084: UD and Me: Anisha Carr

Good Fit Poor Fit
Good Fit Poor Fit
084: UD and Me: Anisha Carr

Show Notes:

Episode #30 with Danise Levine at the IDEA Center


Sarah: [00:00:00] You’re listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. Our podcast is part of The UD Project, a small business rooted in occupational therapy that looks at how the design of a home environment impacts how well people of different ages and abilities perform everyday activities. We chat about this unique perspective to boost your knowledge and help you consider what can be changed in communities like yours.

Learn more about our work at universaldesign.org.

 Hi listeners, welcome back for yet another special episode in our series, UD and Me. Today, Rebecca, and I’ll be introducing you to Anisha Carr. She is a student in occupational therapy, getting her doctorate from Towson University in Maryland. She will be completing her capstone with us this spring semester and has a goal for her project to understand how interprofessional collaboration functions within [00:01:00] universal design. She’s going to be collecting insights and experiences through semi-structured interviews with architects, interior designers, industrial designers, builders, and OTs, and we’ll share the results in a future episode.

Rebecca: I definitely hope so, and if you’ve listened to Good Fit Poor Fit before then you know, we love interprofessional collaboration, so the work Anisha is doing is right up our alley. So without further ado, let’s turn it to Anisha. Anisha. Tell us a little bit more about yourself and why you’re so excited about the idea of universal design.

Anisha: Thanks for the intro, Sarah and Rebecca. I’m really excited that I could be here on the podcast with you guys. As you mentioned, I’m in the final stretch of my occupational therapy doctorate where I’m working on a project focused on understanding the dynamics of interprofessional collaboration within universal design. UD is a concept I’ve been passionate about since I first heard of what it was, and so I’m really thankful to have found you guys as a site for my doctoral project. For some background, I grew up [00:02:00] obsessed with all things art and design, and as I started to become more aware of my space, I started having preferences about where things should go and how furniture should be positioned. So as I got older, I was constantly rearranging my space to accommodate whatever my most valuable occupation was at the time, whether it was exercise, yoga, painting, making music, or caring for my house plants. When I was 12, my grandmother who had been diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease moved into her house with her caretaker, and we had to do a lot of modifications and rearranging to accommodate for her new disability. whole process really had an impact on me, and watching the contractors was so fascinating to me. I remember going into her bathroom each day after the contractor left to see what modifications he had been working on. Making mods to the home so quickly without professionals who specialized it definitely came with this issues and we ended up having a few modifications that we made that actually were detrimental to her independence as her disease progressed. Looking back on this, with the knowledge I have now, I can really see how important it is to have [00:03:00] people who truly understand disability working on projects like these.

Sarah: Anisha, it sounds like from a really early age, you had some hints of interest in the usability of space based on your activities and your hobbies. I meet so many OTs or people wanting to go into OT school that say, an experience with a family member needing more accessible space, helped them really think about how important the environment is to someone’s abilities.

It sounds like having her live with you really made an impact on your life and you got to see firsthand how some of the modifications made actually didn’t really work well.

Anisha: Yeah, absolutely. And you’re definitely right. I found that most people that I’ve connected with who are passionate about UD also have some kind of personal experience that brought them here. My experience living with my grandmother and the close relationship that I had with her had a huge impact on all areas of my life, including my decision to go into healthcare in the first place. She passed away shortly before I moved to college, and I decided to [00:04:00] move away from art and design and to pursue a healthcare career. I didn’t really know what yet, but I knew it had to be something that involved a lot of creativity, which is what brought me to occupational therapy. When I entered grad school, I continued constantly rearranging my space and I was still really used to the idea of making a space work for wherever my interests lie. But learning more about home mods for disabilities and it being in the scope of practice for OTs was especially interesting to me because it allowed me to use my skills to understand where someone might run into difficulty when completing tasks, and then my creativity and interest in design to figure out the best, most aesthetically pleasing setup for their space. The day that I learned about UD in my second year classes, I went home and I did more research and it was so eye-opening.

 I couldn’t help but think about all of the situations where having this knowledge would’ve been useful in the past. I love UD as a whole, but UD through the lens of an OT is even more exciting to me because it encourages us to think about design as it relates to occupations, whether it’s basic [00:05:00] everyday tasks or special interests. As someone who grew up with a lot of hobbies that have slowly dwindled over the years, OT has really helped me to understand the importance of continuing to engage in activities that bring you joy. For me, my hobbies began slowing down as I got into grad school and got busy. But for people with disabilities, they might have stopped engaging in a hobby simply because they no longer had the right setup to do it. And I love that UD is a way to help people engage in life in a more holistic and immersive way through hobbies and other experiences.

Rebecca: These are such great points, Anisha, and I love how you talk about OT in this way. It really reflects how impactful the field can be. In general, but when applied specifically to UD it helps us think about the fact that design plays a role in every single thing we do. So thinking about how we can design products and spaces and activities and equipment more inclusively can be so incredibly impactful.

Anisha: I completely agree, and it’s why I think we as OTs are so well suited for this field. When I [00:06:00] found out about the Universal Design Project, I knew I had to complete my capstone here because it aligns so well with my interests. When planning my project, we went back and forth about what the research question should be, but I decided to start with the literature and figure out where some of the gaps were so that I could focus my research in an area that didn’t have much evidence already. My goals for the project were to improve my knowledge about accessible home design, build a network of professionals who had the same interests as me, and to set the stage for the next generation of OTs who are interested in UD. I found that UD is a field that requires the knowledge of a lot of different professionals, but there’s really limited research regarding who should be on a universal design team and how those people should work together. I also found that a lot of people who are in the field tend to have a personal experience with the family member, who had an illness or a disability, and they typically work alone using only their personal experience and sometimes some extra certifications to guide their work. It was obvious to me that we needed to figure out how to create better interprofessional teams for universal [00:07:00] design. So I decided to start out with a project that would explore some of the barriers and facilitators to building a comprehensive UD team, specifically related to people’s attitudes and experiences surrounding working on a team with other professionals. My goal with the project is to understand why people are not working together on such an important topic, and potentially gather some evidence for how we can create better interprofessional teams. I’m super excited to be working on this project and being able to interview so many knowledgeable, passionate professionals who are working outside of my discipline. I really hope to discover some interesting findings through analyzing this data, and I’m really excited to come back to the podcast in a few months to share my results.

Sarah: Well, we are super glad that you are with us this semester, Anisha, and bringing in your willingness to make an impact on the design of spaces. Plus advocate for collaboration and dig into the reasons why it might not be occurring as often as it should be between professionals in a variety of industries.

I agree with [00:08:00] you… honestly, our life experience definitely spurred us on in creating this organization, but we quickly realized the value of a variety of professional backgrounds in the housing industry and personal perspectives with disability because each of us navigate life in a different way in our own homes and in the community.

And it sounds like from the interviews you’ve done so far, that you’ve gotten some really good content. So I really can’t wait for you to report back to us with that. But speaking about our communities, do you have a favorite non-home related UD feature?

Anisha: That’s a really great question, Sarah, I have a lot of UD features that I love, so it’s pretty hard for me to choose a favorite. But outside of the home, I really appreciate seeing UD features that are integrated into areas that allow us to experience culture, art, and nature. I do have to admit I might be biased because these are things that I personally really value, but I think it’s really important for people to have the option to engage in these experiences regardless of [00:09:00] ability. One example of a UD feature that can be done to promote this is incorporating sloping pathways into museums, public parks and gardens. We’re all familiar with zero- step entries in homes and the impact that they can have on a person’s independence. Adding a slightly sloping pathway incorporated into public spaces in place of a few steps can add a significant layer of accessibility that provides access for a diverse group of people, even though it’s really such a small change. Sloping pathways can be incorporated into the entrance of a building, but they can also be used in the surrounding landscape to improve walkability in the areas around the building and in public parks that are built on unstable ground. The National Arboretum in DC is a great example of an outdoor space that’s built on a slightly sloping landscape, but it doesn’t add stairs unnecessarily. There are still stairs in a few places, but there’s always an option to use the sloped pathway. When my grandmother was still able to get out of the house, we tried to take her out into nature as much as possible. And I remember going with her to the National Arboretum and being very impressed with how [00:10:00] easy it was to navigate with a wheelchair. Another garden that was near us that we took her to often was accessible and incorporated ramps, but there was an entire section that we tended to avoid because the ramps were so steep that it was hard for us to push her up. Regardless, incorporating ramps is better than incorporating nothing. even though parks and gardens are typically single level. There are also plenty of examples of outdoor spaces that are actually multi-level, which definitely adds a layer of complication when retrofitting with UD features. One of my favorite parks, Malcolm X Park in DC is a really great example of this. It’s built on a hill and as a result it has two separate levels. Throughout both levels there are sloping pathways along with some stairs, and then a large staircase that connects the two levels. The sloping pathways on the lower level are great for accessibility, but the entry itself has always required stairs to get in. Very recently though, they decided to do some renovations to the over 100-year-old park, and surprisingly added a new accessible entrance to the lower level. I haven’t actually had the chance to [00:11:00] check it out yet, but I was really happy to see that even with a historical park like Malcolm X, they were able to add some level of accessibility.

Sarah: Yes, I agree. Having an option for everyone to easily access outdoor attractions and exhibits is a fantastic example of UD using wide and gently sloping pathways. Now I have a few more places I need to visit on my next trip up to DC. When we were in St. Louis for a conference they had a great public park with these types of features in addition to different statues and art, that were really easily accessed so people could touch them and climb on them, and you could get to them without uneven terrain like rocks or stairs to reach.

So people are doing some really creative things. I think a lot of that planning has to be done upfront and it often takes more work to fix things already constructed to make it more inclusive. It sounds like you really enjoy going to a lot of museums. What has your experience been [00:12:00] in observing typical ways that museums tend to retrofit things to provide access with ramps and stairs?

As we know, most buildings are multi-story and may need an elevator.

Anisha: Thanks for bringing that up, Sarah. I think it’s really important to remember that most buildings already exist and we don’t really have an opportunity to start fresh using UD principles. Ideally, a universally designed building would be one floor, but obviously in older buildings and in large cities, single level is not always feasible. I would say that a great way to address this is through ramps and elevators, but I wanna highlight that using things like ramps and elevators shouldn’t really change the experience for the user. A lot of times, I’ll use the example of an art museum when describing the difference between an ADA- compliant building and retrofitting buildings with universal design. In an ADA compliant art museum, there might be a large staircase with art displayed on the walls and the landings of the stairs, and there might be an elevator around the corner to help people who can’t do stairs. This definitely works to help get them to the next floor, but [00:13:00] they miss the experience of seeing the art displayed on the stairs. In a universally designed art museum, the stairs would be eliminated and might be replaced with a large, gently sloping ramp where art is installed throughout. Everyone can use the ramp, but not everybody can use the stairs. So this feature really allows for a quality of experience for anybody who might have the endurance to walk long distances and for people who need to use mobility devices. And it also allows everyone to see the art displayed all the way up on their way to the next floor. Of course this feature is not always done with ease of use in mind, and there are plenty of examples where ramps make things less accessible. To keep the topic of art museums. I visited the Guggenheim in New York a few years ago when my knowledge of UD was limited, and I was really excited to see an art museum that incorporated ramps only to find out it’s a nightmare for anybody who uses a mobility device other than a motorized wheelchair. Not only is it not UD it’s not even a ADA compliant. The ramps are too steep, the bathrooms are cramped, and there’s almost zero landings throughout the [00:14:00] building. Regardless. There are a lot of newer museums like the National Museum of the American Latino, that incorporate all universal design features to make the whole exhibit accessible, not just physically but experientially as well. They’ve incorporated visual, audio, and tactile elements that allow people to experience art and culture in a new way. They’ve even developed tactile keypads to supplement the digital interactive exhibits that are usually explored using a touchscreen, which can be difficult for people to use, who have vision problems. Their staff is comprised of real people with disabilities who help design and test everything in their exhibit to ensure universal accessibility. I think this museum is a great example of the importance of incorporating lived experiences of people with disabilities into your design. So that things labeled as accessible aren’t only designed for just the typical wheelchair user and really have everyone in mind. I haven’t had a chance to go yet, but I can’t wait to see all the UD elements they’ve incorporated. I know we started this conversation [00:15:00] talking about adding ramps and sloping pathways, but I realized that I really just love any UD feature that makes recreational experiences feel equally immersive for all people.

Rebecca: I couldn’t agree more Anisha. And I think the conversation about museums is a really interesting one too. Another museum, for listeners if you wanna check out is the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado apparently has some pretty awesome universal design features and actually the IDEA Center, the Universal Design Center at the University of Buffalo was involved in designing that museum. And we spoke to an architect from there a couple years ago on Good Fit Poor Fit. So I’ve heard great things about that one too. So you can add it to your list. I too have come across some other interesting UD projects and museums, and I think that it’s interesting that a space that’s so centered on learning seems to lend itself well to this type of innovative design. I love that people are starting to think about making these more inclusive and honestly just more intuitive and [00:16:00] flexible for everybody. It’s also just a more fun way to learn when there are different options for how you can engage with the information or with the art that is presented to you. I also wanna highlight for our listeners the comment that you made about the importance of incorporating lived experience perspectives into design. This is so critical. Sure, as OTs or as designers, we know a lot about how to make spaces that work for a variety of people, but what’s most important is to incorporate feedback and experiences of people who have disabilities into the design to ensure that it really works for as many people as possible. And that’s something that I know happened in the US Olympic and Paralympic museum, and sounds like it also happened at the museum that you were talking about in DC Anisha. So will you next share with us and our listeners your favorite UD concept or product for a home setting?

Anisha: Yeah, sure. For home features, I really love the concept of adjustable height, kitchen countertops, and stovetops. These can be raised or lowered [00:17:00] electronically and it allows people of all heights and abilities to comfortably and safely engage in food prep and other kitchen tasks. What I love about this is that it benefits all people.

 I have a tendency to hunch over the stove or the countertop while I’m cooking, which really hurts my neck over time. Being able to raise the countertop slightly so that I can stand up straight while at the counter would be super helpful. Someone who uses a wheelchair or prefers to cook while seated can also use it by lowering the counters so that they’re actually able to see what they’re preparing. I also love this feature because it helps the kitchen become more of a multipurpose space. A lot of people already might utilize the kitchen countertop to work from home or help their kids with homework, and having this feature available makes it possible to do even more tasks in the space, which is especially helpful if you live in a small apartment or house. As I mentioned earlier, I love the idea of using UD to help people engage in more recreational activities and hobbies, and I feel like this feature just encourages it even more. This is definitely a pricier feature. But I hope that as universal design becomes more popular, [00:18:00] these features will also become more financially accessible. This is just one example of how UD features can support a person’s ability to complete necessary tasks and truly engage in the activities they care about or want to do. There are so many other features that I love and I’m really excited to potentially talk about them in future episodes.

Sarah: Yeah, I agree. . I really do love this feature and I hope that as things progress in technology and people latch onto the idea of UD, that this won’t be so pricey, especially for the entire kitchen counter and storage systems. I know when Rebecca and I have worked, together on previous projects, it is really difficult to find a universal height

for countertops, and so being able to adjust it is, it’s just makes sense. It’s most logical. I do love right now that adjustable height desks are super common. I’ve seen people alter this idea for laundry folding areas, or I like your idea for hobbies and crafts to reduce back strain and make [00:19:00] the task easier, whether you’re seated or standing.

Even an adjustable workspace in a kitchen is doable if you have the space to integrate it into the design. I’ve seen people buy the adjustable desks and replace the top with something that’s heat resistant and do some prep there, or utilize an electric hot plate or a single burner to cook some easy meals. Where UD is concerned, there are a lot of creative ideas out there, and your mindset is definitely on track with all of these pieces, Anisha. Well, thank you so much for sharing more about yourself and your UD favorites, Rebecca, and I look forward to having you join us again a few more times in the next coming months to talk about some more unique ways we can implement UD into our homes and communities.

Have a good one.

Thanks for listening to Good Fit Poor Fit. If you want to learn more… first, find more episodes with transcripts and show notes at goodfitpoorfit.com. Don’t forget to subscribe! Second, [00:20:00] check out our courses at go.universaldesign.org.

We cover housing topics like advocacy, collaboration, home modification, universal design and task adaptations. Lastly, if you have questions or topics you’d like us to discuss, email us at [email protected]. Thanks for fitting us into your day.


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