Disciplines Dovetail in Pursuit of Universal Design

Published 12.04.2015

Nursing & Health Sciences
Student News
Faculty & Staff

Linda M. Barnes, associate professor of occupational therapy assistant, provides an overview of the challenges and opportunities inherent in accommodating an aging population of baby boomers.Rob A. Wozniak, associate professor of architectural technology, adds his insight to students' brainstorming.Students from diverse majors tackle a common objective in the supportive presence of OTA director Barbara J. Natell. Barnes, Wozniak and Natell are all Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists, trained in home modification.Jeanne M. Kerschner, clinical director of occupational therapy assistant, encourages a collaborative solution.With a tissue-paper overlay, a student group explains how it altered a home design to incorporate accommodations so they're in place if/when needed.Two groups of Penn College students - architectural technology majors and those enrolled in occupational therapy assistant - were called together Thursday for a uniquely collaborative discussion about the accessibility of home design. The two-and-a-half-hour seminar not only allowed them to consider ways to accommodate various disabilities in the renovation of existing homes, but to examine how homes could be designed better in the first place. Residential design is not bound by the Americans With Disabilities Act, but is becoming a more prevalent concern due to an aging population and the attendant health/mobility concerns. The students discussed the foresight of features such as zero-step entry; dimensional doors, hallways and counters that anticipate wheelchair use; and other accommodations that would be comparably expensive if added as an afterthought but, if designed properly from the outset, can invisibly add value and accessibility at the time of sale. The seminar was preceded last month by a practical exercise in which architecture students were outfitted by OTA majors with crutches, wheelchairs and blindfolds to get a small taste of what various disabilities are like.