059: UD and Me: Nicole Grinberg

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
059: UD and Me: Nicole Grinberg


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 yet another special episode in our series, UD and Me. Today, we’ll be introducing you to Nicole Grinberg. She is an interior design student at Maryville University in St. Louis and she is really excited to learn more about how design and function go together. And I’m super glad that she’s a part of our organization this summer.

[00:00:56] So welcome Nicole. We’re glad to have you with us and we’re excited to get to know you a little bit more. 

[00:01:02] Nicole: Thank you. I’m excited to be here. It’s been fun so far and I’m excited to keep learning more.

[00:01:09] Sarah: We do a lot of education on our podcasts about occupational therapy, but can you tell our listeners what interior designers do? 

[00:01:19] Nicole: Interior designers make indoor, sometimes even outdoor spaces, safe, functional, and beautiful for its occupants. How we design a space depends heavily on our client. So it’s important to understand who we’re designing for.

[00:01:33] We also need to understand things like lighting, materials, the geographic location, building codes. The list kind of goes on. In commercial spaces where there are a lot of people typically you also want it to be as accessible to as many people as possible. 

[00:01:48] With The Universal Design Project, my focus has been on designing a couple of spaces in our home for potential clients with a broad range of impairments. 

[00:01:57] Sarah: Thanks, Nicole, that really actually is helpful for me to understand the designers we are working with as well as ways we can learn to collaborate with each other and know how we can lean on the designers for your knowledge in the design and codes and safety in that regard.

[00:02:16] And then you all can lean on us healthcare professionals for all our knowledge and function and how people use the space based on a disability or health impairment. But Nicole, I oftentimes know as an OT, I get a lot of questions about how we are different than PT. Can you share with our listeners, how, what you do is different or similar to an architect?

[00:02:43] Nicole: So a lot of the time on a job site, you’ll find architects and interior designers working together. So I’m not an expert on what architects do, but from my understanding, they design the building itself and like the rooms within it, interior designers also sometimes space plan. So figuring out like the location of different rooms and how they, how to flow or get people to flow from one space to another, especially in like emergency situations.

[00:03:14] Interior designers also know a lot about like the interior finishes. So like what goes on the walls, what goes on the ceilings, the floors, and then of course, furniture and decor and know what will work in a space. So you can’t put like a sofa designed for a residential space into a commercial space because it just won’t hold up.

[00:03:36] And the same will go for like floor finishes, walls, all that kind of stuff. 

[00:03:40] Sarah: That’s actually really great. And it makes sense with what we’re working on in our organization right now. So you actually jumped into a project that an architect had started. And so it actually makes sense what you’re saying, because our architecture student was really well versed  in the design of the rooms and the structure of the home. And then when it came down to the finishes, she was like, “I’m not quite sure! I need to pass that along.” And so it was really great timing. She was able to give us a good basis for the design and where we wanted to put things. And she did dabble into some of the logistics and those pieces, but really I can see where you have been able to bring in some of the finishes and the textures and some of like even cabinetry design, which has been really helpful.

[00:04:27] So what excites you about interior design and why did you decide to go into that for your schooling? 

[00:04:34] Nicole: I guess you could say my excitement for interior design started around middle school. When I first discovered HGTV, my favorite show to watch was called Love It, or List It where an interior designer competed against a realtor to convince homeowners to either stay in their current home or move out.

[00:04:51] I was always team Hillary, who was the designer and it was fun to see how she renovated a space to create a more functional home for the homeowners. Of course, this was all done on a budget and she always ran into problems.

[00:05:04] So it was fun to see how she worked through it and used her design knowledge to, in the end, make the space more functional for them. 

[00:05:12 ]Sarah: Yes. I have seen that show before and I could see the stress that both of them were going through to try and make their homeowners happy. But you’re right. In the end, I feel like Hillary did a really good job listening to what the homeowners needed, to give them a space that was truly functional for them.

[00:05:28] And I think that’s why we are so passionate about listening to what people with disabilities need in their home to make it useful and functional for them too.  So I am so excited that you are collaborating with us to learn more about how you can design spaces to make it easier for all people of different ages and abilities to use their home with ease. 

[00:05:48] Lauren: Sally and I had the pleasure of speaking with Nicole a couple of weeks ago and learn more about how she’s helping The Universal Design Project and the design work that she does. So next, Nicole, will you tell us a little bit about what brought you into the world of universal design?

[00:06:02 ]Nicole: So in my classes, we’ve focused a little bit on universal design, but primarily in the commercial spaces. So not a whole lot when it comes to residential. One project we spent a good amount of time on in one of my classes was studying a building at my university and trying to figure out what parts of it were accessible, what parts of it were not so accessible.

[00:06:26] We got wheelchairs from the PT department and like rolled around on those and try to see for ourselves, how things worked around there. So that was very interesting to me. I guess those kind of the start of my interest with universal design.

[00:06:46] Sally: That’s really cool. I actually had a similar experience getting introduced to design and, in my class we had an ADA project where we had to go to a public community space and take some measurements and evaluate the space to see if it was indeed accessible and followed the ADA guidelines.

[00:07:08] And that also sparked my interest in design. Especially in design within the home setting, which is what we’re focused on here, because there’s not much guidance or talk about universal design within the home. So that’s pretty cool. And I’m glad we shared that experience. 

[00:07:26] So Nicole, now that we know how you got into the world of universal design, would you please share with us a universally designed space, product, or feature that is not home-related that really speaks to you?

[00:07:41 ]Nicole: So something on my campus is we have doors that instead of there being like that usual handicap press to open. There’s like a place where you would wave your hand instead and it’ll swing open from there. 

[00:07:57] Lauren: Yes that is so cool. I’ve actually seen these on stoplights as well, and I think that can be so helpful. Cause I mean, even just for me, if I’m on a bicycle, I can wave right in front of that. 

[00:08:07] But in terms of doors, like on your campus, I know this is something Sally’s brought up before too, but I mean, whether you’ve had like a stroller, just a bunch in your hands, um, textbooks, a bunch of things. That’s just so helpful that you don’t have to go over and press the button.

[00:08:21] Sarah: That was a really good point, we have seen those sensors at the lights more in our communities because I think some of it was actually with COVID so people don’t have to touch the button, you know, everybody trying to sanitize and not spread germs. But it really does have a lot of great use for people that aren’t able to activate the stoplights because of mobility issues or if it’s just a cleanliness thing as well. 

[00:08:45] Lauren:  Next Nicole, could you tell us a little bit about your favorite home-related universal design element? 

[00:08:52] Nicole: So my favorite home-related element would probably be Amazon’s Alexa. I have an echo dot that I use to like turn off lights or change, maybe like the temperature in the room, cause it’s connected to my thermostat. But for someone with  a disability who might have a harder time getting up and going to the thermostat or turning off the lights, they could just tell the device to do it for them kind of making it simpler, and easier.

[00:09:23] Sally:  Also even if you, you know, don’t have a disability and maybe you’re just feeling lazy and you already got all ready for bed and you’re in bed and realized you have to turn the lights off, it’s also great for that. So really anyone benefits from that device, which is super cool and makes it very universal.

[00:09:40] Sarah:  I actually have a friend who really loves the Pittsburgh Steelers. And so he was able to program some really nifty ways to make his lights turn on every time there was a touchdown. So it goes to show that, you know, you can have the lights blink whenever the Steelers, or your favorite team, scores or wins a game.

[00:10:00] Or I’ve even seen certain people do something with their lights to have them blink when there’s maybe a storm coming. So there’s a lot of really cool things to do with this technology. 

[00:10:09] I am so excited that you are collaborating with us to learn more about how you can design spaces to make it easier for all people of different ages and abilities to use their home with ease.

[00:10:20] So is there anything that you’ve learned so far with us, Nicole, that you’d like to tell our listeners? You have been working on a laundry room and helping out with a bathroom as well. And when I remember when you started with us, you were excited because you’re like, I actually haven’t learned much about people with disabilities.

[00:10:39] So you were really excited to get your feet wet with that. 

[00:10:43] Nicole: Yeah. I was very excited to start working on because the people, my family everyone’s pretty able, so I’ve never really had a chance to see how someone with a disability would need help doing things or  trying to become more independent, doing things that someone who was very able bodied does.

[00:11:04] So, when we started working on the laundry room, I honestly had no idea where do we even start? I was thinking back to my laundry room at home, which is in the basement down some stairs in this very super tight space. Definitely not accessible to someone who could be in a wheelchair. And that’s all I really knew when it came to laundry rooms, was my own. Getting to hear from those who are physically impaired was eye opening. They spoke of problems they have in their own homes with their laundry rooms, as well as how they came up with solutions or like ideas they had, but maybe aren’t able to implement. These are things I definitely would not have thought of on my own things like having a front-loading washer and dryer is probably easier for someone in a chair, so they don’t have to like reach over into a top-loading machine.

[00:11:54] Lower storage and lower cabinetry is also definitely easier than upper cabinetry and reaching up there. We also found that many people preferred to have counter space, to fold laundry, as soon as it got out of the dryer in the space as well, even little things like the packaging of detergents can make a huge difference for someone with an impairment because those bottles are very heavy and not everyone can lift such a heavy bottle.

[00:12:19] So like a pump is definitely easier to get detergent from then pouring it. With the bathroom, we are currently experimenting with different layouts and we’re really focusing in on the design of the shower.  In my classes I’ve learned about like door widths, counter heights, door knobs versus levers, but we’ve never really gotten specific in class. Like we are getting right now when it comes to things like a laundry room. 

[00:12:46] Sarah: Yeah, I think it’s actually really interesting. I mean, you are learning the basics in your class, which I think is amazing that you’re learning some of these basics, but I really love to hear that you’re learning so much about digging into how someone would use this space in these ways that we’ve explored with your time with us so far. And I agree, I’ve actually enjoyed these little chats we’re having with our design advisors that you kind of alluded to we’re calling them function forums.  But we really, ask our design advisors what works for them in the laundry room and the bathroom, and you can really hear from people that have a disability, and use these spaces daily, like you said, what are their pain points in a typical laundry setup? So we can make the designs differently to promote their independence. So I’m glad to hear you’re getting an extra layer of design and function with your time with us.

[00:13:38] Nicole: Yeah. I’m excited to implement this into my future projects as a working adult. 

[00:13:44] Sarah: Yes. I’m glad to hear that. And I feel like as students, you learn so much in your internships and things like that, and that’s why we love to have students, because we feel like it’s so important for future, practitioners in occupational therapist and architecture students and interior design students we’ve even had an industrial design student, but we’re glad to introduce people to this new world of, of universal design. So you all can implement that as you go out and become amazing professionals. So we’re glad to have you. 

[00:14:17] Nicole: Thank you. 

[00:14:18] Sally:  And thank you, Nicole, for joining us today and for being part of The Universal Design Project and helping us out with our designs.  Listeners, we hope you enjoyed meeting another one of our very valuable team members and we will talk to you again very soon. Take care!

[00:14:35] 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].

[00:15:02] Thanks for fitting us into your day!


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