Hey there, and welcome to the first episode of our podcast. I am Sarah Pruett, and I have with me my husband, who is also the executive director of the organization we run, The Universal Design Project.
[00:00:40] Why are we doing a podcast? Well, Scott and I often have lengthy discussions about universal design and how things in our communities could be more functional, including housing and programming and lots of different things. And you know, we write all this down, write notes, and plan to blog, but life just gets in the way. We figured we talk about this, why not just podcast? So that’s why we’re here. We want to help you learn more about our organization, what our goals are, as well as some of the nitty gritty that got us to where we are today.
[00:01:14] So, The Universal Design Project. We are a 501(c)(3) organization trying to make an impact on housing in the US. We are doing this through the concept of universal design, which is about usability for everyone. When we say everyone, we actually mean everyone.
[00:01:32] No one is immune to experiencing a situation that may impact their health. Think about someone you know who’s getting older or may deal with a long-term illness or injury. Do they live in a home that works well for them? What if they have to move? Are there even options for them to choose from?
[00:01:50] From our experience, people have to do modifications to their home to make it work better for them… to get into the bathroom, or to provide access, even just to get through the front door. However, these renovations can cost a lot of time and money, and a lot of times people have to compromise on what actually gets changed in their home , which is frustrating. So we’re really focused on the design of new homes and we want to get that functionality right from the beginning.
[00:02:19] We are collaborating with a variety of people. We have designers, healthcare professionals, and people with disabilities who all speak into the designs that we create because we all know different things and we all have different, strengths and knowledge. We want to provide more functional housing options in different communities.
[00:02:39] It’s taken us a lot to get to this point, many years, but for now, Scott’s going to jump into chatting about our vision.
Scott: [00:02:47] Sure. Our vision is for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.
[00:02:57] We’re saying, what can we do to help the service providers who are involved in the housing market, in different communities across the country? How can we help them create more universally accessible options. What’s that look like? What’s involved? And if we can do some work and if we can look at things from the design standpoint, how can we then help different communities take some of that work that we don’t see happening very often between people who know how to design homes and particularly people who work in healthcare. So if we can get those people together and we can create some better design solutions, how can we make those usable by as many people and by as many communities as possible?
[00:03:36] When we say every community across the USA, the way that we’re structuring this is through connecting with service providers in each MSA. MSA is an acronym short for a metropolitan statistical area. There are 384 of these areas across the country. It’s a term that’s defined by the federal government through the office of management and budget. It’s a region that has a population over 50,000. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a city with a population of over 50,000. It’s a region. So it could be a smaller city with surrounding counties or surrounding towns, or it could just be one large metropolitan area that has way over 50,000.
[00:04:17] Anyway, what we’re trying to do is reach at least one home builder in each of these communities and equip them to be able to build homes that are functional and work well for as many people as possible. When we talk about a surplus of homes, that doesn’t mean that we just have homes that meet the needs that are out there. It’s arguable that the needs aren’t currently met.
Sarah: [00:04:40] And there’s research to back that up. There’s a lot of big organizations doing housing studies that basically say the current housing market does not meet the needs of the people in our communities.
Scott: [00:04:52] When we talk about accessibility and we say that homes don’t support the people’s needs, that doesn’t mean that people who need them don’t have anywhere to live. What that means is that people are living in homes that don’t work well for them.
Sarah: [00:05:06] Working well means like they can’t make a meal, they can’t use their bathroom. They have to make compromises in what they’re able to do.
Scott: [00:05:13] So there’s a lot of talk about home modifications and renovations, but our approach is, as Sarah mentioned, it’s a little bit different. We’re saying if we could design something from the get go that is as functional as possible for as many people as possible, what could that look like? How could that actually improve people’s lives? And so that’s our approach.
Sarah: [00:05:31] And for people to have a choice…
Scott: [00:05:34] Yeah. So when we talk about a surplus, a surplus means that the supply outweighs the demand. What would it look like if people actually had options of places to choose from? There’s more than we can explain with that later, but doing so in a way that’s not only functionally accessible but also financially accessible. The numbers are certainly part of the equation that we’re working with. So that’s the vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.
[00:06:06] That’s where we want to be. But how do we get there? So our mission is to provide the easiest way for communities to implement universal design in areas that are not regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as the ADA. What does that really mean?
[00:06:20] If people hear the term accessible, they think, well, we’ve got accessibility already. You can’t really go anywhere without seeing something that’s “ADA accessible.” Well, the ADA is a piece of legislation that, if you’re not familiar with it, applies to places of public accommodation. However, it doesn’t fully apply to the housing market.
[00:06:44] There are a couple of exceptions: multifamily housing where an apartment complex, for example, has a certain number of “regular” or “standard” units that it’s required by law that they have some accessible units as well. Or it could be housing that’s federally-funded that has to follow some of the fair housing standards that requires some access. But by and large, the neighborhoods, the communities, the housing that’s in the majority of the places that we live, doesn’t have to follow any sort of accessibility laws. It has to follow building codes for safety reasons and for structural reasons and other reasons, but it doesn’t have to be accessible.
[00:07:21] The result of that has been a housing market that’s full of homes that aren’t accessible to people who might have some sort of health condition or health impairment. So there’s compromises that have to be made, there’s a lot of talk about modification. So we’re saying, okay, well, if there’s not a requirement for homes to be built to be accessible, but there are a lot of people who need those homes, then how can we make it as easy as possible for people to build homes that are accessible and functional.
[00:07:51] There are a number of different areas that aren’t addressed by the ADA. Housing is just one of them. That’s just where we’re starting, so when we say we’re working on accessible housing, there’s quite a bit that goes into that, but hopefully, that gives you an idea of what we’re trying to do here at The Universal Design Project. Thanks for tuning in and hopefully in future episodes you’ll start to get to know us and we look forward to it.