Article Discussed: The curb cut effect: How universal design makes things better for everyone
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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 yet another special episode in our series. UD and Me. Today, we’ll be introducing you to Rachel Melvin. She is an OT student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, my Alma mater. And she is going to be spending the next 12 weeks with our organization, the Universal Design Project, learning about universal design and working on some projects with us.
[00:00:56] You’ll probably hear more from her in our podcast episodes as well. So I thought it would be fun to introduce her and to have her share some of her favorite UD things. So welcome, Rachel.
[00:01:07] Rachel: Hi! Thank you so much for having me. As someone who enjoys podcasts, I am very excited to be featured on one.
[00:01:15] Sarah: We are so glad to have you collaborate with us this semester. So Rachel, you actually reached out to our organization to look into doing an internship with us. So could you tell our listeners about what got you interested in the world of universal design?
[00:01:30] Rachel: Yeah! So I was able to listen to a lecture on aging in place and universal design in my second year of OT school during an assistive technology course. Before that, I briefly understood the concept of universal design and that ability to think so creatively and expansively was interesting to me. It wasn’t until after that lecture, where I saw the potential for myself to pursue a path outside of the traditional clinical-based options that are just so prevelant.
[00:02:03] My mother works in healthcare and my father works in surveying/project management. So as their child and a product of them, I found that a marriage between their professions turns out to be exactly where I am now, learning and working with the Universal Design Project.
[00:02:21] I remember Googling “occupational therapy universal design jobs”, just out of curiosity, and not too far down the first page, I actually found a blog post written by you, Sarah. As I was reading, I slowly began to piece together that the Universal Design Project was just down the road. I was excited by the potential opportunities, and I immediately emailed the program director and the fieldwork coordinator within the OT program to see, if I could be with you all for one of my level two fieldwork placements. And here I am!
[00:02:59] Rebecca: That is an awesome story and I admire your persistence, Rachel. You saw something you were interested in and you figured out a way to make it happen. That’s pretty incredible. So welcome to the team of non-traditional occupational therapists.
[00:03:14] Can you tell us more about your favorite non home-related universal design feature? And don’t worry, we won’t hold you to this because we know you’re just starting with us and your opinions and favorites could change. But as of right now, where do you stand?
[00:03:30] Rachel: Yeah, absolutely. I’m also starting to realize that I’m collecting an arsenal of favorites as well.
[00:03:37] But my favorite non-home related universal design feature involves sidewalks, more specifically, the curb cuts in sidewalks. So I recently came across a blog post titled “The curb cut effect”, where I discovered the history behind this accessible feature. The author writes that in another podcast, 99% Invisible included an episode regarding the origin story of curb cuts.
[00:04:06] We so often come across things in our environment, like curb cuts, and don’t think about the story behind the design. So I would love to share that. Curb cuts can be attributed to Ed Roberts, a graduate student from the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s. At a young age, Robert s became sick with polio, which left him paralyzed from the neck down. Shortly after he started his education at Berkeley, quite a few other students with disabilities arrived on campus as well. This population of students began a dialogue regarding the civil rights of people with disabilities, including the right to just engage within their own community with something as simple as easily traveling throughout the streets.
[00:04:52] There are stories that Roberts and his friends would go into the city at night and tear up the corners of sidewalks to install their own ramps, which I thought was pretty revolutionary. Soon after the world’s first curb cut was implemented in the city of Berkeley, California, and on September 28th of 1971, almost exactly 50 years ago from when we are recording this podcast today, the city created a policy to make streets and sidewalks accessible in all major commercial areas.
[00:05:27] Sarah: Rachel, what a good find. A neat article that goes into the history of curb cuts. Actually, I didn’t know all of these things. So this was fun to look into. And this article even goes into other universally designed products and features that are really beneficial for everyone. I’ll link the article in the show notes.
[00:05:43] Something that stood out to me was a quote near the end that says, “Designing with all people in mind, doesn’t hold you back, but rather forces you to make the experience better for everyone. These universal design successes should encourage companies to make their products and services, universally accessible and should encourage cities to make the built environment universally accessible.” And I have to agree that most often these invisible universal design features in the community don’t have to scream disability and can often make our lives easier for so many people, especially the curb cut. People pushing strollers, little toddlers learning to walk, and even those who struggled to do steps or have difficulty with low vision and balance.
[00:06:24] It’s one less thing to have to think about and one less barrier to negotiate. I can’t tell you how many times Scott and I have gotten onto a sidewalk, at one end with him using his wheelchair and me pushing the stroller, and maneuvered all the way down to the other end. Only to find out there’s no way to get off. We then have to backtrack and either go in the street or another way, which is kind of frustrating, hazardous and consuming.
[00:06:48] So Rachel, now that we’ve learned a little bit more about the curb cut, and its benefits out in the community, can you share with us your favorite home-related UD feature.
[00:06:58] Rachel: Yeah! So when I was trying to decide my favorite home-related universal design feature, I knew that it was kind of have to be something in the kitchen. I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, whether that includes cooking or baking. So I wanted to just briefly mention two features that I think should be included in every discussion of home design.
[00:07:20] The first is the placement of appliances. I feel like we so often get stuck in how traditional homes are designed, that we lose sight of what is most functional for individuals throughout their lifespan. Depending on the appliance, the placement can make occupations easier for a variety of individuals. And not only provides an opportunity for accessibility given its location, but I personally find that the design just makes sense. It’s like the concept of work smarter, not harder.
[00:07:53] And second is side opening oven doors. I personally think that this is a big one. And I say that because in correlation with accessibility an occupational therapist, considers safety a top priority. At a young age, wanting to help my parents in the kitchen. I remember being fearful of the oven that while bending and reaching over the door with a heavy stone or a pan or whatever, that I was going to burn myself. A side opening door eliminates some of that awkwardness that is involved in putting in or removing heavy cookware, heavy and hot cookware from the oven, and also adds a level of safety for all ages and abilities.
[00:08:39] Rebecca: Those are all good points, Rachel. It actually reminds me of another episode that we did all about appliances and placements and different types of opening for different appliances. If you haven’t heard that one, I highly recommend you go check it out because I think you’d be surprised to hear what some of our design advisors had to say.
[00:08:56] Thank you so much for joining us today, Rachel, and welcome to the team! We’re thrilled to have you, and we can’t wait to see how your universal design lens and ideas evolve over the next 12 weeks.
[00:09:07] And thanks to our listeners for tuning in. We will chat again real soon. Happy fall, stay safe. 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].[00:09:43] Sarah: Thanks for fitting us into your day!