UF College of Design, Construction & Planning

The Repurpose Project at UF - Published on October 30, 2017

An interdisciplinary team led by Dr. Sherry Ahrentzen, professor in the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies, was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to research design and technological innovations for retrofitting existing housing for people with disabilities.

The goal of the project is to develop innovative ways to adapt and repurpose spaces and fixtures in existing housing so that it is affordable, accessible and aesthetically pleasing.

This study will use virtual reality to allow people with disabilities to experience and test the designs without the need for physically constructing prototypes. As an example, a haptic glove and Oculus VR headset can be worn by a person with arthritis to determine if they would be able to open a door in the proposed design, allowing them to see, touch and grip virtual objects as though they are real.

The team consists of:

• Sherry Ahrentzen, Nichole Campbell and Bill O’Dell, Shimberg Center for Housing Studies
• Stephen Bender, School of Architecture
• Erin Cunningham, Department of Interior Design
• Xiaojie Lu, Robert Ries and Ravi Srinivasan, M.E. Rinker, Sr. School of Construction Management
• Sherrilene Classen and Linda Struckmeyer, Department of Occupational Therapy
• Randy Cantrell, UF/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences

At the project’s Kickoff Event on September 26, invited guest Jason Meneely, interior design associate professor, gave a virtual reality demonstration with two visiting HUD officials, Regina Gray and Elizabeth Cocke, donning the VR headset to learn first-hand how VR can be used in this research. In addition, Ravi Srinivasan explained how the haptic glove would work in this project.

Also at this event, the HUD officials spoke of the importance of this research while the interdisciplinary team talked about their research plan.

The first step of the 3-year project is background literature research. After that, an interdisciplinary advisory team will be assembled that consists of staff from organizations and agencies involved in housing and disability issues. This team will be consulted throughout the process.

The next phase of research will include a review of HUD building documents and focus groups with professionals and customers to identify ways in which their homes are already adapted for accessibility and what could be improved.

Based on this research, the team will redesign the homes and digitize or reproduce the redesigns (as well as the original homes) in virtual reality with haptic (touch) simulations.

A representative sample of adults with disabilities will virtually test the redesigned spaces with the original spaces and provide an assessment.

Then a cost analysis will be conducted for retrofitting those homes and, finally, the team will research the best ways to get this information to home builders and housing agents.