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  • Writer's pictureBlue Trunk

Following the Smalls: Almost Halfway Done

Last we checked in with the Smalls, featured in our blog last year, they were still in the planning process for their wheelchair accessible home in Charlottesville. Now, they have made substantial progress — albeit with some major obstacles.

Over the last year or so, Doug and Brigitte Small have decided to create a wheelchair accessible home for themselves and hopefully other renters.

“It's important for me personally, because I need a place to be in order to access my doctors in Charlottesville and my wife and I are interested in moving there eventually,” Doug said. “But what we're trying to demonstrate is that it's possible to build a home that will accommodate people with various disabilities.”

Doug in particular finds it necessary to imagine a home that is inclusive of all types of people, including families with small children, disabled folks, the elderly, and other such potential guests. He wants to make it clear that an accessible home like his can actually be built, and their work has been instrumental in demonstrating how different destinations can think about creating accessible spaces, especially owners of rental homes and Airbnbs.

The construction of their house, however, has been far from easy. One such major issue has been the Charlottesville city government, specifically with certain administrative follies and restrictions.

“They lost our plans three times, which set us back at least three months in start,” Doug said. “I think that this is perhaps pandemic related. They lost a lot of inspectors, so their staff was reduced. But there shouldn't have been any reason for losing the plans.”

Another key problem has been rising costs associated with building and increasing responsibilities.

“It's expensive,” Doug said. “I'm so stressed. So stressed, I space out meetings. I'm trying to manage a zillion different things. I've got conversations going with the builders, I've got conversations going with the bank. I've got conversations going with the architect about this and that, and I can't devote my whole time to it.”

Though the issues associated with creating the home are both unexpected and multifaceted, the Smalls find there to be a solid support system behind them in helping see everything through to the end.

“We have a really good team of builders and an architect that we're working with,” Doug said. “Everyone understands that we have to give a little here and give a little there, and there are things that we've had to give up in terms of our ideas about the house. We're just having to rethink what's possible given what our budget is. It's a dynamic process.”

Taking on such a monumental feat has understandably been difficult, and has also led the Smalls to reflect on each lesson they have learned through the process.

“You can't fight city hall,” Doug said. “Generally people are good and want to help. That's certainly true of our neighbors. Everybody's been really wonderful.”

For those who are actually gearing up to build a wheelchair accessible home, Doug also has some specific advice to make the process less strenuous.

“My advice is get a bigger piece of property so that you can build a ranch house so that you don't have to build up,” Doug said. “Think about doorways. Make sure hallways are wide enough to turn a wheelchair around.”

Out of everything the pair have come to understand about such a project, one lesson has stood out from the rest.

“The most important thing is determination,” Doug said. “I think if we weren't together, my wife and I, on getting it done, we would have given up. Maybe not at this point, but at the very beginning, when we were having a hard time getting the plans approved and everything. We're just pressing forward. And I'm fortunate to have a spouse who's as committed to this as I am.”

Looking forward to the future, Doug does find this give-and-take, tumultuous process to be worth it, regardless of how tiring it has been.

“Is it worth it for me to go through this in order to show that it's possible for others? The answer is yes,” Doug said. “And I hope that through Blue Trunk, and perhaps even C-ville Magazine or Airbnb, that people want to see this house and see how it can be done. [They can then] take it as an inspiration to try and either remodel their own houses so that they can stay there, or come up with plans for people who want to live independently, but have restricted human functions.”

There is no room for failure, according to the Smalls. The only way to go is keeping trucking forward and getting the home finished.

To our readers, Doug has these final words of encouragement and honesty.

“It can be done,” Doug said. “It can be done and take heart in that. But be prepared for it not to be easy. And I would think that as difficult as the city of Charlottesville was, I think that the community as a whole there wants to be helpful and useful and understands the issues that come with diversity … But for people who are reading this article and have these needs — or anticipate having these needs — do it. It's possible and it will make your life better.”

We are excited to track the progress of the project and to keep readers updated on what will come next for the Smalls. If you have a home or any type of business — a cafe, a museum, a shop — it is easier to fulfill goals of being accessible during this construction process before it is too late. Check in next time for the final status of the Smalls’ project and more tips on how to be an accommodating host. As always, if you find barriers in our content or have suggestions please reach out to us at and let us know so that we can improve!


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