I’m currently in my last semester of graduate school working towards my doctor of occupational therapy (OTD) degree. To graduate from the OTD program at Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences, a student must successfully complete two years of didactic coursework, two 12-week fieldwork experiences, and one 16-week doctoral capstone project. Right now, I am working on my doctoral capstone project at The Universal Design Project; a nonprofit organization focused on interprofessional collaboration to create universally designed home plans. I’d like to briefly explain occupational therapy and then take a few moments to share with you my goals for this project.
First, let’s define occupational therapy.
“Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability.”What is Occupational Therapy by American Occupational Therapy Association
Occupational therapy practitioners are knowledgable about a wide variety of health conditions and are trained to consider how the physical environment influences the performance of occupations when human impairments are present. Frequently, home environments are not designed to accommodate someone after they acquire an illness, injury, or disability. Occupational therapists will typically suggest home modifications so that their client can perform their desired activities. Because occupational therapy practitioners understand disability and design, they have a vital role within universal design.
Through my doctoral capstone project, I aim to advocate for occupational therapy’s involvement in universal design by:
1Implementing innovative marketing techniques to increase public awareness of The Universal Design Project.
Throughout my 16-week experience, I will be developing digital marketing content related to universal design and occupational therapy (OT). This content will be in the form of blog posts, informative graphics, and podcast episodes, and will highlight the importance of collaboration between health professionals (OT’s and related disciplines), architects, and builders when creating home plans that enable all people. This content will be published to the organization’s website, their social media accounts, and the Good Fit Poor Fit podcast.
I will be utilizing the Good Fit Poor Fit podcast as an educational and marketing tool. This podcast was launched to explore the interaction between people, design, and activity which is driven by the PEO Model. Sarah, Scott, and I work together to record, edit, and publish various episodes related to healthcare and the need for more universally designed homes. We share informative stories that allow our listeners to understand the need for collaboration between health professionals, architects, and builders to design homes that are a “good fit” for all people.
In addition to digital marketing on social media, I will be promoting The Universal Design Project at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Conference in Boston, Massachusetts this year. I intend to network with occupational therapists in the niche of universal design and accessibility while spreading the word about our mission and vision to the people in attendance at AOTA.
2Increasing stakeholder participation in The Universal Design Project’s collaborative process.
I’m aiming to increase the diversity within The Universal Design Project’s network of Design Advisors. Design Advisors are volunteers who either have a disability, live with someone with a disability, or are a healthcare professional who works with people with disabilities. These individuals provide the organization with feedback on design drafts. They verify whether or not a design is functional for them, and if it’s not, we go back to the drawing board and make the necessary changes to the draft. This process ensures that the organization is truly representing all people when creating universally designed home plans.
In the coming weeks, I am planning to record and upload a Call To Action video to attract people with various life experiences to volunteer for our organization. This video will be posted to various disability/accessibility groups on Facebook to reach a wide network of people affected by various health impairments. Additionally, this video will be available on YouTube, on our website, and on all social media platforms.
With a more diverse group of Design Advisors, we can be sure that we are building a home that is functional for as many people as possible; a home that is universal.
3Sharing in-depth knowledge about UD principles as they relate to the home environment.
It can be challenging to understand a universal design feature unless you directly experience it. A future goal of The Universal Design Project is to construct a Demonstration Home where families, professionals, and students in healthcare, architecture, and construction can come and experience universal design features first-hand. This Demonstration Home would provide the community and stakeholders the opportunity to learn, explore, and experience universal design up close and personal through home tours and real-life interaction. The intent is to provide experiential education to a wide range of people to promote the expansion of universally designed homes within our community and across the United States.
Since the development of a Demonstration Home is far from fruition, I will be responsible for brainstorming and drafting educational content that will be used to increase opportunities for experiential education for this future project.
The Bottom Line
Through this doctoral capstone project, I am gaining in-depth knowledge about universal design which will have a significant impact on my future practice as an occupational therapist. Simply put, I will be able to offer my clients more detailed recommendations to make their living spaces more functional during discharge planning and home evaluations, which ultimately maximizes their occupational performance. In addition, this experience will enhance my leadership and advocacy skills through the promotion of a nonprofit organization that values interprofessional collaboration to make communities more welcoming to people affected by disability.
Not only will this project shape me as a clinician, but it will promote the advancement of The Universal Design Project organization as well. Through my efforts, I’m hoping more architects and builders will see the value of working collaboratively with occupational therapists when designing functional spaces for all people.