I had the pleasure of working with Sarah and Scott, along side my colleague Nicole for 16 weeks during my doctoral experience this spring. I have since graduated, and am currently a traveling licensed occupational therapist in the state of Oregon. When I begin my first contract, I will be working in a skilled nursing facility as well as work in the occasional assisted living setting.
While completing my fieldwork rotations for school, I worked in the outpatient in-home setting, as well as an inpatient hospital setting. The clients I saw in the outpatient home-setting experienced disabilities associated with aging, orthopedic issues (shoulder repairs), or had limitations in function associated with degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. In addition, many of my clients experienced difficulty with balance or had chronic pain issues associated with arthritis. Often times, my clients lived in two-level homes, where their bedroom and full bathroom were located on the second level of their home. This made performing every day functional tasks, such as bathing, grooming, and sleep routines difficult if not dangerous for the client or their caregiver who was assisting with tasks. During home assessments, I was responsible for giving recommendations for safety with bathroom setups in order to make bathing safer, while increasing the client’s independence with the tasks. Fast forward to what I currently understand about UD, homes built with UD features would have definitely improved the safety and function of the individuals I worked with in the home setting.
In the inpatient setting, I saw a wider variety of disabilities in my clients due to injury, illness, and various surgeries. The client population ranged from individuals in their early 20’s to late 90’s. While working with and talking to my clients, I learned that many of them did not live in homes that would be accessible enough to accommodate a wheelchair due to physical barriers (stairs, narrow doors, one-step entries). In some cases, these individuals had to make other living arrangements in order to ensure a safe discharge, or they were discharged to a skilled nursing facility until their families could figure out how to accommodate them better in their own homes. Needless to say, this was extremely difficult for some clients, because they had gone from living and functioning independently to being told they could not live in their home because the environment made it unsafe or impossible to do so, coupled with the injury or illness. Had their homes been more universally designed, the discharge process may have gone smoother and the clients could have worried less about their home and focused more on the rehabilitation process.
As a travel therapist, I am sure I will continue to see homes that are absent of UD features, posing challenges for the clients who live in them (of all ages and abilities). I am so thankful to have a knowledge base on UD and the impact it can have on function, so I can continue planting the seed of knowledge into people I come into contact with who are looking for a solution to environmental home barriers. In addition, I have also been able to have some pretty lengthy discussions with my brother, who is a builder, on the importance of UD and it’s implications to increase the quality of life for as many people as possible. In the future, my brother is planning on incorporating the concept of UD into his designs, in order to increase the quality of life and satisfaction to his clients.