When the built environment is poorly designed from a user perspective, it limits what people can do if they have a disability. On the other hand, if it is designed well, people can continue to do everyday tasks more easily and for longer. Collaboration between occupational therapists and architects is not new. However, there are barriers to interprofessional experiences that limit universal design solutions.
Architects having a preference for autonomy is one barrier. Differences in terminology, lack of understanding of each profession’s skill set and scope of practice is another.
A conference poster captures the essence of a study on improving collaboration between occupational therapists and architects. The aim is to improve universal design in new homes and community buildings. The title of the poster is Collaboration between Occupational Therapists and Architects to Incorporate Universal Design to Increase Accessibility.
Beyond compliance with occupational therapists
Accessible built environment advisors and practitioners know that it’s an uphill battle to get clients to go beyond compliance. However, if the client agrees, it might be time to go beyond compliance with occupational therapists.
Occupational therapists (OTs) and universal design have much in common, say James Lenker and Brittany Perez. In their paper they argue the case for including the skills and knowledge of OTs across the spectrum of design disciplines and in research activities. Inter-disciplinary collaboration is the key.
The title of the Lenker and Perez article is, The role of occupational therapists in universal design research. This three page paper is easy to read and promotes the importance of collaboration for the best universal design outcomes.
OTs are involved in home modifications, but rarely considered in the public domain. They hold key information about how our minds and bodies interact with the built environment. So they can sometimes bring new solutions to the table with universal design.
A short text and voice video from the UD Project in the United States on occupational therapists collaborating with designer.
Guide for OTs on universal design
Apeksha Gohil has devised a universal design guide for OTs. The aim of the guide is for OT practitioners to offer universal design solutions. The guide is a three stage stepwise process to reach universal design solutions beyond compliance and prescriptive standards.
Gohil agrees that stakeholders are primarily interested in what is required by the law. However, it is important to create awareness about user participation and co-design a part of the design process. One of the aims of the guide is to create awareness about role of OTs in universal design and create best practice examples.
The Universal Design Consultation Guide for Occupational Therapy Practitioners is structured as a step by step guide. The document is available on ResearchGate, or you can download directly as a PDF document.
You can also find out more from Elizabeth Ainsworth and Desleigh de Jonge about the relevance and application of universal design in occupational therapy practice on the ResearchGate website.