Here are a few links to items I discussed in this episode:
[00:00:27] Hey everyone, it’s Sarah, and thanks for listening to another episode.
[00:00:32] A few months ago, I came across an article, which I’ve linked in the show notes, talking about an airline holding mock flights to help kids with autism practice traveling. I thought it was a great idea and my first thought was, well, this should be a practice for all types of disabilities, and a lot of people that use mobility devices are very wary of getting into a plane because they aren’t sure of what to expect.
[00:00:58] This is the same for individuals who have autism or other intellectual or cognitive impairments. Even people with a general fear of flying would benefit just from seeing what the process would be like from parking to security, to boarding, and even maybe what goes on during the flight.
[00:01:17] A lot of people with disabilities worry about flying because of all the little details that have to go on, as many people have to transfer out of their wheelchairs onto an aisle chair, which is very tiny, to get into their actual airplane seat. The seat, that aisle chair, isn’t like a wheelchair. And plus there’s a lot of worry that they could get dropped or hurt if individuals helping them do not understand how to properly transfer them. There is also concern that their wheelchair or other equipment might get damaged.
[00:01:49] This topic of airline travel can be saved for another day, but that whole industry would need to be changed to make it easier for people to travel. However, the point here is that I’m glad that some airlines are doing this experiential trial to help passengers know what to expect.
[00:02:07] So what’s the point of today’s podcast? Well, the article actually sparked another idea regarding the topic of experiential education.
[00:02:16] So what is experiential education? Well, according to the Association for Experiential Education, AEE, “experiential education is a teaching philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities.”
[00:02:46] So in other words, they’re saying that experiential education is a hands-on form of learning that begins with a concrete experience. Then learners reflect on that experience and are able to apply the lessons they’ve learned more broadly to their lives.
[00:03:01] Just like people are trying out the plane to understand the experience and learn what to expect. This directly relates to how our organization feels in regard to the need for people to experience a universally accessible housing design. This experiential education idea relates to a bigger goal we’ve had at The Universal Design Project that we really haven’t shared a lot about.
[00:03:26]For many years we’ve talked about people needing to quote-unquote “try UD to really understand the value.” Could some people be wary of universal design because they don’t really understand it or maybe they think it’s not beneficial for them? I think the elements of UD can be confusing to people.
[00:03:46] So by helping them understand and experience the functional elements in a home they can understand the benefits that home might have that’s designed to work for what wide variety of people now and into the future.
[00:04:01] We actually went on vacation with our extended family and decided to stay in an Airbnb. Scott and I looked online at the pictures of the place and realized it would be a really good location for us to stay. Plus the pictures made it look really functional for us. There was a master bedroom on the main floor and a roll-in shower. Even the kitchen looked updated and super functional so we could make all of our meals there and not worry about spending as much money eating out.
[00:04:28] When we arrived to the Airbnb, of course, the entire family decided to take a tour of the house to check it out. My mom was really excited about the kitchen and said that it would be a lot easier for her to use, because it had a raised dishwasher, so it wouldn’t hurt her back to bend down and load and unload the dishes.
[00:04:47] She also liked all of the storage that were drawers that pulled out towards her, so she didn’t have to bend down and you know, the drill crawl into the cabinetry to find a pot or pan. The lighting was really good and there was also a lot of space for all of us to move around as the floor plan was really open.
[00:05:05] There were countertops at different heights, so the taller people could work on one surface and we have short people in our family, and so that was easier for others to work as well as make it easier for Scott to eat at a lower surface as well. My mom exclaimed, “why don’t people build things like this all the time?”
[00:05:27] Which is exactly the point.
[00:05:29] She had never experienced a kitchen like this in person and thought it was a great idea. How many times have we talked about our business to my family, but she really understood the value of our business after being in this Airbnb and experiencing the design a little differently.
[00:05:47] That’s what we want other people to experience with universal design. We can talk about it and we can share about it, but until people have the opportunity to maybe tour home or stay in a home while doing their daily activities, they won’t understand the benefits it has for them if they don’t get to experience it firsthand.
[00:06:07] UD isn’t just about people with disabilities. It’s also being more functional overall for people without disabilities too. That’s why many people might not think universal design is something worth looking into unless they have some sort of impairment. That idea is misguided.
[00:06:27] We had an occupational therapy student named Kati Richardson, whom you’ve probably heard in some of our previous episodes, that finished up her capstone project with us in April of 2020. I’m linking her last podcast and the show notes if you’d like to learn more about what she did for our organization. But while she was here, she did contribute a lot to move our organization forward, by thinking through a potential Demonstration Home Program that we can launch when our organization has plans that can be built in different communities. I wanted to share a small snapshot of the concept as a way to help you see the purpose of the demonstration home and how it relates to experiential education.
[00:07:11] The Demonstration Home Program is a conceptualization formed by The Universal Design Project, with the intention to build homes using the universal design plans created within the organization, in communities across America. Once built, these homes would serve many different purposes. But first and foremost, it would provide individuals the opportunity to learn about universal design through experiential education.
[00:07:37] So how would it be used? We would love to have a demonstration home that people can go into for tours. Community groups can use it as a space for training. Design and healthcare students can go in and learn about universal design and assistive technology. Or individuals that are still in the hospital can come into the home and understand why different features that would be in a home, like this would be beneficial for their independence.
[00:08:03] Really, the options are limitless, but we want people to try out the home and do activities in the home. Similar to what my mom experienced in the Airbnb scenario I described earlier. We didn’t have to tell her about all of the features for her to come to the conclusion on her own, that the design was a good fit for her.
[00:08:24] Not only would be able to have people try things out, like making a meal, getting on and off the toilet or in and out of the shower, but they would have the opportunity to learn how we design the home and the thought process that went into it.
[00:08:38] It’s not often that collaboration occurs between architects, healthcare providers, and people who have daily experience with impairments. They would be able to experience why that type of collaboration makes a difference and put the pieces together to learn why certain features meet the needs of many people with different impairments or no impairments at all. Granted, people may not care about all the background that went into the home, but if they’re able to experience a product like one of our demonstration homes, that works really well, I think it would be enough evidence for them for why it would be beneficial.
[00:09:14] Even just thinking about the value this demonstration home could have to the community gets me really excited. We’ve even thought about ways it could be a community effort. Well, local organizations could contribute to the home through the donation of time, materials, and products to truly make it a universal community place that was built by the community and can be used by the community for years to come.
[00:09:37] I could see each of these homes taking shape differently in cities across the US, but the ultimate goal is for people to experience why UD is a really great option to build in a new home. We do have a lot of ground to cover. Before we get this demonstration home started, we need to partner with architects to create the designs that can be built for people to have this educational experience.
[00:10:01] We have more information on our site at universal design.org/collaborate if you would like to get more information on how you can be involved.
[00:10:11] We’ve mentioned that our vision is for there to be a surplus of homes in each community that people can purchase that are universally accessible. The outcome of that as a possibility brings me so much joy to know that people would actually have options in different styles, in different floor plans.
[00:10:29] There is so much anxiety that goes into finding a home. Much less one that’s going to work for the needs of a particular family. We know someone personally who may be facing a move due to a diagnosis that is progressive in nature, and I was asked, where would they look to find a home that would meet their needs as their current home would be very difficult to modify. I didn’t know. I didn’t have an answer because there aren’t homes specifically in smaller communities that are turnkey, ready, and provide a level of functionality that they might need. There are some homes that have some features, but many would need to be modified because it doesn’t provide that functionality throughout the entire home, or some of the features that were used in the home would only be helpful for some people with a disability, but not for others with a disability.
[00:11:24] As I wrap up here, I want to tie it back to experiential education. We have a young daughter and I feel like we’re teaching her about the world and how things work. She is like a sponge and is exploring everything. I know myself and other parents are taking an approach of introducing our kids to new experiences each day to teach them about things. This could be by exploring different objects that provide different sensory experiences through touch, sound, taste, smell, or movement.
[00:11:55] And even going through different scenarios and talking with kids about what to expect in different situations. This could mean practicing situations before they occur. So maybe playing with a doll and talking about going to the doctor or explaining what would happen if the fire department would come to the house.
[00:12:13] As adults, we do similar things before a purchase. We test-drive cars, we tour homes for an open house. We do a dry run of a performance in a dress rehearsal, or we test out technology products in the store before we purchase them.
[00:12:31] We feel like experiencing universal design in a home falls right in line with some of these other scenarios and we’re excited to hopefully one day offer a Demonstration Home Program that your community could implement so your community could have a surplus of homes to choose from that can make the lives of so many, much easier and more fulfilling.
[00:12:54] We can read and do research all we want, but for me, I learn by doing, and I’m definitely a hands-on learner. So experiential education is something that really makes sense to me.