29 Dec The story of Kuno
It’s the end of 2019, and it’s a good time to pause and reflect on how Kuno started, what it has become and 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. Without going into detail, a very close family member became disabled. She was introduced to life in a power chair to get around and suddenly 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.
I was asked to help out with the design of an accessible home. The project involved the conversion of an existing single family heritage home into a fully accessible triplex. Instead of providing only one space, we created 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 the triplex approved was lengthy and not great. The story is involved, and the main piece that I want to communicate is that we faced resistance and barriers throughout the permitting journey. 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 adventure. 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.
I’m not sure where this work will lead, and I keep an open mind.