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Talking Universal Design With OT Bev Zimmerman

To help our clients live as independently as possible, Special Tree’s Occupational Therapists look closely at their living space to make sure it’s safe, functional, and accessible for their needs.  But our OTs go one step further in determining what to modify in a home setting.  Their goal is to create living spaces that work for everyone through Universal Design. 

Universal Design is an inclusive approach to design that creates an accessible and aesthetically pleasing environment for anyone, regardless of ability and age.   OTs like Bev Zimmerman apply Universal Design principals in their home evaluations for clients as well as at Special Tree’s residential homes.   Universal Design requires OTs to earn an advanced Aging in Place Specialist certification (CAPS).  We asked Bev to explain more about Universal Design as it relates to Occupational Therapy.

What is Universal Design?

Universal Design is a concept that makes a living space user-friendly.  It goes beyond the traditional approach of creating a handicap accessible home for someone in a wheelchair to one that’s usable and accessible by everyone that would enter the home.  Universal Design concepts also apply to the long-term use of a home to make sure it continues to meet the needs of all people as they age.  

How does Universal Design make a living space more user-friendly?

Universal Design concepts look at ways to make day-to-day living and home tasks easier and safer for everyone but that also remain largely unnoticeable by a casual observer.  I worked with an architect to use Universal Design in a kitchen remodel at one of our community residences.  Our goal was to create a functional and accessible kitchen that anyone could use with ease.  The kitchen has a wall mounted oven for easy access, light-colored counter surfaces and recessed lighting for increased visibility, a two level countertop and roll out drawers to accommodate clients in wheelchairs, and large handles on cabinets and drawers for clients with impaired fine motor control.  

How does Occupational Therapy relate to Universal Design? 

OT and Universal Design share a lot of common ground.  Both look at making an environment as functional and pleasing as possible.  Occupational Therapists approach a living space from the end-user, taking a client’s physical, cognitive, and sensory limitations into account.  Universal Design provides the concepts for minimizing complexities in living environments so it works everyone.

Some examples of Universal Design at Special Tree's Community Residences: