056: UD and Me: Viola Dwyer

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
056: UD and Me: Viola Dwyer

Show Notes

Viola’s YouTube Channel: The Ginchiest 


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] Sally: Hi listeners! Welcome back for yet another special episode in our series, UD and Me. Today, we’ll be introducing you to Viola Dwyer. She is helping us out with some business development in our organization, and she is also one of our very important design advisors. She and her husband, Dan are fantastic advocates for design and for people with disabilities. They tell it like it is in their YouTube channel, The Ginchiest, where they share their life experiences and educate people about disability. You should subscribe to their channel and I will link it in the show notes, but without further ado, I would like to welcome Viola. And Viola, please feel free to share a little bit more about your background and what you do. 

[00:01:16] Viola: Thanks so much, Sally.  I am a Philadelphia native and I have been in a variety of industries, primarily in financial services. But, recently in October of 2020, my husband and I started this YouTube channel and really it was birthed from, our experiences and frustrations at times with lack of design or consideration for those with disabilities and what our unique experiences are like. So, I’m so happy to be a part of the show today. Thanks for having me.

[00:01:55] Lauren: Yes, we’re so excited to have you. Your YouTube channel really shows how you got interested in universal design with your own experiences at home. Um, can I ask, how did you get familiar with the universal design project? 

[00:02:08] Viola: I honestly, I think it was a bit of a roundabout because I also am a part of a group online called lunch club where they match you with an individual, uh, per week. And you get to, learn about their business and what they’re working on and see if there some neutral efforts that you might be doing in your work lives.

[00:02:29] And so one contact I met there referred me to this organization, Universal Design Project. And I was so excited to learn about this organization. And then I reached out to Scott and Sarah and the rest really is history.

[00:02:46] Sally: That’s great! I’m also curious what brought you into the world of universal design in general? I’ve seen a couple of your YouTube videos and, we’ve talked before, but for the listeners who don’t know Viola, Viola is someone with firsthand experience with disability, which is why she is one of our design advisors.

[00:03:05] Um, so maybe if you’d like to share with our listeners a little bit more about your personal experiences with disability, and maybe if that shaped your interest in the world of universal design.

[00:03:17] Viola: Yeah, thanks Sally.  So I am a full-time power wheelchair user. I was born with a condition called spinal muscular atrophy that affects the communication between my muscles and my nervous system to keep it as succinct as possible.

[00:03:37] And so I’ve navigated life using a wheelchair and I appreciate when there are spaces that consider more needs of people. Um, and that display the variation of the human experience because there’s a lot of people in this world that have different disabilities and different needs for space.

[00:04:05] And so, I’m also very, very into interior design and making a space beautiful as well as functional. And so I started reading a couple of years ago when I was engaged to be married and working to have our own home one day into how to make it the most accessible. And I was introduced to the concept of universal design and I started reading books on universal design as well as there was one book–and forgive me because I don’t remember the author–but it was called accessible homes or featured many homes built in the United States where they were just, mind-blowingly beautiful as well as very, very functional. And I particularly care about the, bathroom spaces and the kitchen spaces, because I find those two spaces to be the least accessible when it comes to conventional housing.

[00:05:06] Sally: Yeah, I think we find that a lot here in the work we do, and it’s interesting because those are the two most, I would say the most commonly used spaces in the home. So it’s a bummer that they typically aren’t very accessible. But Viola, I’m also interested in your favorite universally designed space, product, design, or feature that is not home-related that really speaks to you. 

[00:05:31] Viola: Hmm, not home related. I would say. The curb cut on the streets because I grew up in the eighties and nineties where there were still many streets that had curbs and quite high ones. And so we were presented, my family and I, with the conundrum of, and, and the physical difficulty of moving around and being able to explore our neighborhoods and cities.

[00:06:01] So I would say the, um, the curb cut. And then the other thing, too, that was a huge benefit for me personally, was when city buses here in Philadelphia, um, they used to have, lifts that had stairs that converted into like a type of lift platform. And the driver had to have a special key in order to activate it, and this was in the early phases of the ADA being implemented. And I don’t know if this would be considered a universal design or, or more of like an architectural change based on the specific laws. So you can correct me, but when they shifted from the lift design where the stairs turned into this lift that was very dangerous and scary to ride on, to a foldout ramp.

[00:06:57] That was so much more simplified because it was just two pieces of metal– or I don’t know what exact material– that would fold out, or actually one piece, and it was just boom you’re you can just drive right on with your chair. Other people who had walkers or mothers with baby carriages, they could also use this. And so that made me feel safer as well as it made me feel more integrated in society. 

[00:07:28] Lauren: Yes, that was such a good point about the curb cuts too. I know we’ve talked about that previously in one of our podcasts and it was something I hadn’t even really thought about before and how it can also be helpful, well for everyone, and also those who use guide dogs, which I hadn’t thought about either. But Viola, you’ve mentioned bathrooms and kitchens being some of the areas of the home that you see in most need for universal design. Could you tell us a little bit about your favorite home-related universal design element? 

[00:08:01] Viola: Yeah. So in the kitchen I have really appreciated two things. One, I don’t think it’s much of a design though, if it’s done well, it could be, where the microwave doesn’t sit at standing height above the stove, it sits on a counter. And if it’s ideal, it would sit in a designated space, beautifully, you know, designed on the counter. But that’s one because I’m a frequent user of our microwave and it’s easy for me to use. 

[00:08:34] The other one is a sink where there is space underneath it, so that I can pull up with my wheelchair and easily wash my hands, easily rinse a dish. So you know, it allows me to actually use our kitchen. I wish I can tell you guys more, but unfortunately, you know, I’ve been living in apartments for awhile and apartments are very limited in their implementation of universal design. So I don’t have a lot to go on; to talk about for the kitchen. 

[00:09:10] Lauren: Oh, that’s okay. I didn’t mean it had to be kitchen or bathroom. Can you think of any other home-related universal design element that you enjoy? 

[00:09:19] Viola: I really scratch my head over why so many apartment buildings, home builders do a shower-tub combo. I feel that even with people who may be able to walk, having that type of arrangement with a tub and the shower together is I feel more dangerous and at risk for people to fall. And so I really enjoy it. We have this,but it’s very, very small in our apartment and it’s so rare that we found it, but it’s a roll-in shower. It’s not a shower stall, which people may think, “oh, well, I think I might have a roll-in shower in my apartment because I had the handicap unit” because some people get placed in them without even having a disability. But this is different where instead of  there being any lip, it’s completely level with the bathroom flooring.

[00:10:14] It makes things so much easier for not just the wheelchair user, but people who, you know, are at risk for falling. And if you really think about it, when we, when people step into a tub, you’re at risk for falling. You know, doing that maneuver, to step over that, that high wall to get into the tub, I think is just a risk. And I don’t understand why they continue to be that, maybe it’s cost-effective? But I just love a roll-in shower. It just makes things so much more smooth and safer. 

[00:10:53] Sally: I think that’s a wonderful example. And I really liked that you pointed out that everyone is at risk for falling. You don’t have to be, you know, someone with a disability, to be at risk for injuring yourself while using or interacting with this design. I have almost slipped multiple times in my tub-shower combo. And yeah, it can be a very, very dangerous thing. I also like that these roll-in showers are becoming more desired now these days and almost are becoming like a spa-like shower. So I think that’s pretty cool that this design is very universal, very functional for everyone, but it’s also not something that necessarily looks quote unquote disabled or only for people with disabilities. So I agree, Viola, I love that roll-in shower. 

[00:11:50]Do you have anything else to add or any other comments you want to share about yourself or universal design?

[00:11:58] Viola: No. The only thing that I want to add really is that I am a very enthusiastic person and proponent of universal design. And my sincere hope is that we see more of it going forward. I think that it isn’t, uh, Scott and I talk about this a lot, but in terms of education, there is a gap and there are a lot of misconceptions around home design and our hope is to dispel a lot of those misconceptions and help people realize that it really is meant for as many people as possible. And it can be beautiful as well as functional. So I just am very excited to be a part of this organization. I really appreciate you guys taking the time to talk to me.

[00:12:43] Sally: Very well put, thank you so much for joining us today. I love learning about everyone’s favorite universal designs and more about how you and our other design advisors are coming into the world of universal design. So thank you so much for being here, Viola, and definitely go check out her YouTube channel, which will be linked in the show notes for those who are interested.  Listeners, we hope you enjoyed meeting another one of our very important design advisors, and we will talk to you again very soon.

[00:13:13] 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].

[00:13:44] Thanks for fitting us into your day!


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