Interior Design Program Chair Marsha Matto with award winners, Djiba Kourouma and Lara Jara-Rivera

For the second consecutive year, students from Shintaro Akatsu School of Design at the University of Bridgeport (SASD) have won three out of four awards at the Visitability Home Design Contest, a statewide competition that challenges aspiring interior designers to create dwellings that can best serve people with disabilities.

The contest was sponsored by Independence Unlimited, a center for independent living based in Hartford.

Student-designers were invited to submit plot plans for homes that meet so-called visitability guidelines, such as a zero-step entrances, wider doors and hallways, one or more bathrooms on the main floor large enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and other features.

All contest entries were judged by Melinda Otlowski, owner of Accessible Design Consultants, a division of Halcyon Architects of Southington; Antonia Ciaverella of Tecton Architects in Hartford; and Edward Mambruno, ombudsperson for the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services in Hartford.

SASD students Laura Jara-Rivera and Djiba Kourouma, both sophomores majoring in interior design, won the $250 First Place prize.

Third Place was awarded to SASD students Olivia Kascak and Rachael Watcke.

A third team of SASD design students from the University of Bridgeport, Rose Vilay, Justin Goodson, and Tiany Hicks, won Fourth Place.

Independence Unlimited Spokesperson Sue Salters explained that the “Visitability Home Design Contest offers a unique opportunity to bring together student home designers, their teachers, contest judges, and our consumers who use mobility devices to start the conversation about the need to create more accessible housing opportunities. We need to be building homes for everyone.”

Competing in the contest provided the first opportunity for winners and Jara-Rivera and Kourouma to collaborate on a project. Yet even though it was a first, they shared a vision to design a dwelling “that would make a resident feel safe and at home,” said Jara-Rivera, who is from Ecuador.

“Our approach was to make space,” added Kourouma, of Newark, NJ. “It’s hard for people to move when they’re disabled, so there’s not a lot of doors [in the proposed house]. We lowered countertops and included a place where someone could sit to fold clothes in the laundry room. We had an open office space; basically they can roll into it [in a wheel chair]. Doorways are four-feet wide . . . We put our blood and sweat into the project, and the night before it was due, I started feeling pretty good about it.”

SASD Interior Design Program Chair Marsha Matto, who advised all of the University of Bridgeport students who competed, was equally pleased.

“What is most impressive about this win is that Laura and Djiba competed in their sophomore year. They are dedicated to understanding the need for more ADA housing as our population ages in place. Their understanding of using design-thinking to solve problems has never been more acute,” Matto said.

About SASD Interior Design The four-year Bachelor of Science program prepares graduates with the required experience for the N.C.I.D.Q. examination and state registration. Interior design students learn about gathering design information and problem-solving in a range of actual projects, from residential to commercial design, hospitality, corporate offices, and health care spaces. Students further develop technical skills for expressing design solutions, using traditional sketching methods, computer-aided design (Auto CAD) and 3D simulation computer programs. Most projects are completed in collaboration with outside design firms, giving an added real-life experience to students that allows them to forge professional connections.

SASD is an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD), the governing body of undergraduate and graduate art and design schools.

Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, lgeary@bridgeport.edu