Scott & Sarah Pruett's story helps us understand who to include in "design that's usable by all people."

And not just in Harrisonburg, Virginia, but anywhere.

Yep, it’s us, the co-founders of The Universal Design Project. Our story is a big part of why we started this organization.

Scott has a spinal cord injury from a skiing accident in 1999, at age 18. He hit a patch of dirt, which caused his skis to stop while momentum kept his body moving. He had a bad fall, landed on his head, and broke his neck. A C6 burst fracture resulted in damage to his spinal cord; he has used a wheelchair ever since.

It took nearly six years for Scott to regain his independence with everyday tasks, but he had a setback in 2012 when degeneration was discovered in his back after another spinal cord injury at the T5 level, which required a fusion of his thoracic spine. That fusion failed in 2014, resulting in a third spinal cord injury (yes, three!) at T11, and the need for a full replacement of the hardware in his back, this time into the first lumbar vertebrae.

From the outside, there’s not any visible difference between his function from the first injury in 1999 and the last injury in 2014, but a lot has changed that affects life on a daily basis, especially increased pain, more difficulty reaching high and low items, and transferring between his chair and the bed, shower, or our car.

He and Sarah met in 2007 while Sarah was in graduate school for occupational therapy, and they married in 2009. Sarah is an occupational therapist who specializes in adult physical rehabilitation and environmental design. She has worked in clinical and community settings, and has lots of experience with all sorts of different disabilities through volunteering with multiple organizations.

Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States


Watch the interview:

Notable quotes from the interview:

[Scott] Some of the social activities, it’s kind of just being around people who understand what I deal with. And for me, it’s just trying to not make a big deal about it. If we can choose a location that’s accessible that makes a big difference. If we can choose an activity that I can actually physically get to or physically participate in, then that kind of takes care of most of the major issues.

[Scott] Some of the things I deal with, especially in warmer months, this injury affects my ability to sweat. I don’t sweat below my level of injury, which is basically like mid-chest down. So if it’s hot outside, your body’s gonna compensate; it’s gonna say “hey you need to start sweating so you can cool down.” My body doesn’t do that, so that will raise my internal body temperature, put me in danger of heat stroke.

[Sarah] Yeah, stuff like that you just have to plan ahead for when you’re going out to a cookout…
is there gonna be shade? Fall festivals are great because the weather’s great; but like a summer festival? We just know we can’t be out in the heat of the day.

[Scott] If it’s just kind of going out and going to a movie or going to dinner or something like that, that’s really just like is the location we’re going to… is it accessible?

One of the things that I had a few years ago was an adaptive bike, and so if we were going on a bike ride, how could I how could I transport it there, and how can I get a little bit of help getting on and off the bike, and is the place where riding, is it gonna be something that’s doable for a bike that’s a little bit different than the typical two-wheeled bike? I mean this one was a little bit wider than a standard chair. There are a lot of little considerations that, essentially, if I need extra help, whether it’s from equipment or from people, it’s just really being mindful of what some of those are.

[Sarah] There are a few walking trails that are easy to do around here, I mean we live near the National Park and so there are a few accessible trails. I think maybe two that we’ve done, two or three. [Scott] Out of a hundred. [Sarah] So many!

[Scott] I mean, especially with people who knew me beforehand; it hasn’t really changed how we interact. It’s changed the options of what we can do and how we can continue to build those friendships and relationships.

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