It was dark when boarded the train from Dublin to Kilkenny. Light came up on the first frost covering all the fields we passed. I was on the way to a town outside Kilkenny, where a group of residents were working on building new housing to serve people with disabilities in inclusive communities.
Mark, whom I met at a conference in the US this summer, is part of a group connected to working on a new housing concept to serve individuals with disabilities called Nimble Spaces. The group is affiliated with Camphill Calan. I spent the day with Mark, Rosie, Patrick, and others who’ve worked on Nimble Spaces since conception. The goal is sixteen homes in Callan housing individuals with disabilities, support staff, other members of the Camphill community, and other residents. As I climbed into the front seat of Mark’s van, on the right side (or is it the wrong side? I still haven’t quite decided…), I had no idea what an incredible day I was in for!
The day began at Camphill Callan’s KCAT, which supports individuals with disabilities in visual and performing arts. It wasn’t directly part of the housing project. However, as the founder of an inclusive arts organization, Unified Theater, I was more than happy to have a look around. The art was incredible! My favorites were the mixed media pieces by Mary, who I got to meet. She covers yarn weavings with acrylic paint in this amazing abstract way. You can see her pieces here. While the new housing in Nimble Spaces isn’t directly arts related, it was interesting how much creativity, arts, and expression were infused in the thinking applied to designing living spaces.
The rest of the day focused on Nimble Spaces. I was so grateful to be able to meet and ask questions of the project leads, sit in on a design meeting, have lunch with the architect and project team, and join in for a meeting with a county councilman and national regulator. Each person I met was so generous with their time and insights, a practice I’ve been grateful to see among so many Irish people during my year so far.
As someone working towards addressing this issue in the United States with The Kelsey, I listened for the overlaps and differences across the two countries. I heard examples of Ireland’s focus on maximum integration and the push away from congregated settings; the same push is happening in the United States. Some of familiar themes around inclusion, human-centered design, and co-living emerged in their discussions. Differences appeared in country-specific histories and cultures around disability and inclusion. Questions around urban, suburban, town, and rural living remain. The regulatory environments aren’t the same, with stronger separation between federal, state, and local authority in the US. Additional layers of complexity appear around size and diversity of the populations (compare a population across all Kilkenny County of less than 100,000 with almost 900,000 in the city of San Francisco).
I’m so excited to continue to collaborate with Nimble Spaces and other individuals working on this issue of disability housing in Ireland. It will serve as an incredible learning opportunity now and a potential transatlantic collaboration in the future as I move towards implementing The Kelsey at home.