The Story of Kuno
It’s the end of 2019, and I think it’s a good moment to pause and reflect on how Kuno started, what it has become and possibly where it is headed.
It’s funny to refer to my business as “Kuno”, as it feels like I am talking about a separate entity or person, and I like that. Fact: Kuno was my great grandfather’s name.
Kuno was started in 2016 when I was asked to take on a family project. It was an excruciatingly sad situation and it was a chance for me to help out.
I will provide a bit of background, without going into too much detail. My 33 year old cousin was diagnosed with a brain tumor 2015. She went through surgery to remove the tumor, and she had a major stroke during the process. The stroke left her hemiplegic and compromised her cognitive abilities. She was hospitalized for a fair amount of time and went through rehab. The story is much more involved than this, but these are the key facts.
Once my cousin was somewhat stable, she was promptly discharged from the controlled hospital environment. Life in a power chair began, and she had nowhere to live. The house that she had been living in had stairs and small doorways, tiny bathroom, nothing worked.
The family struggled to find appropriate accommodation. She lived in group homes that were only somewhat adequate for her needs. It became apparent that there was (and still is!) a great shortage of accessible housing options in Vancouver.
Out of desperation, my aunt had the idea to convert a family home into accessible housing. Instead of providing only one space, she had the vision to create three separate accessible units – so that three family members could live together, help each other out, co-habitate. It also provided the flexibililty to provide rental income and rental accessible housing for someone who is in need.
And so began Kuno’s journey into the world of accessible design. The process with the city to get this project approved was lengthy and not great. Again, the story is involved, and the main piece that I want to communicate is that we faced resistance and barriers throughout the process. The experience pushed me to join the city of Vancouver’s Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee, as an advocate, because I knew that I could help make some kind of positive change.
During the design process for my cousin’s house, I was reading everything I could regarding accessible design, absorbing theories and principles. It was a new area for me. I found some stained old books from the library, nothing terribly inspiring. I was convinced that we could make something accessible that didn’t look terrible. Pinterest revealed some good ideas, and I managed to blend concepts provided in CSA B651 with interior design that was bright, happy and inspiring.
Around this time, I read an article in the newspaper about a new accessibility training program that was being offered by the Rick Hansen Foundation. It was intended to be a bit like the LEED certification, but for accessibility. I signed up for the first RHFAC training session that I could find. This was another pivotal moment in my shift towards inclusive design.
I met Julie Sawchuk during the RHFAC training, and she was in the process of building her own house at the time. We shared stories, and we explored drawings together. Her house is in Ontario, and her project flew through permitting – the house was built years before ours. She has since published a book about it, and she keeps an ongoing blog about her experiences.
Through the Rick Hansen Accessibility Certification program and certification, I started out by providing volunteer ratings for a dozen buildings. I was assigned a good range of building types, and it gave me good training for the rating process out on the field. I have since rated 40 completed building sites, and I provide ongoing pre-construction consultation for organizations. It is very rewarding work.
So it was the house for my cousin that led me in this incredible journey. I made many special friends during the process. And I created Kuno.
I’m not sure where this work will lead, and I keep an open mind. It has pushed me to do new things, to fly all over the country, to meet an inspiring set of people, and to see the built environment in a completely new way. I have been talking with new friends and contacts to do side projects with a focus on inclusivity. And now that work is abundant, it may be the year to seek help, bring people into the Kuno team to make the city a better place for all.