002: PEO Model & Collaboration

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
002: PEO Model & Collaboration


This is our second episode of Good Fit Poor Fit. In our last episode, we gave you an overview of The Universal Design Project. Today it’s just me at the microphone and I’m going to share where the idea of our podcast title came from and why we feel like design is best approached through collaboration. We are basing our podcast on the idea that things can be designed well to create a “good fit,” or in contrast, a “poor fit.”

[00:00:58] If the environment is designed to be a “good fit” for all intended users, then we can say that design enables people. It allows them to succeed and be more independent. On the flip side, if there is a “poor fit”, then we can say that the design disables people.

[00:01:15] So, this podcast is not intended to bash all poorly constructed designs, but one of the big takeaways is to create additional awareness of why collaboration is important for home design. We all have strengths and weaknesses within our knowledge base, and that’s just the reality of it.

[00:01:32] Think about cars. It’s pretty much expected that roads do not have major obstacles in the way, like big boulders or other barriers in the path of travel.  Yet, it’s common to find homes with lots of barriers for people, especially if there is a health condition, injury, or disability in the mix. Many find an all-white kitchen very simple and pleasing. However, this color choice can cause problems for people who struggle with their vision and need contrasting colors to determine where one surface begins and another ends. This design choice creates a poor fit for some users. 

[00:02:11] At The Universal Design Project, we are collaboratively designing things that can be used by as many people as possible. One of the models we use to guide our practice is the Person-Environment-Occupation (or PEO) model of Occupational Performance. It comes from the field of Occupational Therapy and helps identify the relationships between a person, an environment, and occupations, which it might be easier to think about as activities or things we do. When you look at this model, it is typically depicted as three interlocking circles. Each circle overlaps with the other circles indicating that there is a relationship between each of the components and they all rely on each other to support and enhance a person’s ability.

[00:03:00] So let me give you an example. Back in the days when I did consulting in people’s homes, I did a home evaluation for a family who needed to eliminate a step from their deck into their kitchen for a  gentleman moving in who used a walker.

[00:03:15] So here we are looking at the person, the “P” in this model who is unable to do the stairs and considering the environment, the “E,” but understanding we need to eliminate the need for him to step into the kitchen. So again, we have the “P” and the “E” portions of the circle accounted for. However, what was not taken into consideration was how the person would perform the task of walking up the ramp and opening the door by himself.

[00:03:43] This is the last circle called occupation, which could be explained as how someone performs an activity. This contractor that I was working with, his typical way of building a ramp was to create the ramp  the width of the door opening and slope it right up to the door without a landing.

[00:04:01] Now, if you don’t know what a landing is, it is the flat surface just right outside the door. Having worked with individuals who use mobility devices… walkers, crutches, canes, wheelchairs… it is essential for them to have a flat landing just outside the door. This is for multiple reasons. It allows them to be able to safely open the door without having to do it on a sloped area. Imagine you’re sitting on a hill and trying to open a door while your whole body has gravity pulling it in another direction. A small slope might not seem like a big deal to you, but for someone who has difficulty with their balance, it’s a big deal.

[00:04:41] So, it’s also essential for the ramp to be wider than the door opening for there to be room for someone and their mobility device to pull close enough to the door, actually to the side of the door, to be able to open it, and to do so without falling off the side of the ramp or the landing. Because this contractor was unaware of how a person would complete the task, the construction of the ramp he had originally set out to do would have been a “poor fit” for the family. This could mean they might have to have help or they wouldn’t be able to do the task at all. This causes a lot of mental stress knowing that if only the space was designed differently, they could do things more independently.

[00:05:24] As an occupational therapist, I went to school and I was taught about how people’s bodies can be affected through illness or injury and what impact that has on how they’re able to perform daily tasks around the home and community. This knowledge impacts how things are designed, but this does not mean I’m qualified to do professional design work. I just don’t have those skills. 

[00:05:49] Designers understand the science behind creating buildings that are structurally sound and functional; yet, they do not have a deep knowledge in the human body and how disease, illness, and injury can impact one’s function throughout the lifespan.

[00:06:04] People with disabilities and their caregivers understand what it’s like to live life differently every day in a world that is not designed for their needs. They are experts on themselves, and they also look toward healthcare providers to advocate for their needs and designers to create quality options. However, their opinion is still very important. 

[00:06:26] Lastly, I can’t leave out our builders because they’re the ones providing opportunities for people to truly live in functional spaces. 

[00:06:34] So, hopefully you can gather from all of this that it does take a collaborative effort between all of these people. People who understand disability, people who understand design and building science, as well as people who live the life of disability. If we did this for profit it would be very expensive. But in a nonprofit model, it’s a little different. And we’re going to explain that a little more throughout our episodes.

[00:06:58] We all don’t know everything and by combining our knowledge and efforts, we are able to create designs that work well right from the start, so modifications and compromises are minimized. Universal design and all of the additional details surrounding the term and process is very complex and we will continue to flesh out some of those details with you in future episodes. Until next time!


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