[00:00:00] 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]Hi listeners. Welcome back for another special episode. Today, we’ll be introducing you to Matthew Shapiro. Matthew and I both have a seat on Virginia’s Assistive Technology Advisory Council, and he is also one of our design advisors. He’s a wonderful advocate for people with disabilities and we thought it would be fun to have him on our podcast to talk about his work and share his favorite UD things in one of our UD and Me episodes.
[00:01:00] So I’m going to give a quick introduction and Matthew can add more before we jump into more details. So, as a person with a disability, Matthew has spent most of his life motivated to teach those he has met how to better understand the disability community and educate others regarding disability related issues.
[00:01:20] In December of 2014, he created 6 Wheels Consulting and works with those in the private and public sectors through professional consulting, public speaking, and lobbying services to guide his clients about cost-effective and common sense solutions to disability related barriers. His work helps broaden understanding and appreciation for those with disabilities and he’s worked with colleges and universities, public schools, libraries, and other businesses to educate with disability sensitivity training teach or consult about ADA and help businesses become more comfortable interacting with people who have disabilities within their organization, or with those who come through their door as a customer.
[00:02:04] I know he does much, much more, and you can learn more about his work at 6wheelsconsulting.com. We’ll share that in the show notes, but welcome Matthew, and feel free to share any more about your work to our listeners if you have anything else to add.
[00:02:19] Matthew: Hey, Sarah. Thank you so much for that awesome, awesome introduction.
[00:02:22] I sometimes tend to forget how much I have been doing over the last number of years since I started my work in 2014. So it’s always a nice refresher to think like, wow, I’ve actually got quite a bit in my short time. So, yeah, it’s always good to reflect back on my work. So, thank you for that amazing, amazing introduction. As far as, what have I’ve been up to since, I would say that I have grown quite a bit, actually.
[00:02:51] I really, over the last six to twelve months, to maybe a year and a half, pretty much during COVID, have really expanded into a lot of other unique places. So I’ve really started to get involved with a lot of HR departments and doing a lot of programming around how do we recruit, hire and retain people with disabilities in the workplace so that we can get more people with disabilities in the workplace.
[00:03:17] How do we provide accommodations for them? How do we set up kind of an inclusive workspace so that people with disabilities feel comfortable in said workspace. And so that could be simple things as putting people with disabilities in our marketing materials, our websites, our brochures, so that we’re not just taking the gorgeous model and putting her in a wheelchair and saying, all right, you are a person with a disability because that is not true and genuine disability representation. Sarah I’m sure Scott is probably shaking his head somewhere. So really bringing more people into the workplace. And then I’ve also started doing a lot more work with architect firms and I’m up for potentially very large project. Hopefully we’ll hear by the end of the year, if the firm that I’m partnered with is selected to do the project. But, again, how do we make spaces accessible? Not from an ADA perspective, but from that kind of common sense perspective that I talk about.
[00:04:21] And so for those that don’t know about my work beyond just the amazing intro, Sarah, that you did. My whole approach to the way I do my work is this idea of inclusion above compliance, right? Because something can be compliant by the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act but not be fully inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. And so I try to work with really any type of entity, as you outlined in my introduction: schools, businesses, nonprofits, retail stores, architect firms, HR departments, businesses; to think about how do we go above and beyond what’s required by the law to make our spaces more, fully inclusive and accessible so that all of us can have more full access to everything that society has to offer. So I do, as you mentioned, a lot of consulting work, tons of public speaking. My greatest strength is my ability to communicate. And then I also am a lobbyist in the Virginia General Assembly. So, I am very happy with where things are and where they’re going. Always excited for future opportunities.
[00:05:30]But yeah, thinking back on where I started in 2014 to now, is it’s quite an amazing journey to think about.
[00:05:37 ] Lauren: That’s so awesome. It sounds like you share really important information and resources with a wide range of places just advocating for others. That’s great. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you got interested in universal design?
[00:05:49] Matthew: Yeah. Thanks for the question Lauren, that’s a great question. So, it’s funny, right? Because with my approach, I always have in the back of my mind, viewed it as universal design but I’ve kind of couched it and framed it in a different way. Because I think sometimes when people hear universal design, that, and this is not meant to be a negative by any means. But, sometimes when people hear universal design, they freak out and they’re like, oh my gosh, what am I doing wrong? Blah, blah, blah. They just get all nervous. So when I have framed it as: common sense, cost-effective, and user-friendly solutions to making things accessible, that resonates with people, I think a little bit smoother. But ultimately what I ended up really saying is yes, that’s my approach.
[00:06:36] Essentially, it’s universal design, but honestly it’s universal design based on individual user’s needs. So, as a wheelchair user, I know Scott is also a wheelchair user. I’m a power chair user, Scott is a manual chair user, and our needs are different. Right? And so what I need in terms of common sense, cost effective, or universal design, however you want to frame it, is different than what Scott may need.
[00:06:59] And so, we talked about having light switches at certain heights and having rigid standards to all different types of things. I am the one trying to push the boundary to say: why do we need, like, I understand we need standards, right? But why can’t we have a range within those standards to say: ‘if it’s between here and here, it fits those standards.’
[00:07:21] Because if I could benefit from having that light switch lower, why not? And if I could benefit from all furniture that is adaptable, easily moveable, or easily adjustable, why would we shy away from that? But so often, society gets all nervous doing that. So, really what I’m trying to say is look, if you do some of the things that the Universal Design Project is talking about and what I’m talking about, you’re actually making the world better for everybody. Because who would have thought that a ramp would be not only useful for Scott and I, but also now that you guys have your little one, Sarah, using the ramp with the stroller, or somebody having luggage when they’re moving from apartment to apartment or whatever the case may be.
[00:08:08] So, it’s definitely a universal design approach that I take, I just couch it differently and I sort of frame it in a different manner. If that makes sense.
[00:08:18] Sally: Yeah. It sounds like your firsthand experience with disabilities kind of brought you into this world and seeing things through this lens. I really like your re- branding, I guess you could say, of universal design in calling it common sense because I think you’re so right. People get really thrown off with universal design or inclusive design, and even may think it’s just about people with disabilities, but like you said, it’s design that just makes sense. It’s for people in wheelchairs or people pushing strollers. I just like how all encompassing that phrase is and how you re-coined the term. But now that we know a little bit more about you and kind of how you got into the world of universal design, we want to talk about some of your favorite universally designed products and features. So Matthew, would you please share a universally designed space, product design or feature that is not home related that really speaks to you?
[00:09:24] Matthew: Oh, that’s a tough question because there’s like a lot. I feel like some of these would probably be really obvious but with the way technology is these days, the Google Home Minis and all of the smart devices can make an area universally designed in an instance.
[00:09:41] Right? It’s crazy. So I have a Google Home Mini on my desk, I’m looking at it right now as I’m talking to you guys, and I can get it to turn my TV on with the sound of my voice. I am capable of going and grabbing the remote and turning on the TV with the remote but there are a lot of people who literally have some 2046 futuristic home build. They’re using the assistive technology that we have available to us, to make their spaces that much more accessible. The other example that instantly comes to my mind is adjustable furniture of all sorts. I am constantly advocating for having furniture that is easily mobile, can raise up and down, easily can be re-manipulated, all that kind of stuff, because you never know what kind of setup you’re going to need in any given situation. So to have the flexibility to adapt on the fly is incredibly crucial in a home, in a workplace, in really any type of environment. What I often hear is, businesses are like, yeah, but all that furniture obviously it costs more, right? Because it’s somewhat smart furniture for lack of a better way of saying it. But this is an argument I make within a lot of my work, which is, if you make investments on the front end and make things accessible when you’re building them or when you’re outlining them or when you are designing them then the money is going to be well spent and it’s going to be a well worth it purchase because you’re making your spaces accessible for everybody. I think that the large key is that people were like, oh, these are just people with disabilities complaining about X, Y, Z. But if you design it in universal design manner, you are going to help everybody and everyone can benefit. Thinking about how now, everyone’s using a standing desk. Well, essentially a standing desk can be made as an accessible desk for a wheelchair user, if it’s done in the right setting.
[00:11:42] So, those are the things that I think about immediately. I’m sure there were other things in terms of universal design, like obviously zero entry things. I’m all for zero entry things. No thresholds, no, nothing. Those are always super, super easy. And really appreciate those wide open floor spaces, I love a good, wide open office space with not extra stuff, in the way. Sometimes, it’s not the design of the space, but it’s all the other crap that’s in the space that becomes the problem. So, you’ve got all the chairs and all the boxes and people’s coats and their bags and all the other minutia that is in his space that doesn’t make that space accessible. So, those are, kind of instantly the things that pop off the top of my head in terms of universal design.
[00:12:32] Lauren: Those are great examples. When you brought up the point about it being less expensive, that’s so true and that’s something we talk about in universal design a lot.
[00:12:39]Especially when it comes to specifically housing, if somebody has a house and they want to remodel it to make it more accessible, it’s going to cost a lot more than if a house, to begin with, was universally designed.
[00:12:49] Matthew: Correct. And there’s going to be a pain point because somebody is going to look at it and be like, we’re spending more money on the front end. Well, yes you are, but in the long run, that money is going to be well-spent when that person is most comfortable. I hope this would never happen, but several months down the road, they’re like, oh crap, we forgot to put a ramp on, or we forgot to do XYZ. But if you do it all on the front end, yes, it hurts in the beginning, but in the long run, it’s going to benefit, again, everybody.
[00:13:15] Lauren: Yes, exactly. I think that could be true as well for businesses. If somebody had a work area that was more accessible to everyone, productivity could go up just being comfortable in your work environment, being able to access your work environment.
[00:13:28] I think you brought up some really cool concepts that people might think specifically in their home. Like, oh the smart device can control my TV at home, but also if businesses had it in a doctor’s waiting room or at a gym and somebody could more easily control a TV or device near them. Or, the automatic, sit to stand desks, everybody could use those. Those are a universal design concept. So I think that’s really cool. You brought up some things that could be used in the home, but they can also be used in public spaces.
[00:13:57] Matthew: One other thing too, that I just thought of, as you were talking, I had visited a friend of mine at the Hope House in Virginia Beach and his whole apartment at Hope House is smarted- out. He has it set up so where he can say,” Hey, Alexa open the front door” and his front door opens. So you could literally use the tech to do anything in your house if you needed it to that.
[00:14:24] Lauren: Yes, that’s so cool.
[00:14:25] I’ve even heard of smart devices being able to control dishwashers and washer, dryers, all that. So I think technology is really advancing and providing some really cool solutions.
[00:14:36] Matthew: Now, the only thing we have to worry about is that our smart devices don’t try to take over the world.
[00:14:41] Lauren: Exactly, like that one movie.
[00:14:44] Matthew: Exactly. But, we’re not there yet, so it’s okay.
[00:14:46] Lauren: So those examples you mentioned could be used in the home, but is there anything else specifically related to the home that you can think of a universal design element that you like?
[00:14:57] Matthew: I mean again, I think that’s literally making everything in the home open floor plan and an open spaces.
[00:15:03] And obviously wide doorways. I’m almost even saying exaggerate all that, right? We need the door to be this wide? Let’s double that and make it extra wide because you just never know how many people in wheelchairs are going to be in your house.
[00:15:15]So we said, it’s this size, let’s make it a little bit bigger because you just never know. And so, having open floor plan kitchens with all the cabinets and stuff that can come down to somebody who’s at a seated position, like a smart fridge.
[00:15:28] I sort of made the joke earlier, but, in some instances you are becoming super dependent on technology, but that is what is going to level our playing field and make it as easy for me of the world or Scott of the world to be able to navigate the space so freely. Some other examples, I’m trying to think in the home, what else?
[00:15:51] Those are the big ones, like in the kitchen areas and obviously showers, roll-in showers and different things like that. I wish a lot of these universal design elements were just built everywhere. Right? Forget being just a person with a disability.
[00:16:03] But I really genuinely wished there was a world we just built stuff like that anyway. And instead of stairs, why not have a ramp? I always think about this, we can all use ramps, but we can’t all use stairs. This will never happen because you’re asking somebody to just completely change the way they build things, but I hope maybe in our lifetime, maybe in another lifetime, I don’t know. But don’t build things with stairs, put ramps on everything and everyone can use a ramp, but again, not everyone can use stairs. So it’s just trying to change those philosophies is what is the challenging part.
[00:16:37] Sarah: Yeah, I want to say one more thing, too, that you mentioned that I don’t think a lot of people think about. The fact that there may be more than one person in the house that’s a wheelchair user or might use some type of equipment. I think sometimes people think, oh, well we have one bedroom on the main floor that should be good enough. But, we know families who adopt children with disabilities and there may be three people who use chairs in the house. So if you make the entire home universal or as easy to use as possible with a lot of these features in it, you really can make sure that entire family can use their home and so I think that’s a really good point.
[00:17:16] Matthew: And to expand on that too, in two ways, right? Even if they didn’t, you could still make things universally designed and it would still be easier for everyone to navigate. I’m completely in agreement with what you said and then the other element is: so many of our families nowadays have older generations in the house. So, they’re also in need of universally designed spaces. Again, I just would love a scenario where instead of thinking so rigidly in the way we do construction. I know that’s where y’all are trying to get to with the Universal Design Project and that’s definitely what I advocate for, with my work with 6 Wheels, but, I would love the strategy to be: we’re going to just build everything universally designed and sort of forget the old way of doing construction. I know that that is a huge pie in the sky hope, but again, I think it would benefit everybody.
[00:18:07] Sally: Yeah, I very much agree. That’s actually something. I feel like I say a lot, or at least have been saying a lot recently, that I just hope that universal design becomes the norm and the new standard. Because I agree, it just makes more sense if everyone can use a ramp, why is that not the standard when there’s people that face barriers with stairs.
[00:18:27] I was actually just talking to my mom about that this morning, both of us are able bodied, don’t face any barriers- per se- in terms of navigating stairs, but we have dogs and we both have almost wiped out a couple of times and have heard some pretty tragic stories about injuries from navigating stairs.
[00:18:51] Matthew: Sally, I would add to your you’re able-bodied for now. Right?
[00:18:55] Sally: Yeah.
[00:18:55] Matthew: Certainly knock on wood, I hope nothing happens, but that’s the crazy thing about disability, right. I say this all the time, it’s the only minority group any of us can join in the blink of an eye.
[00:19:03] And it’s the only minority group. We’re all going to eventually join as we age and need accommodations as we get older. Yes, you can sit there and say I’m able-bodied, which that’s wonderful and that’s fantastic, but I always sort of put the caveat on it and say for now, because you just never know what hand you’re going to be dealt.
[00:19:19] So, that’s why sort of thinking from a universal design approach and doing it consistently to your point is so important because you just never know if and when your life may change.
[00:19:34] Sally: Totally true. I’m glad you brought that up and it’s actually very relevant because we just recorded a podcast about temporary disability, which you all should tune in for. We cover what you just talked about, how anyone can become temporarily or permanently disabled. Breaking a bone happens to people, stuff happens in life. So, yeah, you’re totally right. Able-bodied for now. But thank you so much, Matthew, for joining us, you are quite the wealth of information.
[00:20:06] I just love learning about all your favorites and all the things that inspire you. We always love having new voices on the podcast and hearing new perspectives. You brought some wonderful ideas to the table. So thank you, Matthew, for sharing your story with us today and for being such an amazing advocate for inclusion.
[00:20:25] We really appreciate you.
[00:20:26] Matthew: Yeah. Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. I love talking about it any way we can and bring about universal design change any way we can.
[00:20:34] Sally: Great. Well, thanks again for joining us. And listeners, we hope you’ve enjoyed meeting another one of our team members. Stay tuned for more of these UD and Me episodes to come.
[00:20:45] Thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you again soon.
[00:20:46] 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]
[00:21:17] Thanks for fitting us into your day!