SAN ANTONIO — Nearly 8% of Americans have visual impairments. But their disability often isn’t considered in the architectural design process.

Wendy Walker has lived in San Antonio for five years, using a cane to get around.

“I was born sighted, but I started going blind as a teenager,” she said. 

Being completely blind hasn’t stopped Walker from pursuing a career in cybersecurity. Although navigating unfamiliar spaces can sometimes be difficult.

“Simple designs. They mean well, but they’re not executed properly,” Walker said. “Elevators don’t have sound or a braille markings, so you don’t know what floor you’re going to.”

UTSA architecture students, led by architecture professor Dr. Neda Norouzi, have collaborated with the American Institute of Architects and disABILITYsa.

“The design has the emphasize orientation and mobility,” said UTSA architecture student Nixon Maldonado.

The assignment is to design a mock health center for the visually impaired.

“I really took it seriously to create spaces that are inclusive,” Maldonado said. “They’re functional.”

Nearly 20 million Americans have visual impairments, and more 700,000 of them live in Texas. The undergrad design project aims to be informative as students start their architecture careers.

“They will be required to work with clients who have these kinds of needs,” said Torey Stanley Carleton, executive director of American Institute of Architects San Antonio. “They need to be thoughtful and sensitive with their solutions.”

Melanie Cawthon with disABILITYsa says projects like this can help create more inclusive spaces in the future. Because it can be more costly to adapt designs for people with disabilities on the back-end.

“Really focusing on that universal design aspect,” said disABILITYsa Executive Director Melanie Cawthon. “And how do we create and cultivate a sense of belonging by making sure that we are planning to include everyone from the start?”

Students suggested tinted windows, drop handrails and textured walls. Walker says she’s just grateful the students thought enough to consider what could make her life easier.

“Just a simple thing you never think of,” she said. “You just touch it and you know that you’re going to the right direction.”