
My suggestions for creating better small spaces for disabled people would be:
- Pay attention to the different ergonomic needs of people with disabilities. Things like grab rails, bath seats, level access, wider doorways and hallways, placement of fixtures and outlets, heights of countertops and shelves become really important.
- Think outside the "up." An able-bodied person might be just fine using a library ladder or a ladder to a sleeping loft or using a stepladder to access a high shelf. A walking disabled person, maybe not, and for a wheelchair user, it's impossible.
- Use different dimensions. Change your perspective to include different approaches for different levels of mobility. For example, instead of designing in a tall, steep staircase, try to find a way to design in a short, wide staircase. Instead of designing a tall counter with drawers underneath, try designing a counter with nesting pull-out countertop-type tables (for use by seated or wheelchair-using cooks), as shown here.
- Get friendly with the floor. Use the spaces along the baseboards, rather than around the crown mouldings.
- Sacrifice. Yeah, an accessible building isn't going to be as perfectly small as something designed to be used by able-bodied people. For one thing, you're probably going to have to trade off height for width. But on the other hand, that sacrifice will probably pay off, especially when the current crop of temporarily able-bodied tiny space fans start getting older.
A Small Accessible Spaces Linkography
Cool House Plans with handicap-friendly house plans.
The Accessible Kitchen: A site with design information for creating barrier-free kitchens.
Accessible Housing By Design (scroll down to "Accessible Housing") -- From the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, this section covers home automation, lifts and residential elevators, kitchens, bathrooms, appliances, residential hoists and ceiling lifts, and ramps. (This is a really excellent set of guidelines, with pictures and diagrams.)
HowTo Library -- Accessibility from Bob Vila.