068: UD and Me Ashley Miller

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
068: UD and Me Ashley Miller


[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 Ashley Miller. She recently joined our team, as a volunteer, to help us out with an online educational project that we’ve been working on this summer. I really can’t wait to share more about that with you in the near future, but first, we’re excited to introduce you to Ashley. She has a background in teaching special education in the university level and with personal and professional experiences, she’s really gotten interested in the world of UD. She’s also no stranger to “do it yourself” projects and seeing her family work in the building and design field. Ashley has a passion for UD, and I’m excited for you to learn more from her too. So welcome, Ashley, can you share more with our listeners about yourself and how you became interested in UD?

[00:01:23] Ashley: Hello Good Fit Poor Fit listeners! Thank you, Sarah, for that great introduction, and Rebecca, for the invitation to speak with you today. A little bit about myself, I’m a veteran educator with a subject matter expertise and accompanying Doctorate in Disability Services and Policy. When I’m not teaching at the University, I’m usually tackling a home renovation project or spending quiet time with my best friend and spouse of 17 years and our German Shepherd and Poodle mix dog named Caico. 

[00:01:54] I’ve been very interested in Universal Design as far back as my childhood. One of my best friends, from my childhood, had multiple disabilities and I remember having a play date at her house for the first time and just feeling so overwhelmed by the inattention to accessibility in that space. I just saw her struggle and knowing that her family really lacked the wherewithal to properly accommodate her, in her own home, was just heartbreaking. It was then that I became aware of the importance Universal Design had on the lives of people with disabilities.

[00:02:29] From that moment on, I kind of latched onto Universal Design. Growing up my biological father flipped homes and corporate offices, and my biological mother, the daughter of a home builder, she was an interior designer. So, I spent weekends helping my parents flip businesses and homes. And because of my passion for UD, I frequently volunteered to work on renovations that increased the accessibility of the space, like widening doorways and ensuring all door signs met accessibility regulations at the time. 

[00:03:02] I remember going around the house or the offices with a self-made checklist and a measuring tape. My dad nicknamed me “The Enforcer,” because that kind of was my role going through the spaces that he renovated. That was my background and my passion and where it all started. 

[00:03:17] My continued passion really was re-invoked. When my husband and I bought our first home, back in 2005. Anytime our decor tastes changed or when something broke, we were opportunistic in selecting UD upgrades. Over the years we’ve done simple home renovations that don’t require a lot of time and really only needed a few tools. And then we’ve also done some big renovations that span multiple weeks, cost a lot more, and required some complex project planning and management. 

[00:03:49] One major UD improvement to our home was prompted by one of our foster dogs. In just minutes, she pulled a large strand of our high plush carpet threads causing a noticeable hole in our front room. At the time the mismatch floors that we had really didn’t work for our needs. And now with the eyesore, the carpet hole, we decided to embark on a significant home renovation.

[00:04:14] At the time we decided to replace the flooring. We also noticed there was issues with leveling the floors, so we decided on all new flooring and re-leveling all the sub-floors in our entire home- spanning around 2000 square feet. We selected a durable material that allowed for flush thresholds, that also fit our preferred color and style. Knowing this was not our forever home, we placed a high value on being very selective with our home improvements to meet not only our style and functional needs but the potential needs of the next homeowner that would benefit from UD features. The flooring we selected and the attention to leveling the floors met those goals.

[00:04:53] Rebecca: Oh my goodness. Well, “Miss Enforcer”, I think I need a little bit more of you in my life because you sound like the kind of person that every family needs when something goes wrong in your house, to help you figure out what in the world to do with it. It sounds like design, and then inclusive and universal design, are really in your blood so I totally love this. 

[00:05:16] I’m also really glad that you brought up the idea of “forever homes” versus “non-forever homes”. Designing to meet the needs of a wide variety of people is so critical in this work and so I really appreciate that perspective that you’ve brought up. Ashley, even though I know you are a home design and build guru- and I’d love to see your house, even thinking about all of the skill and attention you must put into it- what is your favorite not home-related Universal Design feature?

[00:05:46] Ashley: This one was tough for me because I had to kind of separate like you said, that lens of, home design and that passion. When I got thinking about non-home-related UD features, I started to think about the tools that I use that have some UD undertones. Many construction tools require moderate upper body strength and two hands. Recently I’ve been testing out products that allow for single-hand use and “wearables”. Loving accessories like the Makita Ultra Magnetic Torsion Insert Bit, which uses a magnetic system to hold a screw to the end of your drill bit, turning a two-handed job into one. Some of my go-to wearables are my headband spotlight with raised buttons, replacing my handheld flashlight, and magnetic armband that carries screws and nails. 

[00:06:30] These are just some of the tools that I have grown to love. I’ve been very thankful for my family members who at every special occasion, gift me with a new tool or gift card to buy new tools because of my continual passion and obsession for home designs and repairs, but also just finding tools and products that actually work for someone that may or may not have challenges, but offer an extra accessibility bonus.

[00:06:54] Sarah: Well, it sounds like your family members are kind of along the same line that you are in this as well, but I really love these ideas and how you related UD into the tools that we use to do work on our homes. I’ve done my fair share of woodworking as well and having the right tools really does make a big difference in being able to get the job done efficiently without hurting our bodies. It really is the smallest little things that make a difference, like you mentioned, even down to accessing items quickly so they don’t roll away- put your handy dandy magnetic armband on. 

[00:07:30] For me using my dad’s tried and true electric sander compared to the new one that I purchased, it was so different. I actually wasn’t able to hold on to his sander for really long periods of time because of the vibration. It really fatigued my body and it made my hand feel numb, so I just didn’t want to do that task for a long time when I was using his tools. 

[00:07:53] I’ve also seen in the tool world, there are some different tools like pliers and screwdrivers that have larger rubber handles so our hands don’t slip or hurt while we’re working, making it easier to control the tool for any task that we want to do. This is actually kind of comparable to the OXO, O-X-O, cooking tools that we’ve talked about on our podcast before that make it much easier to make and serve delicious meals at home. Speaking about the home, Ashley, what is your favorite home-related UD feature?

[00:08:26] Ashley: My favorite home-related UD feature is really any feature that’s inexpensive and doable by amateur, “do it yourself-ers”, especially those that feel really approachable and manageable, that match your skillsets. 

[00:08:39] One example that I have kind of promoted to family and friends is something as simple as your interior door handles. Many homes today have round door knobs. My home, when we bought it, it had like these gold brass, not the pretty gold that you see today, but like the kind of rubbed brass round door knobs, throughout our entire home. I found that lever handles on the contrast to round doorknobs require a lot less upper body strength and dexterity than your typical round door knobs.

[00:09:10] This design advantage is really helpful for someone like me, especially when there are days where I have to manage the dog leashes and hauling bags in and out of the house. It also benefits individuals with limb differences or lower upper body strength. Something as simple as swapping out your round door knobs with lever handles will run you only around $15 a handle, and you really only need a Phillips head and Flathead screwdriver to make the change.

[00:09:37] Not only will updating your lever handles improve the aesthetics of the door, it also improves the accessibility. I strongly believe that homeowners do not have to sacrifice aesthetics for accessible home features. There are going to be times as a homeowner, you will reach a point where something breaks, whether it’s a door handle or in my case, the carpet, why not choose UD replacements that meet your design preferences while also increasing accessibility for the next homeowner. To me, it’s an opportunity for a win-win.

[00:10:09] Rebecca: Preach! That is exactly the way we like to think around here. And I honestly wish that more people took that perspective when they’re faced with home renovations and replacements. Why not select widely functional products, especially in this day and age when, like you said, they’re becoming more aesthetically pleasing and available.

[00:10:30] So yes, yes, yes. I wish we could put what you just said on a billboard. I am so glad that you’ve been able to share these thoughts and insights with us and our listeners today. I am sure that everyone learned a lot, I know that I did. I’m really just so glad that you’re connected now with The Universal Design Project, we are incredibly fortunate to have you on board.

[00:10:51] So thank you to all our listeners for tuning in today, and we’ll be back in your feed with more Good Fit Poor Fit real soon.

[00:10:57] 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].[00:11:28] Thanks for fitting us into your day!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *