Adaptive Environments Center
Daniel Hunter is a landscape architect, researcher, parent ("house-dad"), educator, and disability advocate. A research associate with the Adaptive Environments Center and coordinator of the Access to Design Professions international network and mentoring programs for designers with disabilities, he telecommutes from his home office in Oregon. His goal is to transform the face of his chosen profession.
"By showing how landscape architecture has served society in isolating and removing the disabled body from the landscape, prejudicial design practices might be reduced and new forms of inclusive design might be fostered."
- Daniel Hunter
Daniel's critique of the profession is detailed in his June 2000 master's thesis, "Creeps! Disability in Landscape Architecture." He explores the ways in which landscape architects have been conditioned to use their skills to hide or diminish the visibility of those whom society considers unsightly or too troubling. Daniel's aim is to bring this bias to light in order to overcome it. "By showing how landscape architecture has served society in isolating and removing the disabled body from the landscape, prejudicial design practices might be reduced and new forms of inclusive design might be fostered." This thesis, provocative, deeply researched, compellingly argued, is itself a tool for change. He asserts that landscape architects have framed the ADA as a restrictive problem of governmental interference rather than as a positive opportunity for the social integration of a minority population into the landscape. He proposes a new aesthetic derived from the work and experience of an emerging disability culture.
While earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in landscape architecture at the University of Oregon in Eugene, he taught a course on writing in landscape design, was a graduate teaching fellow, and worked as a teaching assistant for the university's Urban Farm. In that capacity, he also designed and supervised the installation of accessible features at the farm, including the entrance and raised garden beds seen in the photograph. While working on his thesis he was involved with a core group at the University of Oregon that explored ways to introduce disability studies into the curriculum and he did the initial research for the Access to Design Professions project. His research established the basis for future project activities.
Description of Photograph:
Before he began his study of Lanscape Architecture Daniel was an elementary school teacher for twelve years. He began teaching in 1975 when he earned a degree in French, with a multidisciplinary teaching certificate. He loved his profession, but the progression of neuromuscular disease and increasing confrontations with physical and attitudinal barriers required that he retire as a classroom teacher. Daniel shifted into the role of homemaker and "at home" parent, and this experience with all aspects of his two daughters' lives essentially informs his design perspectives. Parenting athletic children from a wheelchair was what first led him to the study of landscape architecture. "I noticed over the years that landscape design rather than topography frequently segregated me from my children, hampering my ability to parent safely and comfortably." This led him to explore landscape architecture courses at the University of Oregon, where he began his design education in 1994.
When Daniel initially approached the Oregon Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for financial assistance with his education, they declined, reasoning that his limited energy would be too severely tested by the schoolwork. After he had proved himself in the studio environment for one year, they accepted him as a client and supported his education. "I had no idea what accommodations I would need in studios, which, in retrospect, was probably a good thing." Before being admitted, Daniel requested permission to enroll on a part-time basis, so that he could evaluate his physical endurance. Luckily, Daniel had good relationships with understanding faculty members and with the dean, and a finely developed appreciation of the comic absurd from his days as a French scholar. The studio environment required as much as he could give and more. "The studio furniture was crowded in too tightly to allow wheelchair access to all spaces, and the desks were too tall for me. Light tables were inaccessible. I broke two of them, and my power chair damaged some of the other tables. Some studios were on floors accessed by lifts that often failed. Studio hours were longer than my body could comfortably endure. Field trips were usually inaccessible. Whenever I was able to locate accessible tables, I would use them for a term and the next semester they'd have vanished. I just kept plugging away."
Daniel discovered that the more he knew about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the quicker he was to quote it, the more readily accommodations would be made. There was an office of students with disabilities on campus, but it had a limited understanding of studio work, and he spent more time educating them than they did supporting him. "Students need to ask firmly for what they want and need. Each studio should be previewed for access and participation needs in advance, not three weeks into a ten-week course. Studio layouts should be accessible. Where field trips are inaccessible, alternate proposals should be made available to the student to cover the material. The student should have a mentor or advocate identified within the department to help solve problems and to assist those faculty who need an education in access issues as well as in the law."
In 1997, Daniel did an internship in the Eugene office of Moore, Iacofano and Goltsman, a design and consulting firm, where he learned the nuts and bolts of bidding for contracts and did a lot of proposal editing. With the encouragement of faculty members, he decided to pursue a graduate degree. "Given my age, family commitments, and the progressive nature of my disability, I knew I would have more impact writing and teaching than working part-time in an entry level position in a design firm."
The disturbing ironies of being a person with a disability in the design profession became evident in contrasting conferences Daniel has attended. "I went to an American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA) conference. The grand indoor garden display was totally inaccessible. In almost every lecture room, I was forced to sit by the trash cans in an alcove, or else go up to the very front where it was impossible to see slides. I never made it into the bookstore display, which was set up with crowded, narrow aisles. In the exhibit halls, many displays were inaccessible. The only panel about universal design or the ADA was listed as a general introduction for people inexperienced with the topic. Whoever put on the conference should have attended that panel.
Then I attended the conference of the Society for Disability Studies, where I saw academics with every major type of disability participate and negotiate space together, a wonderful sort of dance. Access and integration at conferences can be done, and it is frustrating that design organizations do not do this routinely."
Daniel's older daughter recently graduated from college, and the younger is just beginning. Both are musicians, athletes, and good students. He is the song leader and a member of the pastoral support committee at his church. His most rewarding church work was the purchase and redevelopment of four city lots, including an old motel that was formerly a brothel, into housing for homeless families and mentally impaired adults.
His hobbies intimately involve him with bonsai, koi ponds, purebred dogs, tortoises and old-world chameleons.
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