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The news was like being awakened with a bucket of ice cold water in the middle of a deep sleep. Dad has brain cancer. No wait, you think, he’s only 58 years old—he’s working as a mailman, still playing softball a few nights a week, golf on the weekends. He’s an athlete version of Norm on”Cheers”—everybody knows his name.
 
He recovered from the brain surgery with only partial use of the left side of his body. He would never recover use of his left arm at all. He walked with a shuffle. The steroids led to excessive weight gain. He was miserable, and I absolutely understood why. My Dad, the athlete, was now a handicapped person. It was hard to comprehend that this person was the same person who had the strong, able hands that would toss me in the air as a kid and so ably catch me again and again.
 
The last year of his life was an awakening for me in so many ways. One lesson was compassion. Another was patience. The one lesson, however, that I could translate into something that could help others, was the lesson that the built world is not accommodating. When I looked around, I noticed there are a lot of people with needs. All struggling to go through the grocery store, trying to use the handicapped stall in the public bathroom (did you ever notice how this one is always the one farthest away?), trying to find a table that can accommodate a wheelchair. Why are we making life so hard—for everyone? Because if the people who have a special need are not mobile, it means their caregivers are struggling, too; trying to make provisions, to make things easier. Not to mention the psychological impact that lack of independence has on the person with a special need. I was led to the answer the question: Why can we not just build our environment in a way to accommodate everyone to the best of our ability?
 
I subsequently had the good fortune of meeting Rachel Simon, author of “Riding the Bus with My Sister,” and the recently released, “Building a House with My Husband.” Having a sister with a special need growing up, Rachel introduced me to Universal Design. Universal Design, also known as “aging in place” and “design for all,” seeks to make spaces usable for all in the same way, regardless of age or ability, without adaptation or specialization for use. Non-discriminatory in nature, spaces are designed to accommodate humans whether they are fully functioning, carrying groceries, assisting another, pushing a walker—whatever. The search was over, I knew what we had to do.
 
Panaro Construction, Inc. has been using green products since its inception in 2001. Tony, an avid outdoorsman, sportsman and athlete, had devoted hundreds of hours to product research, installation and application of green products. Our building standard was green before green was in vogue. It was our moral duty to care for the environment. We take this issue seriously. Few really understand green; there are a lot of assumptions about solar panels and wind turbines. Green building, however, is in every decision about a building—site selection, building orientation, landscaping, energy efficiency, and on and on. We continue to try to help educate people about what green building really means.
 
We decided, based on our discovery of Universal Design, we were ready to take our building standard to a new level: Infusion Design. Infusion Design is the marriage of green building and Universal Design and is the trademark brand for Panaro Construction, Inc. Infusion Design is the ultimate in sustainability, based on creating barrier-free beautiful spaces that need not be remodeled or redesigned at a later date. Homes utilizing Infusion Design are beautiful, accessible, energy efficient and low-maintenance. An Infusion Design home accommodates everyone, whether you are a healthy 20-something or in a wheelchair. Infusion Design is the “forever” home; you never need to move out—how much more sustainable can you get? Infusion Design is a lifestyle.
 
Our first generation Infusion Design home is under construction in Chesapeake City, on the C&D Canal. We will be pleased to continue providing monthly updates on the construction process, on our quest to become LEED Certified, how we have involved the University of Delaware in our project, and more. Stay tuned.