UT Students Design, Build Wheelchair Access for Home of Special Needs Child

April 15, 2012

KNOXVILLE—Architecture students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have designed and built a ramp and decking system for a special needs child in Powell, Tennessee.

The 1-year-old boy has centronuclear myopathy, a condition that primarily affects skeletal muscles. He will use the additions for wheelchair access to his home.

This is the first project of UT's Freedom by Design program, a student service organization that is part of the American Institute of Architecture Students. The organization's goal is to use students' talents in architecture and design to improve the homes of disabled or low-income people.

Lauren Bellamy, the co-captain and fundraiser for UT's Freedom by Design, contacted East Tennessee Children's Hospital about a potential project, and was introduced to the boy's family. The boy is wheelchair-bound, and emergency personnel must move him in and out of his home for doctor visits.

"The way the house is built, there is no possible way for him to access the home once he becomes too big for his parents to carry him up the stairs," said Jarod Dotson, a UT architecture student and the volunteer coordinator for the project. "We have built a ramp and decking system so that the child will have direct access from the driveway around to his bedroom on the main floor of the home."

The project took seven months. The redesign includes replacing a deteriorating deck off of the living room, and building a 12-by-12-foot deck off the boy's bedroom. The students also built a five-foot-wide ramp that is wide enough for the wheelchair and a person to stand beside it.  Landscaping around the ramp and decking area was placed by the students to help beautify the new construction.

"This project has helped me understand how to take an idea from concept to reality," Bellamy said. "It has also helped me better understand design through designing for others."

Several East Tennessee businesses partnered with the architecture students on the project. Anderson Lumber of Alcoa donated the pressure-treated lumber, and Matt Flynn, a project manager of Christopoulos & Kennedy General Contractors, donated a weekend of his time to help with the early building stages.

"I am so proud of these students," said Scott Poole, dean of the UT College of Architecture and Design. "Despite the difficulties of pursuing their studies, they found time to use their design knowledge for this boy and his family."

AIAS FBD Students

The UT AIAS Freedom by Design students responsible for the organization and completion of this project are: Lauren Bellamy, co-captain and fundraiser; Ben Chandler, project manager; Jarod Dotson, volunteer coordinator; Brice Holmes, volunteer coordinator assistant; Leslie Mitchell, fundraiser assistant; Zach Schultz, fundraiser assistant; and Jake Siler, co-captain and project manager.

To learn more about student organizations at the UT College of Architecture and Design, please visit

C O N T A C T:

Kiki Roeder (865-974-6713,

Image Credit: Lauren Bellamy

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