038: UD and Me: Meaghan Walls

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
038: UD and Me: Meaghan Walls

Show Notes


Zero Threshold Shower

Invisible Hinges

Swing-Away Hinges


Sarah: [00:00:00]  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: Hi listeners. Welcome back. We hope you’re all getting geared up for the holiday season while also staying safe. Before we wrap up for the year, we have one more episode in our UD and Me series with another main player on our Universal Design Project team, Meaghan Walls. 

[00:00:46] Meaghan is a rehabilitation engineer and has her own business called Assistology, which you can learn more about by following the link in the show notes. Essentially what Meaghan does through her organization is provide consulting services with a vision to create more inclusive communities where all people are able to successfully access their world.

[00:01:06] We’re so fortunate to know and get to work with Meaghan. And we know you’ll enjoy hearing from her as well. Welcome to Good Fit, Poor Fit, Meaghan. 

[00:01:14] Meaghan: Thanks. It’s good to be here. 

[00:01:16] Sarah: Yes, we are so glad that you are with us today, Meaghan. And if you want to share any more about your organization, you’re welcome to do that as well.

[00:01:24] But I also wanted to have you tell our listeners what brought you into the world of universal design? 

[00:01:32] Meaghan: Sure. Yeah, with my company, I work with businesses as well as individuals and families with an ultimate goal of just removing whatever barrier they’re experiencing to doing the things that they want to do.

[00:01:45] And sometimes that’s looking at how things are designed, sometimes it’s training, and sometimes it involves assistive technology. So it’s kind of multifaceted with the ultimate goal of making things and places work better. And the company kind of grew out of my exposure and interest in universal design.

[00:02:05] I was first introduced to it during my master’s degree in rehab engineering. And it’s all kind of about access and removing barriers. I had heard about universal design, and I think the thing that really hooked me at that point was realizing that what I had known about universal design was strictly tangible things, buildings, products.

[00:02:28] And through the educational degree, I really came to realize that universal design could be applied to all aspects of our community from services to programs, to processes and businesses. And that just kind of blew my mind. And I realized you could take that common thread through all aspects of our engagement in the community.

[00:02:51] And that’s the ultimate goal, what would make things work better for more people. And from there, I just kind of kept going down the path and do a lot of my work in that realm now. 

[00:03:03] Rebecca: That’s really fascinating because you’re so right. We often think universal design and we think of tangible things.

[00:03:11] We think of objects. We think of things that we can look at, and touch, and feel, and experience physically. But it’s so much more than that if you actually want whole communities to be accessible, that means having accessibility built into so many different aspects of the community. So I feel like that’s a really unique take that you bring not only to your organization but also to ours.

[00:03:38] And I think that’s a wonderful perspective. So thank you for sharing that. So Meaghan, will you also please share with us a universal design space or product or feature that isn’t home-related that really speaks to you and it even could be something non-tangible, like you said, since that is a really big interest of yours as well.

[00:04:00] Meaghan: Yeah. So my kind of favorite thing universal design is actually it’s tangible, but not tangible. I really find wayfinding a really fascinating aspect of universal design and just thinking about how people understand how to navigate space or purpose of space or find what they need to get out of it.

[00:04:28] So, and understanding that wayfinding and signage can come in the forms of color-coding. Like, think about when you go to a parking garage and you park on a certain color floor or at the airport, or like we go to the zoo and the row that we’re in is tied to an animal. And so my kids can always kind of remember, “Hey, we parked in the tiger lane,” even though the name of it doesn’t really matter.

[00:04:54] So then it’s supporting different literacy levels and different language levels and cognitive abilities. And then it creates a wider ability for a wider group of people to be able to intuitively understand where to go, what they’re looking for, how to get back to where they started or where they need to get to.

[00:05:15] And so I find all the different innovative things that can be done with wayfinding to be one of the most impactful non-home based universal design aspects. 

[00:05:27] Sarah:I think that’s an excellent point. And I actually see that in our building as well, because the floors in our apartment complex are also color-coded.

[00:05:36] And so even my daughter who is two years old knows that we live on the blue floor. And she wants to go to the red floor and she wants to go to the green floor. And so, as she’s learning her numbers, she’s trying to associate a number with that color, but I love how you talked about parking in the tiger lane or whatnot.

[00:05:55] I mean, that really does span different ages and literacy levels and languages as well. If they can remember a picture, things like that. So I think that’s an excellent universal design feature and wayfinding is everywhere. I mean, you go out into your own city and try to navigate.

[00:06:12] And you need that extra information there for you to figure out where you’re going. 

[00:06:17] Meaghan: Also, besides supporting the language, literacy types of things, the sense of pride and independence that it can give for situations and that kind of empowerment, I think of this kind of experience. 

[00:06:31] We have a local forest here and I was hiking and I know the trails, the map pretty well. And they’re all the trails on the map are labeled with a letter and then you have to look at the key and figure out what the actual name of the trail is.

[00:06:46] And so I knew I was going to take a new route and I knew based on the map, what letter order I was going to go in. And I got 20 minutes into the hike and realized that I dropped my map. And even though I knew that the letter number, the signs on the trails only had the trail name and I didn’t know the trail name, I just knew the letter.

[00:07:07] And so there was a disconnect from the materials that someone’s given to navigate versus what’s actually out there in the environment. And so if you sync those up, then, my four-year-old could know to look for “trail a”. My four-year-old would be so proud of herself and feel so empowered to be able to navigate our way through the forest.

[00:07:29] So in thinking about that experience that somebody is having that’s kind of part of the whole process too. 

[00:07:36] Rebecca: I love that example that you brought up because I think that so often people get jumbled in the conversation about universal design and really think that it’s inextricable from talking about accessible design and designing for people with disabilities.

[00:07:53] But what you’re saying spans, so so much more than that. It’s not about disability or lack thereof. It’s about different ages. It’s about visual learners versus tactile learners versus verbal learners. It’s people who speak all different languages and people who can benefit from signs versus words.

[00:08:16] And it’s so much more than that to create a community that’s inclusive for people, whether they’ve lived there their whole lives, or whether they’re just visiting and having the experience anew. And so this is one of my favorite examples that I’ve heard of universal design and the way that you’re speaking about it because it is so universal.

[00:08:35] Sarah: So Meaghan, we’re moving on to our next question.

[00:08:39] Could you also share about a favorite home-related universal design element? 

[00:08:46] Meaghan: I was thinking about this and struggling to pick just one thing that has come into development mainstream that actually people wouldn’t necessarily think of as being part of universal design.

[00:09:03] I couldn’t narrow it down to just one. So for one, I really like the way that zero threshold showers have become a spa-like presentation and kind of a luxury type add on to homes where it really started around conversations around accessibility so that you could have roll-in shower chairs and remove trip hazards. 

[00:09:28] And at first it wasn’t really widely accepted, but now interior designers have embraced it and created these spa-like environments that ultimately remove all of the types of barriers that would prevent someone from being able to continue to use that bathroom should their circumstance change.

[00:09:47] So I like that aspect in terms of just kind of the evolution of those features in the house and how they’ve been adopted into the design world. But then I also think about, on the hardware side of things, I really like the development of invisible hinges or the swing-away hinges because it’s an easy and inexpensive way to create more clearance in doorways should you need it.

[00:10:13] Without having to do a big construction project. So if someone just isn’t really sure that they want extra-wide doorways, for whatever reason, this would allow the flexibility for whether they’re moving furniture or they need it for accessibility reasons later.

[00:10:31] But I think that the integration of that type of hardware is really subtle, but creates greater usability and flexibility for use in a variety of different circumstances. 

[00:10:43] Sarah: Yeah, I’d have to agree with you on both of those. And this question was hard for me too, when we did this interview ourselves. I was like, “How can I just pick one thing?”

[00:10:51] Because there’s so many great things in the home. But your point about swing-away hinges is really a good one. And I don’t know if a lot of people even are aware of a swing-away hinge because it’s basically putting that hinge on a regular doorframe, but it brings that door flush with the door frame.

[00:11:08] And so it really helps you gain that extra inch and a half that that door would take up in that space of the door when it swings open and that could really make or break somebody’s ability to get into a room. I think it really does offer that flexibility.

[00:11:23] And especially if you don’t want huge doorways in general, cause that door swing can get in the way. But yeah, those swing-away hinges I think are super helpful.

[00:11:33] Rebecca: I think so, too. And for those of you who are listening, who don’t know what an invisible hinge is or a swing-away hinge, or even a zero threshold shower, we can put some links in the show notes that can show you some images of those features because they are really cool. And quite frankly, after seeing the shower, you might want to think about redoing your bathroom as well.

[00:11:53] So just a warning on that one. So thank you so much, Meaghan, for sharing all of these insights, and perspectives, and ideas. I can definitely say I learned a ton from this, and honestly will probably never think about universal design the same way, especially after you bringing up all of the non-tangible aspects of it.

[00:12:13] So thank you for broadening my perspective. 

[00:12:17] Meaghan: You’re welcome. I always love chatting with you ladies. 

[00:12:20] Rebecca: And that is a wrap on our episodes for 2020. Thank you for tuning in, and we’ll be back in your feed in 2021 with plenty of new ideas and conversations about the interaction between people, spaces, and activities.

[00:12:34] Sarah: [00:12:39] 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].

[00:13:06] Thanks for fitting us into your day!


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