The Treehouse of Lititz Playground (Lititz, PA)
A Dream Come True Playground (Harrisonburg, VA)
United States Olympic and Paralympic Museum (Colorado Springs, CO)
Sarah: You’re listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. A podcast that explores the interaction between people, design, and activity. Good Fit Poor Fit is part of The Universal Design Project, a nonprofit organization with a vision for every community across the USA to have a surplus of homes and opportunities for social participation that are universally and financially accessible.
[00:00:27] Learn more at universaldesign.org.
[00:00:31] Rebecca: Hey, there listeners. We hope you’re all staying safe and well out there. Thanks for joining us for a special episode of Good Fit Poor Fit. Today, we’re introducing a new mini-series called “UD and Me”, which we’ll be doing every now and then.
[00:00:45] And it’s all about universal design and designs that inspire us. We’ll talk to some of our friends, peers, and colleagues to see what UD elements and products speak to them and are good fits in their lives.
[00:00:58] This will be a great chance for us to learn together about all different UD elements, spaces, and products.
[00:01:05] So today, Sarah and I are going to kick off this new series by nerding out about some of our favorite universal design that we’ve experienced, implemented, or dreamed about. But first, we’ll also be sharing a little bit about ourselves and how we came to this work. So Sarah, tell me your “UD and Me” story.
[00:01:27] Sarah: So I think some people have already heard this through other publications and things like that, but I’ll kind of start back at the beginning. I started as an OT working in a rehab setting, and I know that there were so many people living in homes that just didn’t fit their functional needs. And I would see that doing evaluations with people.
[00:01:49] And so many of my patients were just going home from the hospital, having to set up a bed in their living room and really figure out how to wash up in the kitchen or half-bath on the first floor, because they couldn’t reach all the bedrooms and bathrooms on the second floor. Finances were often a huge barrier for modifications, plus the homes people were living in were just not welcoming to illness or injury.
[00:02:12] Many of you have heard in these episodes that my husband Scott uses a wheelchair. When he was first injured, his mom had to change their living room into a bedroom and bathroom. So he’d have a place to go to sleep and do his daily activities when he got back from rehab, after his spinal cord injury. And when they did this, they actually had to live in a hotel for a while to get this renovation accomplished. So I’ve seen a lot of this from a personal and a professional standpoint, and I knew that the current way that homes were being designed was not really working for people, living with a variety of health conditions.
[00:02:50] So in 2012, we started a consulting business and I would go into people’s homes to do an evaluation of their space and give them some recommendations on what they could do to make it more functional. I would then collaborate with builders to make the changes. We quickly realized that most homeowners just didn’t have the funds to make these changes.
[00:03:11] Especially if they’re dealing with medical bills and a fixed income, which made it difficult for them to pay for me for the consult and not to mention the extra expense of hiring a builder to do the work. We also ran into some confusion with those who were working in the building industry about why occupational therapists should even be a part of the home modification process.
[00:03:34] So with these barriers and a lot of others in mind, we decided to take a different direction with our business in 2016. We switched to a non-profit to find different sources of funding through grants and fundraising. And we also wanted to work on the design of new homes that were functional and affordable.
[00:03:54] And so to do that, we really believe that things need to be designed collaboratively with designers, healthcare professionals, and people with firsthand experience with disability all giving input into the new housing plans. So that’s where we are today and that was a really short summary. But it’s been an interesting journey and we’re still learning a lot along the way, but being able to help be a part of this process to allow people to live in homes that increase their independence and quality of life has always been part of my desire as an OT and even if this is a little different direction than a typical OT job in the clinical setting, I think it’s a really beneficial one.
[00:04:37] Rebecca: I definitely agree. As a recent grad, I’m really inspired by OTs who are taking these non-traditional paths and really using all of this knowledge and OT skills in a non-clinical way.
[00:04:50] So I appreciate you and thank you for beginning to carve this path for younger OTs like myself.
[00:04:56] Sarah: Yeah, sure. No, it’s definitely not an easier path, but a needed one. And so Rebecca, you’ve also kind of followed a non-traditional OT path as well. So, can you share with our listeners more about you?
[00:05:12] Rebecca: Yeah, thank you. So the phrase non-traditional path could actually really be used to describe my life. So I identify with that phrase very much. But anyway, you kind of already heard a little bit about my universal design origin story, if you will, in the Designing for Dementia episode. But in case you didn’t catch that one, it basically goes like this.
[00:05:35] I was an engineer who was fascinated by the way that people are so often excluded from the design process. It is often the case that engineers make and design products without really giving a second thought to the people that will actually use them. And honestly, this never made sense to me. So I studied engineering, psychology, and ethics, in an integrated model in order to try and bring this human perspective into the engineering process.
[00:06:06] And I quickly learned that this actually wasn’t quite enough. I wanted to deepen my understanding of that human perspective, which led me to pursue a degree in occupational therapy, like Sarah. And I completed my doctorate last year. Now, my goal is to use my understanding of engineering and those related processes in conjunction with my OT and human centered-knowledge to design spaces and communities that are equitably accessible for all people.
[00:06:36] Sarah: I just love how you’ve combined your knowledge of two important fields to help make communities more accessible for people. We are really living in a time where people are getting creative with their education and background to pave their own paths. I know COVID has done a little bit of this, but I see quite a lot of different opportunities for crossover and collaboration in a lot of different fields, especially ones that focus on human function.
[00:07:05] Rebecca: Absolutely true. I think we’re seeing more and more these days how it’s not necessarily about the specific degree you have, but the skills and knowledge that that degree has taught you, which adds value and to work. And in my opinion, it’s only when we all bring our unique perspectives and knowledge bases together, through collaboration, that we can really make a meaningful difference in change.
[00:07:30] Now onto the juicy stuff, Sarah. Tell me about a universal design element or product or experience or place that you love. And that inspires you that is not home related.
[00:07:47] Sarah: Not home-related cause we definitely talk about homes a lot on this podcast, but my experience, I’ll say experience or place is rather broad.
[00:07:57] So inclusive playgrounds. I know there are a lot of playgrounds that are inclusive that have popped up across the country in various locations. And quite frankly, they are invaluable for so many different people. Of course, many are built in mind so kids with varying abilities can play with their peers easily, but it’s honestly something that my family values as well, because my husband, Scott, uses a wheelchair. Plus, the playgrounds don’t just draw families with disabilities.
[00:08:32] They are seen as a fun place for anyone to go and are generally chosen over some of the older structures, at least in our area. One of the accessible ones in our town is unfortunately currently closed due to COVID, but when we were able to use it before, it was so nice that Scott had the ability to get right up to the swing or actually roll onto the playground equipment to play with our daughter. The ones that we’ve been going to most recently, he is, unfortunately, getting stuck in the mulch and he can’t get up onto the playground structure, because of the stairs. And he really kind of has to sit on the sidelines and it’s actually really, really frustrating for him. And, our daughter is starting to say, “come daddy, come play,” and he literally just can’t get to her.
[00:09:22] So the one locally to us that we love is called A Dream Come True. And it is located in Harrisonburg, Virginia. And I will put a link to that in the show notes. And then most recently, one of my high school and college friends, he’s a pastor at a church in Lititz Pennsylvania, and they just opened an amazing playground that I would love to go see sometime. It’s called The Treehouse of Lititz. And I’ll put both links in the show notes for you to be able to see that too. So, it’s been really neat just to see some of the videos that he’s been posting about kids and families coming to the playground, just to enjoy time together.
[00:10:02] Rebecca: Oh, wow. Both of these places really do sound like a dream come true. I actually checked out all of the websites that you’ll share in the show notes, and I really, really want to see them in person because it’s really exciting to see spaces like this, actually, not just being designed, but popping up in communities and being integrated into communities.
[00:10:24] But, you know, I have to be honest with you, Sarah. I’ve heard a lot of talk about accessible playgrounds and I even learned about them in school, but I hadn’t considered the accessibility in terms of parents. I mean, I had thought about accessibility in terms of getting to the playground, you know, is this playground a place in a place that a parent could safely walk or drive their child?
[00:10:47] But I hadn’t actually considered access in terms of a parent being able to engage in play with their child on the playground. And that’s such a critical part of development and bonding, especially for young kids like your daughter. Not to mention it’s important and special for the parents as well.
[00:11:04] And everyone deserves the opportunity to play and laugh with their child on the playground. So I really think that’s a great point that I’m glad you brought up.
[00:11:13] Sarah: Yeah, definitely. And I know it’s something beneficial emotionally and physically for both the parent and the child, like you were saying. So yeah, I’d love to see more playgrounds like that pop up and it is true. Like most of the times when I would talk to friends, be like, “what playground do you want to meet at?” And they would be like, “let’s go to Dream Come True,” because it’s just, it’s fun. And it’s a fun playground. But what about you, Rebecca? Can you tell us something UD that inspires you that’s not home-related?
[00:11:45] Rebecca: Yes. So for this one, I’m going to share something that is on my UD bucket list. The US Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs that just opened this summer is incredibly exciting to me. It was designed by a diverse team of athletes, architects, designers, and consultants.
[00:12:05] And I understand that this museum is full of history, and artifacts, great design, and is extremely inclusive of a wide variety of individuals. I actually attended a webinar with two of the design leads and was absolutely in awe. I mean, jaw dropped literally, of both the collaborative process that they use to imagine the museum and the dedication to inclusivity with which they actually brought it to life.
[00:12:35] So as a sports fan and athlete and a universal design nerd, it is on the absolute top of my places to go list once I can travel again.
[00:12:46] Sarah: That’s really cool. It definitely sounds like a neat place to check out and I’m sure there’s so many great stories shared in that museum as well. I remember connecting with a gentleman who was actually working on the accessibility of one of the Winter Olympic locations. And I couldn’t imagine the detail that had to go into that. I mean, it’s like designing a small city from housing to restaurants and making, stadiums and places for fans to watch universally accessible. I mean, for Olympians and fans and it sounds like an amazing endeavor.
[00:13:23] Rebecca: Yeah, amazing would be one word. Daunting would be another, that comes to my mind. I really can’t even imagine an undertaking like that, but I would love to talk to that person so we can discuss that at another time. But anyway, shifting gears, Sarah. Now we’ll go on to our final and perhaps most important question of the “UD and Me” series: what is your favorite home-related universal design element?
[00:13:53] Sarah: So I’m not really sure I can pick a favorite because everything I see these days are like, oh, that’s really cool or that would be neat to integrate. But I’m going to go with something that we use in our office on a daily basis. And this is something that’s flexible in use. Flexibility is one of these things we talk about with universal design. So it’s flexible in use for both myself and for Scott. And this is a standing desk. Now I bet that you all have even seen some of this research out there in regard to the benefits of standing versus sitting all day.
[00:14:26] Well, you know, unfortunately Scott doesn’t have a choice here, but the flexibility of a desk that moves up and down is super helpful for us. So Scott actually has two different wheelchairs, a manual chair that sits lower to the ground and a power chair that sits up higher. It’s actually pretty difficult for him to sit in an ergonomic position at our other desk when he’s in a power chair, because the table height is a bit too low, making it difficult to get his knees underneath, and then he can’t reach the keyboard very well.
[00:14:59] Plus then he’s just using a laptop and he’s looking down, putting a lot of tension on his neck. So, with the adjustability of the standing desk, we can get it set at an appropriate height for our needs. Whether I want to sit in a chair or if I want to stand or whether he wants to use his manual chair or his power chair.
[00:15:21] And another thing I’m thinking about too, is because so many people are working from home or doing school from home, they’re having a carve out some different office spaces in their home. I think the added benefit of an adjustable table can fit the needs of adults and kids alike. I know I’ve seen parents post pictures of makeshift areas for their kids to sit and they’ve got their feet on stools and trying to raise things up so their head is in alignment. It’s really beneficial to be in an ergonomic position when you’re at a computer all day. But it does give people the opportunity to stand too. So it’s really universal.
[00:15:58] We’ve even seen people use adjustable tables in their kitchen for different members of the household to help with food prep as they might be different heights, or they might want to sit or stand.
[00:16:10] It just puts less strain on our bodies to do tasks at heights that are appropriate for our bodies and that the desk can be easily adjusted with the tap of a switch.
[00:16:21] Rebecca: Yeah, I definitely agree. I can see so many scenarios in which flexibility in work surfaces and heights can be a really good fit for everyone. Like you said, universal. So I like that choice a lot.
[00:16:36] In terms of the home, I’ve heard of some pretty cool stuff. So it’s actually tough for me to pick one favorite.
[00:16:44] But I’m going to go with an element that I’m fortunate enough to have in my kitchen. And that is a pull-out appliance shelf. So within my island, there’s one cabinet that has a shelf in it that swings out and latches onto the edge of the counter. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll put a link in the show notes with a picture so you can see what it looks like.
[00:17:07] And we keep our very heavy stand mixer on there now, but we’ve also thrown around the idea of putting our Instant Pot there in the winter months when we make a lot of soup. This way we don’t have to bend down or reach up to retrieve these heavy appliances. And in fact, we don’t have to move them at all.
[00:17:26] We just simply pull the lever that activates the shelf to swing it out. And it’s a really big help. Also, ours is lowered just a little bit because many of the cooks in our kitchen are quite petite, including myself. There’s also a place to plug in the appliance inside the cabinet so that we don’t have wires on the counter producing a safety hazard.
[00:17:49] So it’s really just a great feature. And when we re-did our kitchen, it was one of the things we were most excited about.
[00:17:58] Sarah: I love, love, love this product! I have seen a lot of people utilize this for big mixers, like you were saying, but I also just recently saw someone use this for their blender because their family did a lot of smoothies.
[00:18:12] With all of these heavy, small appliances, I can see this being utilized by a lot of different people. Plus, keeping the wires hidden is always a plus. Well, Rebecca, I’m super stoked about this new little series we’re doing. There are so many different places out there and functional products that people just don’t know about.
[00:18:30] And I’m really looking forward to sharing more about ourselves, plus about more of the fun, inclusive things that we’ve come across. So, thanks again for listening to another episode and we look forward to sharing more again with you soon. Bye.
[00:18:45] Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. I’m your host Sarah Pruett, Program Director and Occupational Therapist at The Universal Design Project. Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org, and find more episodes and links to subscribe at goodfitpoorfit.com. If you have questions or topics you’d like to discuss, email us at [email protected].
[00:19:16] Thanks for fitting us into your day!