An exterior rendering of Beyond Vision's VisABILITY Center.

Accessible Design: Beyond Vision’s VisABILITY Center – Part 1

Part 1: On a Mission for Accessible Spaces

Accessible design was the mission for Bray in creating a new, 130,000-square-foot headquarters for Beyond Vision. This Milwaukee-based nonprofit needed a new space to expand their work providing meaningful and sustainable employment for people with vision loss.

A New Accessible Space

Dubbed the VisABILITY Center, the new location will make a huge difference for Beyond Vision. It will both double their current operating space and potentially triple its number of employees. The state-of-the-art facility will contain offices, manufacturing and warehouse spaces, a distribution center, and a community space.

“The current facilities limit the growth of our mission,” they wrote in a recent annual report. In 2019, they started looking for a new home, and reached out to Bray to guide them through the process. After considering multiple sites, the organization landed on transforming a former Sam’s Club building in West Allis, Wisconsin.

The new location holds great opportunity for the 120-year-old nonprofit, which provides manufacturing services to local companies. They can build upon longstanding relationships with customers like Briggs & Stratton and Harley Davidson. Beyond Vision also sees potential for other organizations serving people with vision loss to co-locate at the center.

From Big Box Store to Accessible Headquarters

What does the transformation of a big-box store to a nonprofit headquarters look like?

  • The new building plan uses the former Sam’s Club main entrance for visitor access. Meanwhile, the former vehicle grocery loading area is becoming the employee entrance.
  • The former garage and tire shop where Sam’s Club serviced vehicles is becoming building maintenance shop and a call center, one of several services that Beyond Vision provides.
  • What was open floor space for the store will become an open office area, with private offices and meeting rooms around the perimeter.
  • The front-center of the building will host an employee resource area, including a multipurpose room, employee lounge, fitness room, and a resource room for individuals with guide dogs.
  • The project will also exchange some of the former store’s parking lot for green space.

“This project was interesting and challenging,” said John Mahon, architect, delivery team leader, and associate at Bray. “While we regularly design to the requirements of ADA-ABA guidelines, our work on the VisABILITY Center project helped us understand how vision reduction or impairment presents challenges for building occupants that extend beyond the generalized accessibility guidelines.”

Mahon added that adaptive re-use projects like the Beyond Vision project are also interesting because they challenge the team to create a new environment that sheds its former identity. “Our team did a wonderful job of creating a finished product,” he said. “The building will serve the owner for a very long time, which benefits the employees and members of its organization.”

What’s Ahead

Our architecture and interior design team worked closely with Beyond Vision to design a space that will best serve their specialized needs. In this series, we’ll explore the unique design features that make the VisABILITY Center accessible for individuals with low vision and vision impairment.

First, we want to talk about one critical member of our project team: Chris Downey, a California-based architect whose personal experience with vision impairment has given him tremendous insight into accessible design.

Read Part 2: Collaborating with Chris Downey


Be sure to also check out:

Read Part 3: Accessible Design in Action

Watch Low-cost, High-impact Accessible Design Solutions


Featured image, top: An exterior rendering of the VisABILITY Center. Bray Architects and Beyond Vision are working together to transform a former Sam’s Club location into the new headquarters.