When landscape architect Steve Saling was diagnosed with ALS in 2006, he was determined to live as well as he could. "Our society treats prisoners with more dignity and respect than the chronically disabled," Saling told CNN. “[They’re] kept alive but with no life.”
Saling was facing 3 to 5 years of decreasing mobility before the disease was expected to take his life, though his mind would be capable as ever. The prospect of spending years confined to a bed with little outside contact held no appeal.
He found a collaborator in Barry Berman, CEO of Massachusetts assisted-living facility Chelsea Jewish Foundation. Berman was working on creating a new type of nursing home for young people with ALS and multiple sclerosis and eventually gave Saling a $500,000 grant to leverage technology for improved quality of life in the facility.
Saling set to work redesigning the building’s interior, outfitting it with an automated system called a Promixis Environment Automation Controller (PEAC). PEAC is controlled by wireless signals sent by technology that recognizes eye movements, and in some cases, brain waves. With the flick of an eye, patients can wirelessly open and close doors, call the elevator, and operate the television and lighting.
Saling also instituted other changes that went beyond his automated system. He designed an accessible lawn that wouldn’t be damaged by wheelchairs and arranged communal spaces to maximize social encounters. The Steve Saling ALS Residence is also the first of its kind to enable patients on ventilators to leave the facility for public events like museum exhibitions and baseball games.
The success of his design prompted Saling to found the ALS Residence Initiative, which supports the creation of similarly active and accessible nursing homes across the country.