Rhapsody of a man with polio — a life unbound by physical constraints
“Have you ever noticed the threshold in your bathroom? It is designed so that the bathroom doesn’t get flooded, but has water ever reached that high or even surpassed the threshold when you are showering?”
Most people who are able bodied have never thought of this question, but even a threshold of 3 centimeters can be a great obstacle for those who are in a wheelchair. The question was raised by Tang Feng- chen (
) , Foundation of Universal Design Education (FUDE,
) chairman, when he shared his goal of promoting universal design with The China Post.
Tang’s fate may seem tragic to many but he has turned his life into an inspirational example and is working hard to dedicate his life to the world. When Tang was eight months old, he had a fever that led to polio and resulted in him having to use a wheelchair from a very young age. His childhood was tough, but this man proclaims that he has lived his life like a “rhapsody.” “Not idealistic, nor a dream, but a rhapsody that is crazy and dreamy at the same time,” explained Tang.
He headed to Taipei when he was 25 and worked like any other person, for a while at Taipei City Hall, fighting for an accessible environment for the disabled. But he realized that it was tough to be engaged in a social movement without empathy from others.
“Taiwan had an aging population by the end of 2004, taking up 7 percent of the total population. A friend told me about the concept of universal design at the time so I decided to place my vision further and established the foundation in 2005 with a 15-year promotion project in mind,” shared Tang.
The Beginning of Universal
Design in Taiwan
Universal design consists of seven principals: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort as well as appropriate size and space for approach and use.
As an educational foundation, FUDE has restlessly hosted many competitions for universal design objects for 10 consecutive years. Tang managed to promote it and turned it into an issue that is talked about in the design field; even the government started to take universal design into account.
The goal was to mass-produce high-quality work from the competitions and make it accessible in daily life. However, Tang shared that it was rather hard to accomplish because “Taiwan’s market scale isn’t big enough.” “Many works won various prizes and awards overseas but the reality is that no one would commercialize it as the successful rate is too low,” said Tang.
Start From Scratch — Wheelchair-friendly Residences
This year, in the 10th year of Tang’s original plan, he decided to change his strategy. Instead of promoting smaller-scale merchandise, he returned to basics and targeted universal design in residential spaces. FUDE established certification standards by integrating the seven principles that are related to space.
“We hope that the houses are universal, when the space is universal then elements or objects that come in will have to be universal as well,” Tang said. He continued to say that a design doesn’t necessarily have to meet all seven principles, but just a few of them can make it a good design that is based on what is “human.” “We can only achieve the big picture with a friendly, accessible environment by slowly constructing it,” stressed Tang.
According to Tang, FUDE is currently promoting the certification so more can do actual research. It is also collaborating with several NGOs and organizations to redefine the relationship between man and environment, and to further discover the key point in how to assist. Last but not least, it has developed a service process to serve those who are interested in building residential spaces with universal design. Tang also wants to influence local governments and cooperate with them.
“Taichung ( ) already has an on-going construction project. We are starting with New Taipei City ( ), Taoyuan ( ) and Taichung; then we will proceed to Tainan ( ), Kaohsiung ( ) and finally back to Taipei ( ) with the promotions.”
Tang also has the ambition of penetrating into China. He shared that China has a bigger market where an aging population is also a problem. “If it strikes success in China, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of residences, it can probably influence Taiwan,” he said.
From Tang’s point of view, not only those who are disabled need a home with bigger doors or rooms without thresholds, because people have friends who use wheelchairs and when they visit they won’t be able to come in by themselves. He thinks that the true quality and beauty of the Taiwanese people is kindness, so people should look at other people’s needs and practice altruism. He also thinks that in order to foster the concept, education
stands as a key factor.
Joyful and Full
As a protestant, religion has provided much strength for Tang through the dark moments. He admitted that there have been challenges and disappointments, but the eternal hope that he believes in allows him to stay positive and be grateful for the blessings. Because of limitations on his body, Tang said that when he encounters hardships, his tactic is to stay out of the negativity. Being constantly active and trying to be creative also break past his limitations.
Tang, a humorous, cheerful and optimistic man, has done countless amazing things in life, including swimming across Sun Moon Lake ( ). After his 15-year universal design project is finished, he hopes to become a storyteller who inspires and influences many others.
(Top) Foundation of Universal Design Education (FUDE, Chairman Tang Feng-chen ( ) talks about the limitations on his body and pursues a friendly environment for all. (Above) Getting rid of stairs on a rooftop lets disabled people enjoy the view from the top.