Currently, approximately 150,000 blind and 500,000 people with visual impairments are living in Germany. Yet there are still not enough fitting living accommodations available for them. The Wohnprojekt BliSS e.V. housing cooperative has scheduled a communal house right in the center of Hamburg, Germany, to address the special needs of visually impaired and blind people.
The idea behind it is for blind and people with visual impairments to live a self-determined life and build cross-generational, friendly and neighborly relationships.
The scheduled BliSS housing project for the blind, visually impaired and sighted people is so far a unique endeavor in Germany. The project’s objective is for blind, visually impaired and sighted people to live together side-by-side and to help each other. The notion of inclusive living is based on the idea of living in friendly, neighborly relationships: people live under one roof, support each other and meet for joint activities.
The idea for this housing project arose during tandem tours of the "Weiße Speiche" (English: "White Spokes") tandem club. The conclusion: bicycling is not the only thing that’s better together. So is living together. The basic concept of BliSS is for people who already know and appreciate each other to live together, to provide mutual support and share in joint adventures. This also forms the foundation of the club that was created in 2013.
The housing project aims to reduce reservations about blind people and people with other disabilities. It is not just a housing but also a learning project. People are able to interact intuitively and without inhibitions. "This is meant to build relationships at eye level that are rooted in normality, where everyone actively contributes", says Matthias Pusch, the club’s president.
The club members develop the individual steps to implement the housing project in collaboration with decision-makers in politics and public agencies. The club consults, develops and actively injects itself into the planning and implementation process. Matthias Pusch explains, "We have received great support but sometimes had to adamantly illustrate things that are unacceptable for our target audience (as it pertains to the design of public thoroughfares for example). Ultimately, our teamwork was constructive and trusting."
The housing and support needs of blind and visually impaired people has steadily increased for a number of years. Most people live in a "normal" apartment, which means their special needs such as tactile paving or ground surface indicators and other orientation systems are not being met. "The BliSS house specifically accommodates and meets the special needs and requirements of blind and visually impaired persons", says Pusch. It features special tactile markings, for example, and high contrast design as well as audio description inside the elevator or correlating concept of staircases and exterior spaces. A communal space that can also be used as a guest apartment invites everyone to celebrate birthdays or to have club meetings.
All construction measures are intended to make the apartments and the house accessible for the blind. The club’s homepage details the latest status of the project and allows club members to share their experiences.
Pusch adds that the fact that inclusion becomes normal is what makes this housing project so great. "There is a high demand. Right now, there is only a small first-floor apartment that’s still available", says Pusch. "And there is already a waiting list for the larger apartments." Most likely, the seven accessible floors of the BliSS house in Hamburg will be move-in ready by the end of 2019.