Nurture planted the seed for the career path of Marcela Abadi Rhoads, AIA, RAS, but time has proven that Nature supplied her with the talent needed to grow into success. Beginning at the ripe old age of seven, influential uncles and cousins in the engineering and architecture fields trained her in their direction, which ultimately resulted in her earning a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. Soon the idea to focus on eliminating physical barriers for the disabled community germinated, and this passion cross-pollinated with her need for a more flexible work schedule. The result was her growing into a role as a Registered Accessibility Specialist and starting Abadi Accessibility, where she collaborates with construction and design professionals, acts as an expert witness, and educates others in the industry through seminars. With one book under her belt and another on the way, Marcela’s career is in full bloom, and her vibrant enthusiasm just might plant a seed of interest in you.
Please explain your work as a Registered Accessibility Specialist and how you went about accomplishing this credential.
In Texas, any commercial projects with a construction cost $50,000 or more are required to be reviewed and inspected by a third party to ensure compliance with the Texas Accessibility Standards [TAS], the Texas version of the Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA]. When I worked as an architect, I had to comply with the Texas Accessibility Standards and learned how to apply them.
When I was thinking about my future and how I saw my life as a future mother (possibly), I was looking for options to work on my own so I could be home with my kids. I understood that being an architect is very time consuming and demanding, and I had learned about a program that the State of Texas had come up with to allow private individuals to get registered to be the reviewers and inspectors for the TAS. This registered individual would be called a Registered Accessibility Specialist [RAS].
I thought that it would be a great way to still practice architecture and also to have a flexible schedule. What I didn’t anticipate is how much I would love doing it. I have become very passionate to the point that I now write newsletters, blogs and even books about the subject.
What are of size/scope of projects on which you work?
Some of the projects that I do are very small retail spaces where they might cost about $100,000. But some are huge projects that are several million dollars. I review all kinds of projects and inspect them when they are complete.
What are the different ways that you collaborate with design professionals and at what stage(s) are you typically brought in on a project?
Collaborating with design professionals depends on what they need. Some designers simply send me their drawings, and I do a peer review of sorts. They then receive my comments and hopefully incorporate them into their drawings.
Other design professionals want me to be more involved and get me to review before they issue for permit, and they include me during their design phases. They also like me to be around during construction in case any issues come up before the inspection occurs. I am always available to my clients whenever I can.
You are the author of The ADA Companion Guide. What does the content cover, what motivated you to write it, and how did you go about getting it published?
This is a very interesting story. The ADA Companion Guide is essentially the 2004 ADA Accessibility Guidelines [ADAAG], which then became the 2010 ADA Standards, and adds my commentary and explanations through photographs throughout the book.
So how did I write it? I had started a group on LinkedIn called “The Abadi Accessibility News Group.” I had started it in order to help with my marketing of my newly founded firm. And it worked great. I kept getting new members all the time.
One day, I noticed a publisher from John Wiley & Sons joined my group. You know them… They are the publishers of the Architectural Graphics and other Frank Ching books, just to name a few, so I was very flattered!
I went to his profile and it said “Looking for an ADA expert to write a book.” I had never written a book in my life, but I thought it was a great opportunity to really legitimize myself as an “expert.” So I contacted them, and they interviewed me, and they gave me the opportunity to write the book. We liked working together so much that right after my book was published they asked me if I would be willing to write a second book. So Applying the ADA will be published later this year.
You also provide ADA Training. Who are you typically training – design professionals, building owners, end-users, etc. – and what is the content focus?
I train anyone willing to listen. Mostly they are design professionals, but I have also given seminars to specification writers, construction people, owners and facilities managers. My curriculum is mainly explaining how the ADA works and how to apply it to their different projects. I usually tailor the seminar to their needs so they can take away information that they can use on a daily basis.
Part of your repertoire of services is being an Expert Witness. Under what circumstances are you brought in, how do you prepare, and what does testifying involve?
Being an expert witness is very stressful. I am brought in by lawyers who are looking to make their case stronger. Most of the time I have been on the side of the plaintiff, but there are some times that I help the defendant. Lawsuits are becoming more prevalent, and sometimes they are frivolous. I prepare by reading the depositions and look at the evidence, and then typically write my own conclusions based on the Standards. I also get deposed. I luckily have never been to court. They have been just in lawyer’s offices or via telephone.
So many people dream of starting their own business unaware of all that is demanded. What has been your toughest challenge as an entrepreneur?
My toughest challenge is my accounting! I actually love to market my business so that is typically not very challenging. I find that fun and exciting. Also getting new clients is also exciting. But keeping track of payment, paying taxes, payroll, and all the human resources becomes very stressful. It helps that I have people that I work with to help me with these. But since I am the owner, and with no pun intended, the buck stops with me, I have to make sure I am on top of it.
What has been your most challenging project?
There were some fast track projects that have been challenging. Getting things done quickly and getting the project in pieces is difficult. I have to be very organized and be aware of all the pieces that I have seen so that I don’t repeat comments.
What do you consider your most rewarding industry accomplishment so far?
Basically, educating the building industry. I am grateful for opportunities to teach the world about how to eliminate physical barriers for the disabled community and to remove the barriers that also keep the disabled community from being fully integrated into society. I am proud that I have been able to do this through my books, my blog and my newsletter, as well as social media and seminars. There is a lot to do, and I learn more and more as I do it.
What’s the best advice that you could give someone who is thinking about pursuing a career in your field?
Be patient. Don’t expect success to come overnight. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and to share your experiences with others. Be part of a community and professional organization that can allow you to grow and learn. Basically be of service and great things will happen.
Now for the lighter side…
What time of day are you most productive?
Nighttime when there are no phone calls and there are no distractions. I have always been a night person, but now that I have kids, I have started to become a morning person, and that is when I also become productive.
What movie can you watch over and over and why?
I have seen Pink Floyd: The Wall many, many times. I was raised by my mother who is a psychologist, and I learned about different mental illnesses. I thought this movie was brilliant because you were experiencing life like the mentally ill protagonist was experiencing it. Most of my friends don’t get why I like that movie, and I invite them to watch it with me if they would like so I can explain the deep meanings within.
What is one thing that you wish you knew more about?
I wish I knew more about Revit, BIM and Sketchup, but to be honest, I don’t have the time! I let the other people in my life do it for me.