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Accessibility in Architecture with Joseph Cincotta

September 17, 2021


Welcome to 3Play Media’s Allied Podcast, a show on all things accessibility. This month’s episode features Joseph Cincotta and is about the importance of accessibility in architecture.

Joseph has served as LineSync’s Principal Architect since its founding and went on to create WheelPad alongside Julie Lineberger after their godson experienced an accident resulting in quadriplegia. After witnessing his godson’s struggle to find an accessible apartment, and his resulting nine-month residency in an accessible hotel room, Joseph realized his own expertise could be the solution for which they were looking.

By 2015, a prototype of the universally accessible housing accommodations offered by WheelPad was already winning awards. From there, the idea and the company grew, as WheelPad began to offer larger models and ultimately wound up with an essentially completely customizable solution.

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Episode transcript

ELISA LEWIS: Welcome back to Allied, the podcast for everything you need to know about web and video accessibility. I’m your host, Elisa Lewis. And we’re excited to have Joseph Cincotta on the podcast today to talk about accessibility and architecture and share a bit about his company, Wheel Pad. Joseph has long been passionate about sustainable, durable, and intentional design. His architecture and planning firm, LineSync, has been operating since 1988 with the goal of designing quote “Green under the radar.”

Joseph has served as LineSync’s principal architect since its founding and went on to create Wheel Pad alongside Julie Lineberger after their godson experienced an accident resulting in quadriplegia. After witnessing his godson struggle to find an accessible apartment, Joseph realized his own expertise could be the solution they were looking for. By 2015, a prototype of the universally accessible housing accommodations offered by Wheel Pad was already winning awards.

From there, the idea and the company grew. Joseph, were so glad to have you join us on Allied today to talk about accessible housing and architecture and to learn more about Wheel Pad.

Thank you, Joseph. I’m really excited to have you on Allied today to talk about accessible housing and architecture. To start off, would you be willing to share how you got into architecture and what led you to focusing on accessibility in the architecture space?

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Good question. First of all, thank you, Elisa. Good to be here. I appreciate you inviting me to your podcast. And I look forward to telling you why we do what we do and where it first came from. I stumbled upon it through a tragic injury that happened to my godson. The idea of having a portable, accessible addition to a house seemed like a solution to a problem that my godson experienced.

So he was a film person for an Olympic skier at Mount Snow. And there was the X Games– sort of goes from mountain to mountain. And he was the videographer for Simon Dumont, an Olympic athlete. So he had to know how to do this, right? And he’s skiing backwards while Simon Dumont is doing tumbles in the air and all that. And that’s not where he got injured. It was the celebration party when he won the X Games. And in the pool, people were jumping in and out and celebrating. And somebody jumped on Riley’s back, my godson.

And he was airlifted to Albany. His parents were good friends of ours. He had played with my children when they were tots and on up. And he was now in his own life in his mid-20s, being very successful. And all that was about to change. His parents were supposed to come over for dinner. They told us what was going on. We headed over to Albany Hospital, about two hours away, and saw him after the initial assessment. And he was eventually airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock for a spinal injury.

The result was that his spinal injury made him a quadriplegic, limited use of some of the digits. So he could use an iPhone to kind of tap with a finger. And there’s all kinds of settings on smartphones now to work with accessibility, which is really sweet. And I watched Riley go through the trials and tribulations of trying to get settled after a year of operations and rehab. And he eventually went out west where he was based out of Portland.

And he was in a situation where he needed a place to stay because Nike Shoes had offered him a job at the end of the X Games that said you know look, when you’re done with that, we want to have your excellent videography. He had done some highly watched videos. And he was known in the industry as being among the best. And they said and by the way I hope you’re not using this injury as an excuse to not come work for us.

So he actually had a job at a major company. The company was willing to fund him and be patient for his rehab. It was a year. And he was now in Portland, ready to work except for there was no place to stay. He couldn’t find an accessible dwelling. So he went to a hotel because there’s always accessible rooms because of the wonderful ADA that this country really– I mean a lot of things you can say about our country– Amanda Gorman said it best. It’s a work in progress.

We were the first to really kind of say be inclusive that way. It’s a lot to be proud of for that. And so he was able to stay in a hotel. Then after nine months, he got to be able to stay in an apartment. They found an apartment for him that was accessible. And then another nine months– so we’re at a year and a half now– two and a half years after his accident. He finally found a place. And I had told him back at the hospital in Albany, whatever you need, I can help. I would love to help. You’re my godson.

And we help them select the right house that he could adapt. He lived in southeast Portland. Needed about $60,000 worth of work. That took time. So he’s really got a house that he can use after three years and another 60,000 so 120 total, to make a one story house accessible. And that was his father doing the work. His father was in construction. So probably the retail value of the construction is more.

When you make a bathroom modification, people don’t forget, you’ve got to grow it somewhere. If you grow it out, that usually doesn’t work because it’s too narrow to get in the first place. And if you grow out into other rooms, you’re impinging on other rooms. So it’s a fairly cumbersome thing. And Riley had set me on an interesting first choice. He was like we’re going to design my own house. And you’re going to design it for me. And I want to make it out of containers. And his love of containers, which I don’t share by the way. They’re cold, noisy, poorly insulated, and small, cramped.

But you know I love the idea of this instant box. And I got that’s why he was going for it. I thought one day, I said you know, Riley, wouldn’t it have been neat if you could have had a tiny house that was fully accessible, bedroom and bathroom. And you’d be able to hook it up to one of your parent’s houses. They live in separately. And they both love them, and all that. And they live nearby. They moved nearby. One of them actually moved nearby as a result of the injury just to help what they could.

And the idea that he could have pulled up as soon as he got to Portland, had this tiny house that was accessible, that we now call Wheel Pad, if he could have had that it. It could have been delivered on a highway. It’s only 8 foot 6 wide. So it doesn’t require any special permits. You can put it on the back of a pickup truck that has a tow package, a heavy duty pickup truck. It’s less than 10,000 pounds. So you don’t require special licenses. You can go in the driveway of any house and build the little connector and boom. In a matter of weeks, not years, or even months, at a fraction of the cost, because we were thinking we could lease these.

Well that was the idea of Wheel Pad. And suddenly– if you’ve seen my website– you know I’ve been lucky enough to do some really fun, big projects, for a guy living in a one stoplight town in Vermont. I count my blessings. And I’ve enjoyed the pleasure of watching lots of people go through my base lodge at Mount Snow at Corinthia, or the big factory manufacturing office complex and how they enjoy using the space. When you go in these and you see people loving the spaces and really appreciating childcare places, the music places, police fire and rescue places.

I’ve got to know very different people than I am and really learned a lot and enjoyed watching them enjoy my spaces. None of that compares to the feeling of bringing someone who would have been in a hospital or institution home. And that’s what got me started. I felt like I was making a really important connection, an option that didn’t exist for humans to be with their loved ones.

ELISA LEWIS: Thank you so much for sharing all of that. I know that this really started from a personal and meaningful place for you and has clearly had a really big impact– not just on Riley– but on everyone who’s been able to benefit from this. There are 15% of US households reporting that they have someone with physical disability. Only 6% of housing units are deemed appropriately accessible. I’m curious if you could share with us some of the top characteristics to look for in an actually accessible home.

So I think a lot of people think about putting a wheelchair ramp up. But are there things to think about like countertop heights, or hallways, handrails, things like that. What are some of those common practices that you’re looking for?

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Elisa, you really put your finger on some of the important details that would make all the difference. I actually don’t understand why every new property isn’t built to be accessible. One of the things that bugged me among my design professional peers is they begrudgingly– when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed– it was like oh we’ve got to put these ramps in front of our beautiful buildings.

And I’m like, wait a second, Le Corbusier has these beautiful ramps in front of the Carpenter center at Harvard. And we all love those things. What are you talking about? We love ramps. We’re architects. Oh yeah. But they didn’t like the idea of being forced. Oh, now we’ve got to make these super wide doors? I said how many times are you going through with furniture helping a friend to get in and out of an apartment and it’s like those doors are just barely there?

I said what is your problem? And you got to make the bathrooms bigger. I said what is the worst thing than being in Lower East Side of Manhattan when you’ve got to use a closet for a bathroom? It’s like, you’re kidding really? Are we really complaining about something that we experience every day to be able to use the bathroom, to be able to walk down a hallway, and to be able to have fun about getting in? Not just stairs. I mean the word handicap is being questioned. And disability is being questioned.

You’ve got to love it. It’s almost like the he/she, me/we, I/them, or whatever that this idea of thinking about these words that you’re using, these adjectives because the idea is that it’s us, right? I mean it could be me on my next snowboard run on a half pipe. And I’m not saying that to be glib. It really could.

We all do things that are sometimes a little outside of our comfort zone because that’s what humans do. And any one of those could give us an injury. And not even to mention accidents. They call them accidents. When somebody jumped on Riley’s back, that was random. I think having a housing stock that is really for all of us– we wouldn’t think of building a facility that was just for people of a certain religion, or certain color of skin, or a certain IQ. I mean we just don’t do that. Why the heck by the pure chance of an accident or some issue– why would we make a building inaccessible to them, especially when it could be us.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah. I think you really led into my next question. I am on the marketing team at 3Play. And so we think about it a lot in terms of web and digital accessibility. And one of the things that we always say is that you need to bake in accessibility from the beginning. So like you said, just thinking about it from architecture, you have the opportunity to make some beautiful, really creative ramp if you do it from the beginning. But if you’re going to tack it on at the end as an afterthought, it may not be as functional. It’s certainly not going to be as beautiful. So I think that’s a really great point.

I was curious– and you started to touch on this a little bit– but another thing that I see from the web and digital accessibility side, is there are several best practices that make websites accessible. But they’re also just really good design practices. So an example that comes to mind is that you should use proper headings, in the HTML and the coding. Is there anything similar that you would share when it comes to designing accessible buildings and homes?

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Don’t make them look like an afterthought. One of the things we do in our Wheel Pad is have grab bars that are transparent, a wonderful resin. They cost a little bit more. I created the concept. I began with glass, but for obvious reasons glass doesn’t work very well. So I use the resin. And the idea was that why does it have to look institutional? Why does it have to look stuck on? What if it was like something fun to look at? And you’ll see that in some of the detailed photos that Carolyn Bates, our photographer, did.

Elisa, I do encourage you to look at some of our photos. You might see some of the more details. I really try to make them integral and delightful. So there are three principles for architecture. And it really applies to any design profession, even things that aren’t buildings, like designing a website.

A fellow named Vitruvius back in the Roman days said firmness, commodity, and delight, or utility commodity. And so those are the three principles. So firmness, we don’t want our buildings to fall. In your case, we don’t want the code to not work. Do a solid job on your code. Do a solid job and you’re building. Commodity utilities, or utilitas in Latin, utility. We want things to be useful. Ornamental is by itself is kind of useless if it’s not useful. It’s in the way otherwise.

So I always think of bridge design and airplanes as being situations where they can’t afford extra weight. The utility of an airplane is to fly. So you’re not going to adorn it unnecessarily. The utility of a bridge is to get safely across the river or whatever. And you’re not going to put extra weight on it. What’s there– I mean the reason that bridges in general, the Brooklyn Bridge in particular, are so beautiful is they really do the most with the least.

I know in code one of the problems of bad code is when it’s patched. And rather than rewrite the code they just patch it. And it just– it’s a bad idea. We know that. The idea of utility is important.

But it’s the third term that I find most ephemeral, most inspiring actually, delight. And I remember laughing at that one when I was in high school. I’ve been studying architecture since I was in Kindergarten. But in any event– I went to a special school, Brooklyn Tech, to study architecture. And when I first heard that, I always thought that was superfluous. Like why would you worry about delight?

It’s important to make it strong. And I have come 180 degrees around on that. If my building is not fun, I failed. If you wouldn’t want to play hide and go seek with your children or grandchildren, I failed. I mean, if it’s not a fun place to be in, if it doesn’t have nooks and crannies or places to hide and go seek or whatever, I mean as adults we hide. We– I need a quiet place. That’s not going to be in a big ass room. It’s going to be in some little nook and cranny that a kid could hide in. And that’s what we’re doing.

So we really never stop being children at heart. One of the founding fathers famously said, we don’t stop having fun because we grow old. We grow old because we stop having fun. And delight turns out to be one of the most important things in the way I address the accessibility requirements. I try to make them delightful. I try to actually feature them and say, yeah it’s not hidden. It’s actually something special. It’s like I want to take that so that one of our driving forces as designers, we wanted the Wheel Pad to be the best looking room in the house.

We really meant that. We wanted you to go in there and it was like, whoa this is cool. So delight is extremely important to me. And I dare say the US founding principles of what is it freedom– what are the three principles of the United States? It was the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson penned it.

ELISA LEWIS: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Happiness. Happiness is just like that. Life, got it. No point in being free if you’re not alive. Life, liberty. Being free is important when you have your life. Nobody wants to be depressed. But happiness, what a strong statement, like as a goal, as a culture. It’s wonderful. And it’s the same way I feel about delight. It’s what makes being alive and free worthwhile. It’s swinging out into a river off a tire and jumping into the water. The freedom to do that is important. Being alive is to do that. But the reason you’re doing it is because it’s happy forming.

So those three principles I think define a lot of human activities. And I take them very seriously actually.

ELISA LEWIS: That’s great. So we’ve touched on the Wheel Pad a bit. We heard from you– where it started, why it started. I’d love to learn a little bit more about the process. Can you take us through the typical process, start to finish, of what it looks like when you’re designing a Wheel Pad and installing it to its new home?

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Sure. So the design is, at this point, a matter of refinement. We’re trying to bring the price down because more people are buying them than we thought. We thought it was originally to be a lease model. And there’s only– of the 12 we’ve installed– only two of them have been leased. It’s quite surprising actually. People are buying them. We do have a buy back program because we can use them for other people and clean them up, refurbish them, and make them as good as new for the next person.

We saw them as a temporary solution for anywhere from two to seven years. But people have really enjoyed the idea of having it maybe for their spinal injury, but maybe for their mother, or their father, and keeping them out of a COVID home. One of the big things that– we’ve helped vets, veterans who are wounded. But one of the things we hadn’t counted on from COVID was people trying to get their parents into a safe, safely back at home, because they were worried about them.

And we helped three people in three states, Massachusetts– actually two in Massachusetts– New Hampshire, and Vermont. So four people– oh five people. My God. The elderly, my goodness. Who’d have thought? Yeah, one up in Burlington, one in Brattleboro, in Vermont, one in New Hampshire, two in Massachusetts

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah. Wow. It’s pretty incredible. Obviously COVID had a lot of impacts on all kinds of things, but specifically from the accessibility standpoint, it’s really interesting seeing what it did impact. And that could become a trend, where people are realizing maybe they can have their elderly parents or whomever it is at home, and have an accessible way to take care of them. That’s, like you said, not in a facility or home. It’s very similar to someone who’s not elderly having a physical disability or needing access, physical access.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: So the design process is fluid. But interestingly enough we’re making some other models at the moment. And it really begins with a rigorous testing. So one of the things– if you Elisa were to come to our studio now, you’d see downstairs, front and center in the main room, blue tape and a wheelchair.

We keep a wheelchair at all times to put ourselves in the position in a way the books just can’t– the text can’t, the diagrams just can’t. You’ve got to try to transfer yourself. And you’ll see how difficult it is to go from a chair to a toilet, put the armrest down, lock the wheels, the whole bit. And by the way, not in that order. Lock the wheels first. And ask me how I know.

[LAUGHTER]

I mean, empirical data rules. Literally. You experience something, you know it in a way that you’ll never know by reading about it abstractly. And one of the things we’re testing out is how we can make a kitchenette form in a rather tight space that’s useful. So yeah 34 inch counters. By the way, the industry has already made appliances that are suitable for 34 inch counters. We’re still making 36 inch high counters. Go figure. There is nothing in the ADA that says you can’t have a 42 inch high counter. If you wanted to shop at or at armrest level, there’s nothing that says you can’t.

But have stuff at 34. People say oh I don’t want to bend over. Well then they’re not cooking in big pots because I want to bend over all the time. And I like 34 inch for my big pasta sauce or whatever. It’s actually quite nice. And the code– so this idea of like oh I’ve got to put everything at 34. No you don’t have to put everything at 34. But have a workstation. You might like it. You might like it as a standing adult you or your child would definitely like it.

I mean again we’re in this mindset where I don’t want anybody to tell me what to do. And you’ve seen where that goes during COVID, holy cannoli. I’m not going to go there. It’s ridiculous. But the whole thinking is to stop being I, me, mine, just my perspective. Think about I, me, mine in my wheelchair or my whatever. It’s all of us. It’s our grandparents. It’s our grandfathers. It could be our father. Could be me, as I say. Just stop pretending that life is going to be perfect in every single way and you’ll always be super healthy. Things happen.

And I think we as designers owe it to our profession, owe it to our humanity, to do the best we can to make it for everybody.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah. I think it brings us back to the point that we touched on earlier, that designing things to be accessible shouldn’t be the exception. If we kind of implement some of these things that are the rule and are just standard, there are so many benefits of these quote unquote accessible things, whether it be a larger doorway or captions on a video that also benefit everyone. And I think we’re so focused on oh it’s only a few people. It’s only– well do they need it rather than what other benefits can we get from– who else can benefit?

Maybe it offers more creative opportunity. People love open concept homes, so what if it really was just wider and more accessible? I think we see that a lot. Again relating it back to what we do in the digital space, it’s like oh well did you get a request for captioning? Well no. Maybe there’s not someone who’s deaf. But maybe there is someone who’s learning English as another our language or who just learns better by reading rather than listening. And we’ve seen that in a lot of different studies, that it’s not just a benefit for the people who we maybe initially thought it was an accommodation for.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: I’m thinking again about Amanda Gorman’s wonderful– the poetic term of a work in progress.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: And that our nation is a work in progress, imperfect but there’s hope there and room for hope. Probably one of our best assets as a country isn’t what most people think. It’s the fact that there are a lot of people who think differently. And that’s an asset. That’s not a liability.

It’s no accident that some adopted kid from Lebanon figures out how to make computers in the garage that transformed the industry and then later create a tablet and a phone. That kid was not thinking like everybody else. It’s not it’s not random that somebody from the best imagination, description I ever read was from 1660s. A woman named Phillis Wheatley, poet born in Africa. At seven years old, taken away, become a slave for a Boston family who recognized that she was in fact a genius. And had her educated.

And when she published her first book of poems, nobody in America would publish it. They brought her to UK. And she wrote by far the best description of what imagination is. Obviously transcending a whole realm– I think she had a very short life. I think she lived into early 30s, health issues. But she lived, was freed, and all that better stuff.

But imagine if the Phillis Wheatley’s and the who knows who that is not– maybe they have a wheelchair problem. And other people view it as a problem, not as a perspective that has wonderful advantages. Suppose all these so-called liabilities of color, handicaps, that as we can see but as a culture, suppose this country is probably the best suited for looking at– or making it possible for people to transcend what the expectations of others. The pendulum is swinging towards diversity like hugely, as Bernie Sanders would say.

It really is. That’s probably our best asset, that people who think differently are going to be welcome to express themselves here. The recipe for success is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And we’re just making sure each year to give that to more and more people who think differently. And that’s our vector. That’s our vector. It used to be to just white guys back in the 17 and 1800s and 1900s. And that’s changing.

As we empower a greater and greater number of our society, I mean this is going to be just a wellspring of ideas and concepts that are just going to transform humanity. And I really– I wish I could live longer to watch it happen.

ELISA LEWIS: Yeah. Yeah I think kind of back to what you said, just thinking of our society and our country. And we’re supposed to be the melting pot. And that’s also true of different perspectives and different, like you said, ways of thinking. Not just from an immigrant and cultural perspective where I think it really started, but a melting pot of experiences and abilities and all of that.

And I do think that that’s kind of one of the other things of all the negative things that came out of the last year and a half with COVID, one positive thing is definitely that there seems to be an increased awareness about accessibility and with people working from home, and having different needs, and different comfort levels of feeling safe and healthy. And that in some ways put us all on a little bit more of an even playing field of realizing like what it means to accommodate someone and that everybody needs to be accommodated in some way or another.

I’ve been working from home. And that, in and of itself, I needed things to do that. I need my laptop here. I needed a desk. And those are all things that are in some way an accommodation that I didn’t necessarily– I didn’t need a desk at home when I was working in the office. So it is true. I think we are definitely headed– slow progress, but headed in that direction. Wheel Pad and what you’re doing is absolutely contributing to that, which is really amazing.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Thank you for saying that, Elisa. Thank you. I think so. It’s what gets me excited to get up in the morning and solve problems and really make this option available to more and more of us. I can only speak for myself. I hope one of my daughters feels like I could Wheel Pad next to them, if I need to. I’m not the kind of person who would do well in an institution. It would just start to close in.

ELISA LEWIS: I don’t think many people are.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Yeah. I think it’s definitely there are some– it has its place. It’s just become the only option out there. And I’d like to think that there’s another option for us to age gracefully. And I mean my grandfather got to live with my brother. The house that he bought had a rental unit on property. And my grandpa moved in after he said I’m giving up my license at 91. I don’t want to drive. And I’m looking for a place to stay. He sold this house. My grandmother already passed away, lung cancer. So he moved in with my brother and lived a vibrant life with his garden and coming out and watching us till several weeks after his 100th birthday.

And he lived at home. And my brother got to share in the wisdom. And we would go down and visit so often because when you’re that age, you can say straight. He really had some wonderful pithy statements. He would talk about how when he was in the marketplace, he did really well adding numbers in his head so that he could buy the fruits and vegetables at the right price from the wholesaler. And then he said except for those dismal points. I hated those dismal points, the malaprop. He just had so many– and it was laughter, it was just sharing.

And then sometimes, hey grandpa, we’re doing this and this in the business. What would you do? He goes well never borrow money. Having that wisdom around you– I feel like Wheel Pad will make it possible for our elders to share their wisdom with us because that’s so valuable. So it’s really about that. Yeah I feel like I’ll be I’ll be very useful if I can help families bring their loved ones home.

ELISA LEWIS: Definitely. Yeah I think it’s also creating accessibility, not just from a physical standpoint. But you know you talked about all of the costs that your godson incurred. And that’s huge for elderly people as well to even be in a facility with caretakers, it’s a huge expense. Aside from the physical and mental toll that it takes, it’s a huge expense, either for them or for their families. So it’s also creating access from a financial perspective, which is really important and another thing that we need to do better with in our society.

Well I did want to ask you, I know you shared a lot about the personal story and how you really got into Wheel Pad and focusing on accessibility. I was curious– you briefly mentioned that you had been studying architecture since Kindergarten. And I’m curious to know how you actually got into architecture sort of before the accessibility piece.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: That’s an easy answer. I was blown away by architecture at a very early age. My family had students– growing up in our household they hosted students in special cases. And it all began one day when somebody called my mom and said there’s a gentleman from Spain who’s looking for a family to stay with in America when he goes to NYU business school. And they had met him through personal connections, human connections, that’s what humans do.

We’re not the biggest, strongest, fastest beings out there. But we do, more often than not, connect. And that’s been our superpower, human superpower , is to make connections. Most people are being nice and making connections and helping each other. And my mom took the phone call and said she couldn’t think of anybody who she knew that might want to host this man. And so she went outside. My father was painting a window outside. He was a builder.

Oh my father being a builder is key. I’d go down the workshop. And I’d watch him make things. And I loved that. Long before I was in Kindergarten, I was watching my dad make things. And I loved it. And she asked, my mom do you know anybody who would want to have a student from NYU? And my father stopped painting, looked at her, and said what about us? Which was so random because my mom was the connector. And my father was sort of like just let me do my work and all that. And that changed our lives.

That became the first of many students. We had students from– so after that, he told someone that successful experience, we told someone about their family from India, from Bombay, Mumbai now. And he stayed with us for three years, graduated, got a job at Coopers & Lybrand, and then brought his wife over. They would cook with my family. I had Parottas and Indian food and long before, totally vegetarian, really fun to learn about that. And they had their first child while they were living in our house.

And so as a result of this multicultural, we had– [INAUDIBLE] from Ghana stayed with us for a while. So, you’ve got to understand, I lived in a very plain vanilla neighborhood. And we were always this– so who are those people? And I didn’t know. It wasn’t a big deal to me. It was sort of how I grew up. But I watched each of them.

I’d go to like the airport to pick them up or when they transferred. And I would go to the TWA terminal. And I was blown away by a building that just made everything special. And I remember just being in general at Kennedy Airport, watching how all these cultures would get together and work through this. And it was so different than my neighborhood. And I felt like, wow it’s these buildings are making it so easy for people to meet and greet.

And I saw this as a perfect world of harmony and very different from my neighborhood in Queens. And I lived under that– watched the planes go up back and forth to Kennedy Airport. I was under a landing route, runway route. So we’d hear them all the time, every five minutes practically. And I think at a very early age I was kind of impressionable about that.

We also had another family from Brazil. And they saw that I love architecture. So they brought books of Brasilia, my Spanish brought books on Gaudi, the famous Spanish architect, beloved. And I would just open these books and just like oh my gosh. This would make the world a better place to just make– if people could live in beautiful buildings and felt like they were treated special because I think a building treats you special, if it’s really doing its job well.

And I think at the Wheel Pad treats you special. It’s saying everything you are is wonderful. Here’s how you can be in this. It’s not making a judgment against you. It’s supporting you. And I thought there could be nothing better than to be in a situation to make environment that would be delightful. It would be– I didn’t realize that delightful, but that’s what I was saying.

And so in Kindergarten, there was a famous letter that went home to my parents because hey, Beth, what do you want to be? I want to be a nurse or I want to be a doctor. I want to be a lawyer. I want to be a fireman I want to be a policeman. I want to be an architect was what I said. And nobody else could even say the word.

And Mrs. Johnson would write home a letter that became lore in my family because I would take the same building blocks that everybody else was playing with and stacking and I would make like platforms that you could stand on and then bridges to another platform. And then I would make them taller and taller. Mrs. Johnson wrote a letter home to my mom saying your son has to stop making these constructions. They’re dangerous. Somebody’s going to get hurt and fall off them. But I was already too late.

So I’ve always thought about how to build and be part of something that when you walk away at the end of the day, there’s something that wasn’t there before that’s helping people.

ELISA LEWIS: That’s really cool. Thank you for sharing that.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Thank you for the question, actually.

ELISA LEWIS: Cool, so I want to wrap up. I really enjoyed learning about what you do and your passion for accessibility and how Wheel Pad fits into that, I do want to just ask if you have any sort of final pieces of advice that you’d want to share with our listeners.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Be curious. Actually stay curious. It feels like the world conspires in the number of things that are hurled at us in the daily to forget to be curious. And that’s really why we’re not living in caves anymore. We were curious about other options to live. We were curious. It’s why we have a world that’s filled with so many different approaches because people are curious.

They didn’t just look at somebody differently and say, hey, let’s kill them all off because they’re different. Like that happened, but the greater majority of people said no. That’s cool. We like that music. We like that art. We like that food. Can you imagine if Euros had won and we were all eating like Euro food. Oh my God. I shudder to think. Mediterranean cultures– my family comes from both sides from Sicily. Can you imagine a place more centrally located from Africa?

Of course I found African in my blood when I did my 23andMe, and Arabic 12%. It’s just funny. Of course they did. A pretty human is a pretty human and you’re going to go say hi to that pretty human more often than not. And it happens all over. And so that curiosity of something different is I feel like– honor that. Honor that because it’s already in us. Just honor it.

ELISA LEWIS: Awesome. That’s great. And I also want to ask before we wrap up our conversation today how our listeners can connect with you and find you online.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: There is a website I started for my new book project called ParkWalks.org. And you can connect at me through there. That’s really outside of my architecture. And it has a very interesting story about democratizing development by putting parks on the roofs of lower buildings in cities that would be accessed from the street, not through the building, and would be connected with like high line type bridges.

There’s an article I wrote on that that was published in 2018 I think called Park Walks. You can find it if you just Google. That’s the most exciting thing. I’ve been working on that book for a year now. It’s really exciting for me. It’s my next big idea.

So Wheel Pad has already launched. And Julie’s taken over it as a business. So you can go to WheelPad.com to learn more about that. LineSync Architecture, we do creative. People always interested to host interns for high school, college and grad school. We usually take three interns a year. And that’s– people stand in line for that because we have a long line for that. So that’s a way to connect with me.

I am on LinkedIn as Joseph Cincotta. I’m on Instagram as, I think, @joseph_cincotta_ars_est_longa, A-R-S, E-S– “art is long, life is short.” It’s by Seneca, a Roman poet. I like poets. I like music. I like poets. I have a song that I wrote on iTunes called “Tight Like That.” If you like it, I’ll pay you a penny to download it. I think that’s all it costs– or $1. I mean, I’ll pay you $1 to download it.

I have so many ways to reach because I really like music, art, poetry, inventing. I feel like I’ve been very lucky to be able to realize 10% of what I think, anyway.

ELISA LEWIS: Awesome. Sounds great. Well thank you so much. It was really great chatting with you today. Really appreciate you sharing your passion and teaching everyone what it means to think about accessibility in the spaces that we’re living in and that we’re spending time in.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Thank you for asking such insightful questions. Intelligent goes without saying, but insightful. They caused– it made it easy to cover a lot of the topics that we– or our goals to make sure we touched on. But the way you raised it was very conversational and I really appreciate that.

ELISA LEWIS: Thank you so much.

JOSEPH CINCOTTA: Thank you.

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ELISA LEWIS: Thanks for listening to Allied. If you enjoyed this episode and you’d like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave us a rating and review. To catch all the latest on accessibility visit www.3playmedia.com/alliedpodcast. Thanks again. And I’ll see you next time.


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