045: UD and Me: Lauren Dexter

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
045: UD and Me: Lauren Dexter

Show Notes

Universal Design Gardens-American Society of Landscape Architects


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.

[00:00:23] Learn more at universaldesign.org. 

[00:00:27] Rebecca: Hey there Good Fit, Poor Fit listeners. We are back for another episode in our mini series, UD and Me. Remember, these are just short chats with our peers and our people in the universal design world to see how they came to this work and what really inspires and speaks to them. Today we’re chatting with Lauren Dexter, who’s an OTD student at the University of Central Arkansas. She’s going to be working with us until August, so you might hear a little bit more from her between now and then. So we wanted to formally introduce you and learn a little bit more about her universal design origin story. Welcome. 

[00:01:03] Lauren: Yes. Thank you for asking me to participate in my first podcast. I’m excited to speak with both of you today. 

[00:01:09] Sarah: Yes, we are super excited to have you with us this summer, and I am glad you’re going to be able to contribute to some of these episodes too. So, just so our listeners can get to know you a little bit more, Lauren, what brought you into learning about universal design and getting excited about UD, being a student? 

[00:01:28] Lauren: Well, my path to developing my interest in universal design was actually quite long and it was due to a lot of different experiences throughout both my graduate and undergraduate time. I’ve always been interested in architecture and home design and also learning about new types of home technology, but I always assumed it would just be a hobby outside of my career. Since, quite honestly, I lack the artistic abilities to be a good architect. Throughout my time in OT school, I had different rotations that really piqued my interest in universal design. My first three month rotation was in a school-based setting and there, I saw limitations to the non-universally designed playgrounds and the effect this had on children’s social and emotional health, which of course was hard to see.  My second three month rotation was at a hospital in Northwest Arkansas, where, like Sarah talked about in her UD and Me segment, I experienced the frustration of not being able to recommend adequate or obtainable home modifications that would truly allow for the necessary independence, once the patient went home. This led to a lot of patients having to be readmitted due to accidents at home and they became what I called my “regulars”, which was actually sad because I was primarily in an acute care setting for just three months. This piqued my interest further into looking more into home modifications as a potential area of study during my capstone experience.

[00:02:56] However, as you can easily find when looking into home modifications of existing homes, this quickly become costly or just right out obtainable in most people’s current homes. This research brought me to the Universal Design Project and my shared vision on the need for homes that are truly universally designed and financially accessible.

[00:03:18] Rebecca: Thank you so much for sharing that, as you said, that’s honestly such a common frustration for OTs and so many other healthcare professionals. It’s like, you’re able to make such progress with clients while they’re in whatever medical setting and where they’re getting treatment, but then they enter back into the real world and they’re facing environmental barriers to continuing that progress.

[00:03:39] And I can’t help but think listening to you speak, if more spaces were designed to be supportive of diverse users and needs, you know, maybe this wouldn’t be the case. Maybe that continued progress wouldn’t be stifled when people were discharged or transitioning back into their more typical day-to-day routine.

[00:03:59] So, Lauren, what is your favorite non home-related universal design feature. 

[00:04:06] Lauren: Yeah, so my first thought to this question would probably be spaces such as universally designed playgrounds, because I was a camp counselor for years and saw how terrible it can be for children and also their caregivers when the environment doesn’t meet their accessibility needs.

[00:04:22] But, Sarah has gone into this previously in her segment, so I will bring up another space that I find so impactful by the opportunities universal design provides. I don’t know if this was either of you two’s experience in OT school, but I would say a good majority of my OT class both had their interest in, and more experience with, the pediatric population.

[00:04:44] So anytime we had to make up goals for a geriatric client, their occupation was always gardening. I thought this was funny as it seemed like that was always my classes go-to-goal, but it’s true that this often is such an important occupation for so many. My grandma was a florist and my mom is so very into gardening, but as my grandmother has aged, she has encountered more mobility issues and just can’t participate in and enjoy gardening like she used to. This makes me sad to know, because it used to be such a huge aspect of her life.

[00:05:18] While thinking about this, I found a really cool resource on the American Society of Landscape Architects website. We can include in the show notes for this podcast. This website included an article about universally designed gardens, such as the Boston Public Garden. These areas are designed to be a place of respite, where there are universally designed concepts, such as seasonal planting for those with neuro-cognitive disorders to be able to track temporal changes. There’s also circular or figure eight paths for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, so that they’re able to safely participate in walking activities.

[00:05:59] And then it’s also just a place for anyone to participate in sensory or therapeutic activities where they can have visual, tactile, and olfactory, sensory experiences. Other aspects of universally designed gardens can include the ability to directly engage in growing plants and raised garden beds; limited changes in the ground level, multi-sensory wayfinding like tactile pavement, frequent and flexible seating, safe materials that are low glare, have high contrast and textural contrast for those with low vision or individuals who are deaf and use sign language. Another cool part of these gardens is that they can also include secluded areas for anyone to isolate from sensory stress and just manage overstimulation.

[00:06:47] Universally designed gardens are just such a cool concept to me and something. I can see so many different people in my life enjoying and benefiting from. 

[00:06:56] Sarah: Yes, this is such a wonderful example of UD and you did a great job explaining what universally designed gardens can look like. And obviously people can create their own little garden oases and their homes, but the idea of being able to go somewhere in your community to enjoy nature and its beauty in a way that’s also functional is so healing for your body and mind.

[00:07:18] I know I’ve seen a lot of people take a meal or a book to our local arboretum to de-stress and watch the ducks play in the pond. Plus, take a walk around the pond to see different plants, although the ducks actually like to steal your food, which I experienced the other day. But, your points about how landscape architects integrate function and activity into the outdoor space is wonderful.

[00:07:41] We went to a park in St. Louis once and, not only did it have easy to navigate pathways, but it also had really neat artwork and sculptures that were made to be touched and climbed on. Definitely a neat concept and lots of ways to integrate UD into the outdoor community space, even with water features too.

[00:08:00] So, Lauren, now let’s switch spaces and talk about your favorite home related universal design feature. 

[00:08:07] Lauren: Okay. Yes. So I probably have a less wordy answer for this one, but it also relates to my grandma and mom and even myself. This device would be a stove monitoring device. As my grandma aged, both of my grandmothers moved into assisted living facilities. One of them wasn’t granted access to a stove top to begin with and the other had her access removed as her dementia progressed. I think this affected one of my grandmothers more than the other, because she had lived alone for a while and was used to doing things independently and she loved making a cup of hot chocolate or tea for herself most days.

[00:08:44] So it was especially hard to see her frustrated when this was no longer something she could do for herself. Additionally, I can’t count how many times my mom or myself had to turn around at the end of our street and go back home to check if we had turned the stove off. This product is mentioned in the Universal Design Project website.

[00:09:02] I think it’s just such a cool idea and a safety invention, because it can help those with dementia, a traumatic brain injury, individuals with ADHD, or literally anyone who just has a busy day and doesn’t want to have to get halfway to work before they contemplate whether their house will be there standing or not if they don’t go home and double-check their stove.

[00:09:23] Rebecca: Ah, yes, these are great devices, which I have recommended to many a client, and yeah, they are rather universal. Because, as you mentioned, they help everyone, whether you have a disability or not. The universal design principle that this device most accurately demonstrates, is called tolerance for error.

[00:09:41] So, this means that even if the human using the product makes a mistake, like leaving on the stove — happens to us all — the product will override and do the safest thing, which in this case is to shut off. So I like that you brought this up, because I think it’s a really good way to explain that particular universal design principle, which can sometimes be a little confusing for people.

[00:10:02] So thank you for this teachable moment, Lauren. And welcome to the team. We’re happy to have you, and we look forward to your contributions this summer. And to our listeners, thanks for tuning in. We’ll talk again real soon.

[00:10:18] Sarah: 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].

[00:10:45] Thanks for fitting us into your day!

One response

  1. Harriet Rydel Avatar
    Harriet Rydel

    This sounds like a wonderful podcast. Such wonderful ideas to make our communities accessible to all people.

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