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, Good Fit, Poor Fit listeners. We’re back for another episode in our mini series, “UD and Me” — short chats with our peers and peeps in the universal design world to see how they came to this work and what really inspires them. Today we’re chatting with Bethany Hurd, an architecture student with whom we have been working since the summer.
[00:00:51] Welcome to the podcast, Bethany.
[00:00:53] Bethany: Thanks for having me.
[00:00:56] Sarah: Yeah. We’re glad to have you. It’s been fun working with you as an intern, and now we just want to have our listeners learn more about you as well. So, Bethany, what brought you to universal design and how did you get interested in it personally or through architecture?
[00:01:16] Bethany: Well, I spent quite a lot of my high school time in hospitals and facing different medical challenges. And one of the things that really frustrated me was being unable to go places that should be simple because of the different assistive devices I was using. And one of the ones that stands out in my mind is that my high school had been updating all of their bathrooms when I was going through.
[00:01:44] And so that should mean that it was more accessible. Yet I still could not go in the bathrooms when I was in a wheelchair due to the design of it. So when I got to college, I found that my knowledge of medical information and my struggles during high school really helped inform my designs. And I realized that there are a lot of people who could really benefit from designs that are more inclusive.
[00:02:14] And so when I was TAing a class I found universal design and it really just fit my whole ideal. And I fell in love with it.
[00:02:28] Rebecca: That’s really, really interesting. And honestly, I think a lot of the conversations that we have with people who come to universal design, they have similar stories in that they experience what it’s like when the environment can be a barrier and they’re someone who knows that they can do something to make a change.
[00:02:48] And so I love that perspective of yours and how that is now impacting your professional career as an architect and that personal experience and kind of taught you how to design with empathy. That’s how I always think of it. So thank you for sharing that. So the next question that we have for you is — and this one might be a challenge since I know we work on home related stuff — but what is your favorite non-home related universal design feature or place or product or idea?
[00:03:22] Bethany: My favorite idea when it comes to universal design can actually be implemented in the home as well as outside of the home. But my favorite idea is the adaptability. That each person is different and thus has different needs, but in the design profession, there’s a lot of thinking that we should just design to the average norm and with universal design, it tries to bring to light that there is no average norm and to meet the needs of as many people as we can is beautiful in its own right and should be something that is what we strive to be rather than striving to design the average norm.
[00:04:07] Sarah: I think that’s a really good perspective. People really do think that, you know, if we design for the average, then it’ll work for everyone.
[00:04:14] And I think you kind of have to broaden your scope a little bit to make it adaptable for someone who is blind, or someone who may use forearm crutches, or someone who’s Deaf. And so I think that’s really the challenge of universal design and when it’s done right. And you see that in public spaces and in the home it’s really exciting because people are like, “Oh, this just makes sense. It’s really usable.” So do you have any examples of what that might be like in a design feature in a public space?
[00:04:49] Bethany: One thing that comes to mind kind of right away is the wayfinding. Wayfinding is very different for each person, as you just described.
[00:04:59] Someone who’s blind has a very different way of navigating a building than someone who’s Deaf or even someone who’s on crutches versus someone in a wheelchair. And so being able to adapt to the different needs would be something like I have seen them in malls where they’re this big screen.
[00:05:20] And if you’re a seeing person, you can, you know, use the screen. But if you have a visual impairment, there’s a button on the side that will speak to you. And then there’s also braille on the side. And so there’s another feature of that you can split the screen. I’ve seen that happen too, where if you’re sitting the screen will be at your eye level where versus if you’re standing.
[00:05:47] So I’ve actually seen it used for children. When children are trying to, you know, with their parents and their parents help describe things to them and so they have the screen lower that’s kind of what first comes to mind. But then there’s also the adaptability of the different spaces. So if you have a big open space, being able to put up movable walls or have things that are not as permanent that make the space easier to adjust for the people that are using it. That’s kind of important especially for public spaces when you don’t have a normal set of users, you have varying types of users.
[00:06:30] Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, because in a public space, you’ve got everyone, not just, you know, one person or one family using a home. And I think the wayfinding and the technology that’s coming out it’s really interesting to look into.
[00:06:43] So Bethany now that we’ve kind of talked about a semi non-related home idea, do you have a favorite home related UD feature?
[00:06:54] Bethany: I do. It’s kind of bland, but my favorite is functional doors. Doors are something that provides privacy, but also allows passage to other spaces in the home and doors are so integral in being able to separate spaces.
[00:07:16] But if you have doors that are too small, or are difficult to open, then they can make someone very frustrated with the space and it becomes a lot less pleasant to be in. So my favorite aspects are the lever door handles and making sure that doors are a minimum of 36 inches. It makes it a lot easier to navigate in the home and lever door handles are very useful for people who have challenges with dexterity or even just someone who has their hands full, like you’re holding a laundry basket and you use your elbow to open it, or the edge of the laundry basket and push.
[00:07:56] The only issue I found with the lever door handles is that sometimes if you have very, very smart animals, they will figure out how to open doors. But that’s more of a training issue than an actual hardware issue.
[00:08:11] Rebecca: First of all, that’s hysterical about the animals. But don’t be deterred listeners because I agree lever door handles are an excellent feature. I’m really glad that you highlighted doors and you called it bland, but I disagree. I think first of all, doors are such a great metaphor. You know, the whole metaphor of “opening doors”.
[00:08:34] And if you knock on one door and it doesn’t open, you might knock on the next and it, and it’ll open. And I think that doors represent such a gateway into the world, but also into your home. And I imagine that if you were living in a home where you couldn’t get through certain doors, your world would become much smaller.
[00:08:56] Your very personal space would not be entirely open to you. And that would be a really hard thing to experience. So I’m glad that you highlighted doors and no one has mentioned doors specifically as a favorite feature in universal design, but I really agree with that. And you’ve taught me so much about different types of doors and barn doors versus swinging doors and pocket doors.
[00:09:24] So thank you for all of the door education you’ve provided.
[00:09:27] Sarah: And I want to piggyback on that too, Rebecca, because as like, as OTs, that’s one of the biggest barriers for people in their homes. Not being able to get through a door to get to another area of the home. And it’s a barrier they can’t go past. And so they’re stuck because they can’t get through a door. And that’s like you said, Bethany, it’s just so frustrating because maybe on the other side of that door is a laundry room that you want to help and do the laundry, or maybe the rest of your family’s gathering in a space and you can’t get there.
[00:09:59] So I agree. It’s not bland, even though it seems like a very simple thing, but when it doesn’t work, it’s a pretty major thing. So definitely a good point.
[00:10:10] Bethany: Yeah, I’m sorry bland was the wrong word, but it’s not the first thing that people usually think of when you talk, UD. Most people think about showers or bathrooms or technology, but one thing that I’ve found is that as Rebecca said, doors can be a gateway or they can be a barrier. And so, especially in this environment with COVID having doors become important. And a lot of people are finding that no touch doors would be very beneficial in this time, because then you have less contact surfaces.
[00:10:48] So I definitely agree. Doors are something that every architectural project has to have at some point, whether it be a front door or a room door or something that allows a barrier from the outside to the inside.
[00:11:06] Yeah, that’s a really good point about COVID too. I mean, I know walking around our apartment building these days, I’m using my elbow to touch things or using my forearm to not touch the doors because I don’t want to touch it with my hands.
[00:11:18] And no touch doors for COVID, but then no touch doors for people to be able to get through if they can’t operate a door. So many great applications with doors.
[00:11:29] Rebecca: Yes, I agree. And thank you Bethany for bringing this conversation to light. We could have titled this episode, doors, doors, doors .
[00:11:37] Thank you again, Bethany for joining us today. And it was really a pleasure to learn more about your universal design origin story, what brought you here and what really inspires you. So we appreciate you for all your hard work in our organization and also for being a guest on Good Fit, Poor Fit.
[00:11:55] Bethany: Thank you so much.
[00:11:57] Sarah: Yep. And we look forward to sharing more of Bethany’s work in future podcasts and on our website as well as her designs come to life too. So thanks again, Bethany.
[00:12:07] 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].
[00:12:38] Thanks for fitting us into your day!