Our Team + Our Process

My name is Sally and I am an occupational therapy student at Trinity Washington University. I am completing my first round of level 2 fieldwork with The Universal Design Project this summer. In an effort to explain to my classmates, family, and friends what exactly I am doing this summer, I have created a blog post and infographic to illustrate what type of work gets done here at The Universal Design Project, and how we work together to progress toward our vision.


Our team at The Universal Design Project believes that the best way to achieve universal access is to work collaboratively. Designing for universal accessibility is complex and must be a collaborative process due to the diversity of our client’s needs, abilities, and preferences. Take a look at the infographic below to get a general idea of how collaborative design works here at The Universal Design Project.

Infographic that visualizes our co-design process. Written description follows below.

Who’s Involved?

Our designers on the team include architects and interior designers. These professionals are responsible for using their knowledge about materials and products to create the floor plans for our homes. While our architects work more on the structural components of the build, our interior designers work on the final room configurations, as well as adding finishes to the products we put in these spaces.

Our health professionals play an important role in the process of designing accessible and functional homes for people of all abilities and ages. Their knowledge about human functions and behavior contributes to creating designs that are user-friendly. Occupational therapists and rehabilitation engineers provide our team with information about the needs and abilities of the people living in the spaces we create. Here’s a breakdown of what these professionals bring to the table:

  • Occupational Therapists (OTs) are health professionals who help people inhibited by injury, illness, or disability participate in the activities that they want and need to do each day. These activities might include bathing, socializing with friends, or folding the laundry. OTs are skilled in activity analysis, or breaking down an activity (aka occupation) into smaller tasks. This allows them to evaluate the skills and abilities a person needs in order to participate in valued activities. The knowledge OTs have about activity demands influences the design of more functional spaces and products that can be used by all.
  • Rehabilitation Engineers are experts in designing, developing, and applying rehabilitative and assistive technology to help people with disabilities achieve greater independence. These professionals use engineering principles and their knowledge of human anatomy to guide their clients in selecting the most appropriate devices in an effort to improve their quality of life. Rehab engineers contribute to our design process with their vast knowledge of technologies that can be used most effectively by the greatest number of people. 

Our volunteers, also known as Design Advisors, are people who have first-hand experience with disability. This includes individuals with disabilities, caregivers and family members of those with disabilities, and health professionals. Using their life experiences, this group of volunteers is able to provide the team with valuable input about the functionality and usability of our designs. They act as our checks and balances to make sure that our designs are indeed functional. 

We are currently in the process of reaching out to builders in metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) to encourage them to join our builder network. Once we have an established builder network, those professionals will be responsible for streamlining the overall process of the build. They will manage our home projects by ensuring the build complies with strict safety regulations, as well as our universal designs.

Our Co-Design Process

The collaborative process begins with our designers and healthcare professionals working together to create floor plans and room configurations that are functional. Our designers share the renders they are working on with our healthcare professionals, and they collaboratively talk through the design, reviewing it together.

Once the designers and health professionals have created a design that is functional to the best of their knowledge, they will present the plans to our DAs. These “disability experts” ensure that our design work is usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible. Our DAs have multiple opportunities to provide feedback about our designs and make suggestions. The team will review the feedback and make the necessary changes to the space before presenting new renderings to the DAs. This process will continue until all team members are satisfied with the design, and trust that it is as universal as possible.

After our designs have the final stamp of approval, they are ready to be brought to life. Our designs will be made into complete sets of construction documents for builders to use, but we aren’t quite there yet.

Our future plans also involve occupational therapists who will work with our clients to select a floor plan and choose products that will make their home most functional. Although we have worked hard to ensure that our baseline models are as universal as possible, we understand that all of our clients will have different needs. This means they will need slightly different designs to support their participation in activities around the home. We believe that OTs are best suited to assess our clients’ needs, goals, and performance skills to help them select design alternatives when necessary. 

The Curious Case of the Ironing Board

This collaborative process is unique, and might be a new concept for some. Let’s walk through the co-design process of the laundry room, specifically, the placement of the ironing board. Digging into our most recent design endeavor might help you get a better idea of what our collaborative efforts look like in action. 

Currently, our interior design student is working to further develop the laundry room, and add features such as countertops, sinks, appliances, and cabinetry. However, before creating a rendering of this space and adding those features, we began by asking our DAs about what their ideal laundry room would look like. The feedback from our volunteers informed our initial design, and allowed our designer to add all of the features that our DAs simply couldn’t live without into this space.

Before even meeting with our DAs, our team was largely under the impression that ironing boards are outdated, and this laundry feature could likely be left out of our design. It wasn’t until after our discussions with our volunteers that we realized how many people would appreciate and use this product. We decided that the ironing board was a must-have feature, so we built it into our first design. Here is the very first rendering of this space after our first round of DA feedback:

Birds eye view of laundry and mudroom. More details in description.

After the initial render, we talked again as a team to discuss how to make the best use of the space we have. As you can tell, the ironing board in this design is taking up an entire wall. We also noticed that it pulls out into the floor space and blocks the doorway going into the main living area. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it makes it so this space can’t be used to its fullest potential. After a few minutes of discussing the current design, we quickly realized that the ironing board needed a new home within this room. Our team browsed through Pinterest and other sites to get ideas about how to smoothly integrate an ironing board into a laundry room. Our most favorite design was the innovative drawer ironing board (see below).

Image from Pinterest (link).

Our team relocated the ironing board into a drawer, similar to the one pictured above, underneath the counter. This new design allows for incognito inclusion of a feature that will probably only be used on occasion. This design is also flexible in use, as it allows clients to opt out of the ironing board if steaming clothes is more their thing. Without the ironing board insert, this drawer simply works as another area for storage. Check out the second rendering of this space below to see how the design changed. This room is not yet complete, but this process will continue until everyone is satisfied with the final room configuration and finishes. 

As an interdisciplinary team, we are able to learn from each other to create the most accessible designs possible. Architects aren’t experts in health sciences. Health professionals aren’t experts in design sciences. Home builders aren’t experts in design or human function. None of us know everything about all of our neighbors, which is why we benefit from working together!


2 responses to “Our Team + Our Process”

  1. Stephanie Kiker Avatar
    Stephanie Kiker

    You have really opened my eyes and shown me what is possible in a home! How creative to put the ironing board in a drawer. Why didn’t I think of that? I want to build my universally designed dream home!

    1. Sarah Pruett Avatar

      I’m so glad this has opened your eyes to new ways things can be designed in a home and I’m excited that you would look forward to having a UD home in the future! Definitely, a smart thing to consider!

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