Occupational Therapy meets Industrial Design

Four people are standing leaning over a large table with pens and paper and looking at a laptop. They appear to be discussing something.Co-design has gained attention as a good way to increase accessibility and useability.  However, there is another way to tackle the issues – interprofessional learning and teaching. When occupational therapy meets industrial design in the classroom the end result is a great learning experience for all.

Bringing designers to a better understanding of disability and accessibility remains a vexed issue. Many and varied attempts at teaching and learning have made some improvements. Some interdisciplinary work has also shown promise and perhaps it is worth building on this model. So this is what they tried at Thomas Jefferson University.

A group of occupational therapy doctoral students were embedded in a masters industrial design course. The doctoral students delivered lectures and learning activities for the masters students. Over the eight months there was time for students to share knowledge more informally. Occupational therapy students were also able to provide insights for student design projects.

The knowledge and insights gained by the masters students was nuanced and best measured qualitatively using mixed methods. They had originally hoped to quantify the knowledge gained. But perhaps this kind of learning is best measured by the accessibility of future designs. 

The purpose, methods and outcomes are reported in an article published in the ‘Journal of Accessibility and Design for All’. The article is titled, Insights from an inaugural eight-month interprofessional collaborative co-design educational experience between occupational therapy and industrial design. The discussion and conclusion section is worth a read.


The design of the built environment greatly impacts how all types of individuals and populations actively participate in their daily lives. Lack of access in the built environment for disabled populations remains a daily reality, negatively impacting engagement and life satisfaction, leading to isolation, loneliness, and depression. A university in the Northeastern United States sought to expand current constructs of the end-user and environment within a universal design (UD) perspective. On an eight-month inaugural interprofessional collaborative co-design experience, third-year occupational therapy doctoral (OTD) students were embedded in a first-year masters of industrial design (MSID) curriculum, which ran the course of the academic calendar (two consecutive semesters: Fall and Spring).

Primary aims wanted to determine, via an interrupted timeseries quantitative design, if embedding OTD students within the industrial design curriculum influenced the MSID students’ prior assumptions, understanding of disability and enhanced their willingness to create more inclusive final products. Quantitative findings indicated that it was difficult to capture the meaningful change that occurred in the doctoral capstone program experience with the existing psychometric tools available.

Anecdotal mixed-method findings indicated that informal interprofessional learning experiences in the classroom, such as lectures and learning activities created and facilitated by the OTD students and delivered in real-time, broadened and enhanced the MSID students’ knowledge surrounding disability and accessibility in a more nuanced way than the chosen quantitative survey tools were constructed to capture. A detailed literature review and description of the program have been provided, along with suggestions to capture meaningful outcomes for longer-term interdisciplinary collaborations.