Photo by: Steve Wright

The Ins and Outs of Good Urban Design (Season 5, Episode 3)

Inclusive Designers Podcast
Inclusive Designers Podcast
The Ins and Outs of Good Urban Design (Season 5, Episode 3)

By: Janet Roche & Carolyn Robbins

  • Hosted By: Janet Roche
  • Edited by: Jessica Hunt
  • Guests: Meg O’Connell & Steve Wright
  • Photo Credit: Steve Wright

The Ins and Outs of Urban Design   (Season 5, Episode 3)

Inclusive Designers Podcast: What are the best practices for Urban Design? Whether it’s getting around in our cities and streets, or within the buildings where we work, IDP explores the barriers that exist every day in terms of accessibility!

Guests Meg O’Connell and Steve Wright share their views on urban design for disabilities in the workplace and beyond. Plus how to create spaces that work for everybody- without special considerations or accommodations- because they’re already built into the environment. And pet peeves? Yes, they share them too!


Meg O’Connell – is the founder and CEO of ‘Global Disability Inclusion’. She is an award-winning disability inclusion expert who provides strategic direction, design, and implementation of disability employment and inclusion programs. Her clients include Global 500 companies, plus foundations, universities, and nonprofits.

Meg is also involved in disability employee research.  She co-authored ‘The State of Disability Employee Engagement’ to help companies understand the workplace experiences of their employees with disabilities.

Meg on Accessibility- “It’s not a facilities issue. Not a building issue. Not an maintenance issue. Everyone has a responsibility to it”

– Contact (LinkedIn): Meg O’Connell

Steve Wright – is a educator, communicator, and award-winning journalist who is an advocate for positive change. He has presented on design issues and solutions at national conferences, and advises clients on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. As a storyteller, he creates content for major non-profits and corporations.

Steve believes in creating a better built environment with a focus on inclusion, dignity, and non-segregating design for people with disabilities.

Steve on Design- “The COVID pandemic has proven that the way we build and plan must be safe, accessible and inclusive for all.”

– Contact (LinkedIn): Steve Wright

– References: 

– Articles: 


The Ins and Outs of Good Urban Design
(Season 5, Episode 3)
Guests: Meg O’Connell & Steve Wright

(Music / Open)

Janet: In this series we will be discussing specific examples of design techniques that make a positive difference for people living with certain human conditions.

Carolyn: The more a designer understands the client and or the community the more effective and respectful the design will be.

(Music / Intro)

Janet: Welcome to Inclusive Designers Podcast, I am your host, Janet Roche…

Carolyn: and I am your moderator, Carolyn Robbins…

Janet: We have a lovely show for everyone today! We will be discussing the benefits of urban planning with an inclusive focus. We’ll also explore the barriers that exist every day in terms of accessibility when designing buildings that meet employee’s needs… from the outside on the street, to the entrances, and all the spaces within.


Carolyn: … like kitchens, conference rooms, and of course, bathrooms to name just a few.


Janet: We are honored to have not one but two dynamic guests with us today. Meg O’Connell & Steve Wright to talk about designing for disabilities in the workplace and beyond.


Carolyn: Before we hear from them directly, let me tell you a little more about our guests…


Steve Wright primarily calls himself a Storyteller— which he is— but he is also an educator, award-winning journalist, and advocate for positive change. He has presented on Universal Design issues and solutions at national conferences. And advises clients on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.


Janet: In all these roles, his goal is to create a better built environment with a focus on inclusion, dignity, and non-segregating design for people with disabilities.


Carolyn: And we also are delighted that Meg O’Connell is joining us. She is the CEO & founder of Global Disability Inclusion. Meg is an award-winning disability inclusion expert who provides strategic direction, design and implementation of disability employment and inclusion programs. Her clients include Global 500 companies- including some of the world’s most recognized brands- plus foundations, universities, and nonprofits.


Janet: Meg is also involved in disability employee research.  She co-authored ‘The State of Disability Employee Engagement’ to help companies understand the workplace experiences of their employees with disabilities.


Carolyn: I think you can see why we are so excited to get their views on this topic. Steve and Meg will share their pet peeves and advice on what designers can do to design it right the first time.


Janet: I wanted to have them on together because they both have a lot to say about urban design and workplace challenges for disabilities, but from own perspectives.


Carolyn: We think you’ll agree. And with that, here is our interview with Meg O’Connell & Steve Wright…


(Music / Interview)

Janet: Hi, and welcome to Inclusive Designers. I’m your host Janet Roche, and with me today I have Steve Wright and Meg O’Connell. Thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?

Meg: I’m great.

Steve: Yeah, great to be among friends old and new and just sharing lots of practical advice to good folks.

Janet: Great. Thank you. It’s more a natural conversation as opposed to a specific set of questions… so let’s just dive right on in.

I noticed that like, you guys have a lot of different hands in a lot of different pots, we could talk about that. Maybe talking a little bit more about universal inclusion within urban settings?

Steve: Yeah, but certainly let’s definitely try to steer things, because Meg’s expertise is, you know, employment and training and inclusion on that end. And let’s be honest, it’s no exaggeration that there’s like 10 different databases or stats from Fed, etcetera, that show that people with disabilities are still under and unemployed compared to education or ability. It’s not the underlying disability, which most of the regular world thinks, it’s a lot of times the filling the gaps. Is there accessible housing? Is there accessible transportation? Can you cross the street safely? (Janet: right). So it, to me it all folds together pretty well.

Janet: Yeah. Right. So of the two of you, is there anything you’d like to promote on this show? Meg, is there something that you would like to touch on and let our listeners know?

Meg: Yeah, and I think Steve mentioned it. The bulk of the work that we do is with companies and creating accessible and inclusive work environments. So when Steve talks about urban planning, it’s getting around in our cities and streets. And for me, it’s access in our buildings where people are employed. (Steve: um-hmm). And do we have the right universal design concepts in most buildings? (Steve: hmm). The answer is no, (Janet: no, chuckles), to ensure that this space is open and available to everyone.

And ultimately that’s what we want. We want environments that work for everybody, and we don’t have to have special considerations or accommodations made because they’re already built into the environment. (Steve: right).

Janet: Yeah, in terms of universal design. Right? So, maybe we could talk about the idea of what I saw in both of your postings in Miami— by the way, just for the listeners, love Miami. Miami’s amazing. Miami’s great. especially in terms of architecture too? (Steve: mmm). Right? Like some of the art deco areas, just incredible — but there was a particular building that you both had kind of pointed to, which was the health services building right there in Miami. (Steve: yeah). And Steve, you actually went there and documented it. (Steve: yeah, yeah), Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Steve: Sure, sure. And again, just, you know, to me, Universal Design— I should give credit. The person that founded that is a fellow by the name of the late Ron Mace. He’s passed away. He was a post-polio person. Brilliant fellow in the American Institute of Architects. Brilliant person. Wish I could have collaborated with him, but, you know, I think it’s really well worth it for every listener to understand that, you know, he probably could have called it “fella in a wheelchair” design or “disability community” design, but he picked universal.

As a marketer, I praise that. But I think it showed that, you know, getting around, being able to cross a crosswalk safely, whether it’s grandmother who’s a slower walker but doesn’t use a wheelchair and doesn’t view herself as officially disabled, (Janet: right), whether it’s small children. You know, I even wonder why we have these 30-second crossings instead of 45-seconds. (Janet: right). Because if a little 8-year-old starts to dart back, you’re stranded and here comes a wave of 3-lanes of sedans plowing at you.

Janet: Right, getting ready to plow you over. Actually, I just saw it this weekend too. New York City, 5th Avenue, as soon as their feet are kind of touching the ground on the street, like you can see the thing starting to blink already. And then there’s a whole panic, right? (Steve: right). And this kid is on one of those little razor scooters and poof, literally right in the middle of the road. And we’re down to like 5-seconds (Steve: right, right). And the kid is sprawled out, you know, I mean, thank God the kid was okay, but… (Steve: Right).

… and meanwhile, I’m trying to get my father, my 88-year-old father, across the street on the other direction. And he’s decided because the little ramp that they have there was all torn up and he didn’t like it. So he’s now going out into the traffic and around the bend in order to get back on the other side. (Steve: mm-hmm, mm-hmm). So, I mean, just to your point, right?

Steve: Yeah, yeah, you could almost call it ‘welcoming design’ or ‘comfortable design.’ (Janet: right). And I, unfortunately, there are some architects and planners and engineers that push back and feel like, “well, we didn’t do this when I was growing up. Why now?” And I always point out, it’s comfortable. It’s not like it’s some special interest.

Yes, certainly, if there is not a ramp, a person with a wheelchair can’t get in most likely. And they do not want to be carried because their mobility device is an extension of their body. So it almost be like grabbing you by the rear end and the throat to carry up the steps, but…  (Janet: chuckles).

Yeah, but again, it’s just, I don’t think anybody, I don’t think Michael Phelps from the Olympics won all the medals, I don’t think anybody that, all of a sudden balloon up to 500-pounds because there were curb ramps or safer crosswalks or wider sidewalks or buildings that had welcoming entrances. It’s just this, I like healthy design, but there’s almost like this mythology that if we build it accessible, we somehow cut off exercise, which is kind of silly. (Janet: really?). Yeah. (Janet: huh).

Meg: Well, and I think Steve, to your point, the flip side is the aesthetics. (Steve: yeah). Architects are really proud of what they design and interesting features. (Janet: right). And they’re afraid of putting a wheelchair ramp in the front of the building, instead of behind the building, (Steve: mmm). will somehow take away from the appeal of what the building looks like, (Steve: right). (Janet: the aesthetics). The aesthetics of the building. (Janet: right).

And universal design marries design and function. (Steve: right). So the challenge really for architects is how do you create something that’s beautiful that is also accessible. (Steve: correct). And the most people possible have access to enter your fabulous building that you’ve created. (Janet: right). Or even the boring office building you’ve created. (Janet: laughs, yeah).

Steve: Yeah. No, you are so correct. And I have seen mosaic tiles. I’ve seen plexiglass that you see through. I, I don’t want to be mean at all to my brethren, but if you think you can only build the Spanish steps or, or some replica of it and everything else is second class, (Janet: right), or VA hospital (Janet: hmm), and smells bad and is dated and all has to be painted gray and ugly, (Janet: chuckles), you’re, you’re not a good designer. (Janet: yeah).

You know, I mean, again, forgive me for riffing, but here in Florida, we have sea level rise issues and hurricanes and horrible stories. Yeah. Every building here, even the retrofitting, the older ones, you better be out of the flood plain. You better be resilient for even no name storms that are going to dump a ton of water. (Janet: yeah).

Yeah. That might alter what they did 80-years ago. That doesn’t make every one of those buildings poisoned and terrible. And we were talking before about the cold of the North and the heat of the South. So you, you know, there were ancient buildings that were built before air conditioning. Now you’ve retrofitted. Nobody says, ‘Oh my God, it’s so horrible because there’s a compressor on the roof.’ So…

Janet: Right. Those are excellent points. Steve, I love that. I mean, it’s very simple, right? We do that all the time.

Steve: Yeah. Design is fluid (laughs).

Janet: Right, yeah.

Meg: Totally. And Steve, I know you and I have talked about this. Steve and I are both in different parts of Florida. (Steve: yeah). And Florida is the, you know, retirement capital — Arizona’s coming up strong behind us— (Janet: laughs), for the retirement capital of the United States. Less than 1-percent of the homes are built for accessibility. (Steve: right). So you have an aging population that are building houses and they don’t know any better. They’re not thinking 20-years from now, I’m not going to be able to use the stairs. (Janet: right). They’re thinking “I’m 60, I’m retired, I’m going to move near the beach,” and our builders aren’t thinking about it. (Steve: right).

And my husband and I live in an older home and we’re likely going to tear down at some point. We’ve started talking to builders. And every time I talk to a builder and say, ‘this is our aging in place home,’ (Steve: mm-hmm), ‘we’re going nowhere else after this. We have to talk about universal design concepts.’ (Steve: mmm).  Three builders. ‘What’s that?’ (Janet: gasps, wow). (Steve: right, right). ‘Do you mean ADA.’ ‘No, I mean better than ADA.’ And they just don’t know. (Janet: Wow).

Steve: Yeah. Boy you, you really throw out a perfect point, Meg, (Janet: yeah), because, uh, there’s so many contractors and architects that they, even when you tell them what you want, they want to push back. (Meg: mm-hmm).

I did an interview within my past year, year or two. There’s a woman by the name of Patricia Belmont, I believe she’s in the Texas area. Belmont Senior Living, you know, I wish I had one-one-hundredth of her pocketbook because I think she’s become very wealthy building senior housing. And very interestingly, there’s 2 things, instead of that idea of building in the middle of nowhere with cheaper land, she’s filing building vertically.

Now it is in major cities, but you know, like the one in Miami, it’s going to have a health system connected right to it, so you can have your urgent care and checkups. And it’s right by a rail station, which sometimes people say, ‘Oh, that’s so urban and frightening’ but people want to get on the train, and they’re recognizing that maybe in their mid-seventies they might not be good at driving (Janet: yeah), or they might already have low vision. (Janet: right).

And the other thing she told me, that her like marketing and design people said, ‘Oh yeah, people don’t want to think of disability even if it’s around the corner. They want to be healthy. You know, when you sell these communities that charge 5-, 6- thousand a month, you want it to be sexy, and you’re pretending you’re 38-years old or what have you, even if the client’s 68.”

And they built tub showers. (Janet: gasps, groans). And they had some folks with some falls, and I’m sorry, she, it was sort of like, you know, the A-wing had walk in, roll in and the B-wing had tub showers. And when people started seeing the ease of transfer and the ability to just walk in, you know, and they had like rain forest shower heads. Again, it wasn’t, the VA hospital substandard, hadn’t been upgraded since the 40’s or something. It was sexy. It looked like an Aloft hotel or some cool thing. So they ended up, you know, they spent money to, (Janet: to make money), yeah…

Janet: … but to make money, and to make their residents happy and to have them stay. (Steve: yeah, right). And therefore with them staying, then the prices go up (Steve: right), because it’s a desired area, desired neighborhood, desired building to go into. (Steve: yeah). So yeah, I’m with you all the way on all of that. And so it’s an important piece. (Steve: yeah).

And I actually saw this old house, and they were showing an accessibility house and I crossed my arms and said, ‘okay, show me.’ Do you know what I mean? Like, I knew very well there were going to be issues. There were but there were very few and it was a very sleek and modern building. (Steve: yeah). It had a beautiful facade that you would never even know that there was a __ ramp there. And their daughter wasn’t necessarily in a wheelchair at that time, but they still put in an elevator. They put in a curb-less shower for her.

Again, there were a few details I think could have been changed. (Steve: hmm). And maybe they would be at some point or an easy retrofit at some point if she is in a wheelchair. But, you know, I probably try to contact him at some point because I think he’s a local guy. He did a really nice job. And that’s not always the case.

And Meg, I’ll tell you, it really blows my mind that none of the contractors in Florida wouldn’t know… you know, what does it take? Maybe 3, 4, 5-years ago, okay. (Meg: yeah). You know, it was just kind of burgeoning, but I feel like now that’s a little… it’s frightening. (Meg: right). (Steve: yeah). Right.

Meg: Well and what ends up happening is what nobody wants, right? You have to leave your home when you need care. (Steve: yeah). You can’t bring the care into your home because it’s not accessible for you to get into a bathroom if now you’re using a wheelchair or walker, or your doorways aren’t wide enough. (Steve: hmm). And so if you need additional support— even if it’s temporarily maybe due to a fall or something that’s longer term, a serious illness— you’re going to be forced to leave your home because it’s not accessible. (Janet: right). And we all know, some of those facilities are great, but the majority of them are not. (Janet: right). And nobody wants to be in any of those places. (Steve: hmm).

Janet: Right. And I’ll also take a step further with that, because then now you’re taking the generational wealth out of your family. Right? (Steve: yeah). That nest egg that you built for the house, within the house, now gone and you’ll have to, I mean, unless you’ve done some super planning, (Steve: yeah), but some of the times these things happen like this (finger snap). (Steve: right). And you will have to go sell your house and then give the money to the people that are taking care of you, (Steve: correct), instead of your, you know, children, your descendants who, that’s their inheritance that then they can’t get a leg up on. (Meg: yeah, that’s true).

Steve: And there’s so many simple solutions, you know, even just like a barn door, which, you know, you pick up a design, you know, whether it’s a real high or a mainstream design, and, you know, those are all sexy and cool. And just having one of those for your kitchen, but, you know, if they’re mounted, right, you can almost move those with a little finger. And that might replace the swinging door with the hinges because sometimes those 3-inches of hinges block the wheelchair or block the assistive mobility device. (Janet: right).

I’ve even seen conference rooms, you know, switching over to Meg with what she’s done with clients for helping people self-declare and, you know, getting good employees to be great employees because they’re comfortable with the accommodation they need. But even a conference room that has a wider entrance or isn’t clogged with furniture, (Janet: right),

You know, heaven help the person who thought, ‘Oh, you know, disabled people are only a charity case,’ and then your client rolls in in a chair and they’re the richest person from Columbia, but they leave miffed because they couldn’t get around or they went down the hall to an inaccessible restroom. You’re not going to get the commission from them. I don’t care whether you design widgets or you’re a big four accounting firm, You’re just, you’re not. So, if you want to take it from there, my friend (chuckles).

Janet: Right, or at the least you’re going to be extremely embarrassed. (Steve: yeah). I think the clogging of the accessible bathroom as storage (Steve: yeah), as always, one of my favorites, it’s not necessarily a design faux pas, but it’s just people going, ‘Oh, look at this big room. You know what? We should, we should put paper in here. (Meg: yeah). We should put paper and extra chairs in here. Right. And maybe a table or two.’ Laughs. (Steve: oh yeah).

Meg: Well, and years ago, this is going back decades, I worked for a regional bank, and we had an employee who was a wheelchair user, obviously looking to use the accessible stall. And time and time again, he would go in and there’d be other employees in there reading the newspaper in the larger stall while they did their business. And so we, you know, HR sent out several notes, please be respectful, don’t do this. So, and then of course people were still doing it. So then we had to put a lock on it (Janet: aw geez), and only the employee with the wheelchair had the key (Janet: had the key), or the janitor, (Steve: yeah).

And so it’s just about being respectful to the accessibility components that are in place. (Steve: yeah). And not using the stalls if you don’t need them because it’s roomier and you have a little bit more room for you and your suitcase and your purse or whatever else. I mean, we’ve all been guilty of it…

Janet: We’ve all, I was going to say, guilty as charged, right?

Meg: Yeah. Um, but you know, don’t do it. (Steve: right?).

Janet: Don’t do it. I know. Well, you know, but that goes back to also designing bathrooms correctly, right? (Steve: right). Like just in terms of universal design. And I, I love the Europeans, when they get to the United States, they come and there’s even like a little bit of a gap between the side bar and the actual door and they’re like, you but you can see people in there.

And it never even occurred to me until somebody had pointed it out, because Europeans have more of a connected, like, overlapping piece of the door. (Steve: hmm). So, but we don’t even design those bathrooms correctly. And don’t even get me started on women, and the lack of the amount of bathrooms for women, as opposed to like, it’s even, and it’s like, ‘okay, but we’ve got, oh, other things to do.’ (laughs).

Steve: Right, you bring up a great point, Janet, it makes you wonder, like you go to an airport, you know, MIA is like a city within a city, you know, Miami International Airport. (Janet: it’s huge, right).

And there’s a lot of dead space there. And it just makes you wonder as you’re retrofitting, why not, you know, why not make 13 stalls that are all the universal design ones.

So then if it is, the privileged feeling businessperson with a right, maybe I’d understand, you know, if it’s a really old historic building with a small floor plate, you might be doing flips and twists to fit it. (Janet: right, right). But when it’s something the size of, feels like 20 football fields, (Janet: yeah).

And by the same token, you know, I, forgive me, this is one of my pet peeves. I’ll go to— because I’m kind of an activist— and I’ll go to a meeting and in the morning, you know, they’ll say, ‘dear madam mayor or madam city manager, we have immigrants and we have school kids in the summer’ and I don’t care if it’s, find 4-million in the budget and we’ll push a pile of sand from one end of the tennis court to the other for make-work jobs because we have people that need a J.O.B. (Janet: right). Kind of an honorable thing. (Janet: right).

I’ll go in the afternoon and say, ‘Hey, why don’t you bid 3- of those 4-million towards contracting for inclusion? Hire local because a lot of the labor can be doing it and a disabled person could be writing up who did the labor or tracking it so it could be inclusive’ and they look at me like I just switched to a language that was unintelligible.

And you’re thinking, wait a minute, at 10am you were ready to pay 5-million dollars to push a load of sand from one end to the other. Surely you could tweak this thing and do, you know, connect some of your sidewalks, build things that are more inclusive. (Janet: chuckles). I’m not that bright, you know, I don’t have to go to the Ivy league to come up with that answer. So why can’t you plug that in? it’s just weird.

Janet: Right. well, one would think we’re still working on it, Steve, as you well know, and you guys are working really hard to make some of those changes possible. So, I mean, it’s, you know, you talk about a pet peeve. I have a lot of pet peeves (Steve: hmm), and they’re usually around inclusive design. Do you guys want to talk a little bit about your pet peeves in terms of inclusive design and what they, people have done? They like, ‘Hey, look, here’s like the cutout for the sidewalk. It goes in the middle of the crosswalk and the street, but here you go’.

Steve: Well, I’ve got an all-time one and it, I checked, it’s in all 50 state building codes. And I’m not saying, you know, nothing’s an absolute, right? I mean, just like we said, there may be a historic property or very old building you want to save with a small floor plate. (Janet: right), So it’s not like it’s across the board, but I don’t, I think the company someday will probably sue me. I’ll open up my mail and get some ding letter, (Janet: cease and desist), but limited use, limited access lifts.

And again, I mean, that’s a little bit of inside baseball for some listeners, but they’re sort of those outdoor elevators. They’re very small and I’ve yet to see one that’s not key operated. Well, you think about it, you know, is it the doorman? Is it the janitor who can… the key goes missing within 6-weeks of it being deployed. And they tend to be used in very urban areas. And unfortunately, like South Beach, if there’s something like that, it becomes where the beer bottles get thrown or where, you know, someone uses it as a de facto bathroom when they’re 3-sheets to the wind. (Janet: yeah). It just, it happens, and you can’t use it and it’s the only way of getting in.

So you basically, you might have built a mixed-use thing with, you know, 20 restaurants and 10 bars and everything. Basically, you might as well just say, you might as well just fly an airplane over with one of those trailing ads on the beach saying, you know, we intentionally discriminate against people with disabilities with mobility issues because it’s not going to work. (Janet: laughs).

I talk to architects, and I say, ‘well, why do you do this? And they said, ‘well, it’s in the code and it passed inspection.’ (Janet: yeah). And I said, ‘but I’m a living, breathing person telling you it’s going to fail. Would you, you know, if you built a roof for a skyscraper out of laminated cardboard and somehow it kept the rain out on inspection day and passed. Would you go home knowing the roof is going to cave in on your 38-story building and say, ‘ha ha’ (Janet: oh, well), you know, ‘we passed at noon when the inspector’ (Janet: we passed the code, right. chuckles), yeah, the inspector waddled over for 20-minutes at noon in March. It’s, you know, it’s good. No, because your clients would shoot you.

So why, why… again, maybe, I’m just feeling like that those kinds of lifts should be by a variance where, you know, you’d have to prove that it’s a super narrow lot and it’s a tight lot. And I think some designers put it in because I’m guessing, you know, a little turn ramp doesn’t have a big markup if you sell them 3, 6-thousand-dollar lifts, you probably make, you know, you probably mark it up. I hate to be so cynical, but the design firm probably puts a little markup on that. So they probably love them. (Janet: yeah).

Forgive me for rambling and I will shut up, but, Michael Graves, the late architect, very famous modernist architect, happened to get a viral infection that invaded his spinal cord and used a power wheelchair for mobility for about the last decade of his life. He taught at University of Miami, so I got to meet him and there’s literally a thing that was called ‘Ocean Steps’ at the very top of world-famous Ocean Drive in Miami Beach.

And when he was the able-bodied multi-millionaire star architect, he built 3 of those LULA lifts, which completely fell apart within about a year of— a year is probably being generous— within a month of installation. So, you know, whether it was Starbucks coffee or the Russian caviar place, you couldn’t go to them and your families couldn’t. (Janet: yeah).

So anyway, he was one of the few people within his lifetime retrofitted and spent time building all kinds of product design with fatter handles and easier to move paddles. So he, he’s probably one of the few that sort of got to undo his sins while he was still rolling about the earth. (laughs).

Janet: That’s actually really interesting. I would like to hear more about that at some point. (Steve: yeah), like, because I think, you know, to your point, it was an architect going back in and kind of scrubbing down, you know, like you said, the sins that he had created which, sometimes you have to spend a, just even a little bit of time, you know, in somebody else’s, in this case, maybe a wheelchair or whatever, (Steve: oh yeah), just to have that ability to be like, wait a minute, maybe this isn’t working. (Steve: yeah, yeah).

I know that I’ve told this story before on the podcast, which is, I teach over at the Boston Architectural College (Steve: yeah), and not only when I was a student there getting my master’s, but also when I taught, one of the best things we ever did was to take a wheelchair and go around the city of Boston.

Now I know it’s controversial because, you know, it’s one of those things where, like, the person in the chair could go and easily stand up and take care of, whatever it is they need to do. (Steve: right). But, you know, there were definitely some eye openers there that were just incredible. (Steve: right).

And I think, I mean, I know it stuck with me. I know it stuck with the students. And we also had, like the dean come with us on one of the trips and we were trying to find the accessible way to get to the T. (Meg: yup). And this is the local subway system around here in case you don’t know. (Steve: yeah).

And he could not fathom that there wasn’t an accessibility at the train, this particular train station on Mass Ave here in the Back Bay. (Steve: yeah). And he just, I let him do his thing. Right. I let him walk around and he’s like, ‘well, it’s got to be over here.’

We went into Target, got into the elevator in Target because it’s over the subway and he’s like, ‘well, you got to press the button and go downstairs’ and there was no button to press. I mean, I went with him to, you know what I mean, to go through this process and he just couldn’t imagine it. And then, you know, it’s the wintertime, so now we have to walk and or then push the person in the wheelchair a mile (Steve: hmm, hmm) to get to either train station. And this is right in the heart of Boston.

And now I know that they are changing that. They’ve redone a whole bunch of stuff in that particular area and part of the promissory note was for them to go and change that train station which should include some sort of accessibility. (Steve: yeah). If not, I’m going to be very upset. (Steve: hmm). But yes (laughs).

But anyways, I mean, so Meg, tell me a little bit more about your experience, you know, talk to our listeners, and tell us a little bit more about the work that you’re doing, and maybe how other designers could get involved.

Meg: Yeah. So the work that we do is primarily with companies to help them create better workplaces for people with disabilities. So that covers everything from policies, programs, procedures around inclusion at the different touch points that companies have where they engage with their employees— from recruiting to onboarding; to learning and development; and performance management— all of those things.

And it also includes digital accessibility and physical accessibility. We have a client now who wants a physical accessibility audit. They’re in a new building. They don’t own the building, but they want to make sure that the 4 floors that they are on are in fact accessible and so that they can share their expectations with people that own the building. So we’re really helping companies move to that more inclusive design in every aspect of their business.

So, we see it all the time where companies don’t have an accommodations policy for employees that may need either different digital equipment to help them perform better at work, or just even, you know, not thinking about— I think you mentioned it earlier— having conference rooms where there is open seating for people with wheelchairs, you’re not having to move furniture around.

Making sure that people know how to turn on the captioning in the meetings, so, you know, people that maybe are hard of hearing, or English is their second language, or ‘Hey, I just didn’t catch what they say, but I can see it in the captions.’ (Steve: hmm).

We all watch movies with captioning on now, right? (Janet: laughs. it makes it better, right). You know, people are watching videos at work with the captions on, so they’re not interrupting their coworkers. In some ways, we’re seeing universal design components ramping up, like in the captioning example, that’s gotten a whole resurgence. Captioning meetings that became a real thing during COVID.

And so we’re seeing companies adopt those as standard operating practices now to be more inclusive to everybody. So that’s great. We still have largely organizations thinking a person with a disability is a person in a wheelchair, (Janet: right), and we’ve kind of done that to ourselves, right? (Janet: we have). We got the iconic wheelchair symbol everywhere.

Janet: I was going to say the iconic wheelchair, right? Yeah.

Meg: But you know, 1-in-4 adults in the U.S. has a disability (Janet: right), and 80-percent of those are invisible disabilities. So, you know, we tell folks, we coach both employers and employees, ask for what you need. It doesn’t always have to be about your disability.

Say things like, you know, we tell folks with dyslexia all the time that don’t do well with, ‘Oh, we’ve walked in a room, we’re handing out a 10-page PowerPoint deck. Now we’re all going to discuss it,’… that’s not going to work for somebody with dyslexia that really wants to engage but doesn’t have the processing time.

So, ask, ‘I need materials at least 24 hours in advance.’ You know, what do you need in your workplace to make it better for you? And then as employers and managers are getting those requests, they’re going to know what works better for their team. And bottom line is it’s not just the person with dyslexia, everyone wants that PowerPoint 24 hours in advance. So they have time to read it and be prepared with questions. Come into the meeting with something that’s thought provoking. So we’re really trying to encourage more things like that, where tell us what you need, let’s accommodate you that way, and let’s create better workplaces for everybody.

But I think that the biggest obstacle that we’ve been talking about is the retrofitting of buildings. You know, we don’t have folks thinking about that as much as they should. And then, you know, things are broken all the time. The automatic manual door goes out or I’ll see signs up that say only employees who need this should use it, so not to wear down the motor. But meanwhile, everyone wants to use it because they’re bringing in, you know, bags and suitcases and briefcases and heavy things and they have things in their arms and hitting it with their hips, so the door opens for them. So they don’t have to struggle to get in. That works for everybody.

It’s not just about the people with disabilities. So I think for full circle, it’s about how do we create universal design, meaning how do we create our spaces that work for everybody? (Steve: yeah). And the workplace is an area where we really need that commitment to creating workplaces that work for everyone. (Steve: right).

Janet: Yeah, right. A lot of people who are disabled for one reason or another might not be able to get to work or to be at work. I think there’s some more grace period now because of the fact that we can zoom and stuff like that, right? (Meg: um-hmm). So we’re not as tethered to the old desk and chair. And well, for at least a good 30-years, the cubicle, (Meg: yeah, laughs), approach that I think we probably all suffered through at some point. I know I did. But it’s, you know, it’s such an important piece, you know, and it’s also about leveling the field of equality. And so that’s a really important part of all this. (Meg: yeah), (Steve: oh). Steve, you want to jump in?

Steve: Yeah. (Janet: yeah). You hit the perfect nerve here with the leveling the playing field thought. (Janet: laughs). I think we open with this image that I like to share of the, it’s basically the board of health building for Miami. And a lot of the people that go to it are lower income, not everyone, but it’s, you know, it’s part of the safety net for inoculations and all kinds of ongoing care and checkups, et cetera.

And they’re all proud of it because it’s a Leed, Gold building. (Janet: right). So it’s got its sustainability and it’s out of the floodplain. But in building out of the floodplain, what you really see from the street is the main entrance is up a grand staircase. And now there is a ramp entrance. It goes to the same lobby. I kind of fanatically check it every other month (Janet: chuckles). And it is open, you know, because sometimes here’s one of your problems. If you build a segregating entrance for your access, a lot of places lock it. (Janet: yes). Retail- it’s very common; restaurant- very common. (Janet: yes).

Because ‘Oh, somebody’s going to dine and dash’ (Janet: right). Or, you know, been a million stories lately about how some retail places are, they’re in the best corner in Manhattan, but they’re thinking of shutting down because there’s so much theft. (Janet: right).

And nobody goes back and has the architect shaking their fist, well 18-years ago we built this alternate entrance and when you lock it, you’re going to destroy it for everyone in a chair (Janet: right). Or not just chair, even just a slow walker or Canadian crutches. It’s much bigger than that, right? Obviously, low vision people like graded ramps rather than trying to tackle something that you may have a depth perception issue or something like that. So once again, it’s, it’s much more universal than just someone in a power chair. (Janet: right).

But again, it’s just that when I gave a talk about that building. And I don’t want to knock it, it’s actually a person I know was the main designer. But just when you put that little baby sign pointing you a whole block down the street, think about back to Meg’s, you know, her bread and butter. Think if she helped coach them and do the right thing.

And again, it’s not charity because people with disabilities are very good at problem solving and they’re incredibly resourceful because we have an environment that makes you do that because we get from point A to B, you get up early and plot out and you’re a natural problem solver. It’s a stereotype, but it’s a positive one. (Janet: right).

But anyhow, even if you’re not just a visitor that gets intimidated or you’re not sure where the other entrance is, think if you’re a person with disability and you know, where do you make your points with the boss to get that corner office or to go from being an entry level to project manager?

You walk and roll on the way to lunch. Well, you know, you go down your 4 stories in the elevator. You can BS with them then. You get ready to go with a couple people. And ‘Oh, you know, here’s a little sparky in a wheelchair, you got to go all the way down, all the way back. If it’s starting to rain, you know, you, you separate from the group. (Janet: right). You’re giving all these visual cues that you’re, you’re second rate or you’re around the bend.

Janet: And that is a huge part of all this as well. You bring up a good point Steve that that also makes you feel inferior. And I mean it just doesn’t, it doesn’t work. (Steve: yeah). And when I was telling you about that class that I did, it wasn’t just the train station.

I would also bring him to a coffee shop, (Steve: yeah). and it was smack dab in the middle of the street, not, couldn’t be any more smack dab in the middle of the street. (Steve: um-hmm).

And, it was downstairs, which is not uncommon around here. And it had 3, kind of zigzag steps going down. There was no lift or anything of that sort. (Steve: hmm). They had the very, the nicest looking accessibility plates I’ve ever seen before in my life. They were brass. They were very shiny. They were basically like pointing you to go to either side of the block to go around the block to go into the alley, which is what we’ve got here.

So you’ve literally now had to go around the block into the alley where the garbage is kept, where the, the cars are kept, right? (Steve: huh). Like this is sort of the unsightly parts of Boston (Steve: uh-huh). And then I couldn’t even believe it. They didn’t even have a cutout on because there’s like a little bit of a lip between the street and the parking areas, which is fine for like a car, right? Or like, you’re walking a bicycle, but if you are in a wheelchair or if you’ve got something large, it just doesn’t work.

And the last time I did it, we got to the door, the doorbell wasn’t even working. (Steve: oh yeah). So you’ve done all this, like you said, you have separated yourself from the rest of the group. You have now gone to the back of the building. You are there by yourself.

Maybe… it’s New England… could be raining, could be snowing, could be the heat of day, right? Only find out that the doorbell’s not working! There was a telephone. They were able to call. The person came out, just kind of flung open the door, (Steve: oh yeah, oh yeah), and didn’t even hold the door for them.

It was a group of the students, and they didn’t know where they were going, so they got in the elevator. And they ended up going up all the way up to the top floor, which was somebody’s apartment, apparently. And so they started going into the apartment thinking that it was the coffee shop. It just kind of goes to show you, you know, Steve, to your point, you know, by then, I would have gotten my coffee already and I would have already gone. (Steve: oh yeah). It’s just, (Meg: yup). Yeah, it’s crazy. (Meg: absolutely).

Steve: That’s why it is so important to have public transit functional. Again, you know, all due respect to Michael Bloomberg and all those super tall buildings and saying, you know, if we zone to the sky, we’ll have money to fix the problems.

You know, and I know the M.T.A. is not the city itself, It’s like another layer of government for the transit.  (Janet: Manhattan is really bad). Yeah, as we said, you know, not even 1-in-4 stations are wheelchair accessible. Unless you own a helicopter, a CEO, you know, the fastest way to get, you know, from the Bronx to a meeting in Union Square or vice versa is that train. (Janet: yeah). You know, you see millionaires riding the train because it’s efficient, you know, you don’t, can’t take 4 hours into traffic. (Janet: chuckles). you know. (Meg: uh-huh).

And then, you know, you turn around and of that 1-out-of-4, half the elevators are broken on any given day (Janet: yeah). And then and somebody says, well, but you’ve got 1-of-4, that’s not bad. But, you know, you find these weird things where the northbound train, there is the platform with the elevator, the southbound is not. So you can’t really work there or live there because you can’t do a 50-percent commute. (Janet: chuckles). You know, you’re not. What are you supposed to (Janet: stop), you know, get a, get a wheelchair that has a bed inside it that, (Janet: laughs). you know, whatever, you know, 3-in-1, you know…

Janet: Well I will challenge you, Steve, to design that. That actually sounds pretty, pretty handy, right? (both laugh).

Steve: There you go. It’s like those, like the business class seats that I never get to sit in, the fold out, you know, but… (laughs)

Janet: … it’s just glorified larger seats, that’s all.

Steve: You know. Forgive me for, if I’m rambling or riffing, but it just. You know, we have one of the ugliest histories in our entire nation is of segregation, (Janet: yeah). You know, certainly based on race, not that, by gender too as far as pay, that’s still a gap.

But I just, I sometimes I go to an architect and they’re designing a brand-new building and it’s like, “Hey, wait a minute. You know, the access is way off the back and it’s like we’re saying, ‘Oh, it’s by the dumpster’ and, (Janet: yeah). And with all respect, the homeless person, so it might even be dangerous.

And then there’s the, the big button that’s as likely to electrocute you as it is to actually work and signify to somebody to go get it. And maybe they’re used to near-do-wells ringing the big button. So they just ignore it, even if it does buzz, (Janet: and there’s something you said for that, right, yeah).

And I look at them, I say, “you know, with all due respect” I said, “you’re an inclusive person,” I said, “you know, would you put a headline in the Miami Herald saying, you know, brand new development or retrofitted historic building, you know, people in Orthodox Jewish garb, please call 2 weeks ahead to schedule, or please, you know, wait and get rained on by the dumpsters, or, you know, Hispanic people need not have the expectation of spontaneity at this restaurant.”

“Please, please send us a registered letter and please beg and please only call when Steve’s on duty to usher you through the kitchen and through the stinky garbage and then we’ll take your money for the tomahawk steak, but only then will we…” you know, we, I would hope to God as an inclusive society that, that loves our brethren, you know, we’d all be marching or it’d be the first thing on the 6-o’clock news or the big Twitter feed saying, “oh my God, look at this place, what it does.” (Janet: right).

And yet disability. You know, it’s hard to even get the news producer to come out and do that. They just kind of roll their eyes like, well, at least they let them in. (Janet: wow) And it’s like, what do you mean them? (Janet: yeah). That’s pejorative. You know, there’s that word ableism, that’s a fairly new word, but it’s, it sounds like racism. And on any given day, it can be as toxic and hurtful and detrimental.

Janet: Yeah, all you could do is like, take that word disabled out of that sentence and put in any other group. (Steve: yeah), You know, people would just be completely outraged. (Steve: yeah).

So, yeah. And so, like Meg, I know that you, I mean, do you guys, I mean, I love the fact that the both of you probably do a lot of advocacy work as well, (Meg: yup) on behalf of people with different abilities. Is that correct?

Meg: Yeah, it is. And we try to give people to— and I’m going back a few points to like the coffee shop example— because we tell everybody accessibility and inclusion is not a facilities issue. It’s not a building maintenance issue. Everyone has a responsibility to it. (Steve: good point).

Everyone in your company needs to know the accessibility features, how to access them, where they are, where the accessible parking places in your building? Most people don’t know that. How many do you have? How do you reserve one? If your team has favorite restaurants that you go out to, or you’re a recruiter and you take people out to lunch, what are the 10 restaurants in your 5-mile radius that you know are truly accessible?

And have that list handy. A lot of times that you’re in a zoom meeting like this, you’re interviewing a candidate, you don’t know if they’re a wheelchair user. They didn’t tell you. They show up. They called accessible transportation. Well now, their meetings ran long, they need another pickup. (Steve: um-hmm). Does anybody know where to call? Does anybody know how to access that?

So just thinking about the day-to-day logistics and thinking about people with disabilities and how to make sure that they’re included, that you’re not going to that coffee shop that has four steps down and you got to go in the back.

We see this being an activity that employee resource groups for people with disabilities will do. (Steve: mm-hmm). Let’s go. Let’s send a couple of people out. Or when you go to your next restaurant, eyeball these 5 things. Like, if a 2-inch step makes it inaccessible for someone in a wheelchair or someone with a walker or other mobility issues.

So really having that list. And, you know, having them at your home too. Of knowing, ‘oh, if you have a party or a friend shows up’, and ‘oh, you didn’t realize they had an injury and now they’re on crutches’ or whatever. You know, so, we try to give folks really thinking about access and inclusion as part of their day to day. And how you would any other team event that accessibility should be a part of it, whether it’s just going out to lunch, interviewing a new candidate.

This one company that we worked with, they would welcome somebody at the main level and then their interview rooms were on the second floor, and they have this beautiful spiral staircase that went right up, (Janet & Steve both laugh), but it was an older building that had been retrofitted and the elevators were a quarter of a mile down the hallway.

So no one thought about that, you know, so now everybody’s got to walk a little farther. This takes them extra time. (Steve: mm-hmm). Now they’re going to be late for their first interview because they had to take the 10-minutes to roll down the hallway, being escorted by somebody else and go another quarter mile back. (Janet: back, right. laughs).

So thinking about those practical things of, you know, candidates with a disability and not even, I mean, somebody in a wheelchair, they actually can move pretty quickly, but what if it’s someone with cerebral palsy (Steve: right, right), or someone, you know, with Parkinson’s (Steve: oh yeah), that maybe can’t move as quickly or has more difficulty. (Steve: yeah).

Janet: …but still walking, (Steve: pulmonary issues). Pulmonary issues, right. (Meg: right). Is there, do you guys know… I’m sitting here every time I’m listening to the two of you talk— I know that there’s the WELL AP for buildings and as you mentioned, Steve, the LEED, right? That’s sustainability. It’s about air quality. WELL takes it a step further. (Steve: hmmm). But is there any other design measures that people…?

Meg: … this is what we need to create. Steve (laughs)…

Steve: We do, I know, I know, we do…

Janet: I was going to say, we got to go create it! We can go create it! Just because I don’t have enough on my plate, but I think we could. (chuckles).

Steve: No, no. There’s, obviously maybe there’s a little bit of cynicism with the U.S. green building council and how it’s kind of propagates and gotten so huge. But no, I mean, now resilience is just a ‘for granted.’ You know, those giant teacher funds that, you know, build or buy those buildings in Manhattan, they want the thing to be LEED Gold or better.

They don’t want to touch it without that, you know, went from a ‘what’s that?’ or ‘is that just something for nerds?’ or ‘is that something Brad Pitt mentioned in New Orleans after Katrina,’ (Meg: right), to ‘it’s mainstream’… it’s as mainstream as having air conditioning in a parking deck, you know, so (Janet: right). No, we need that. We need that.

Janet: Well, I even say is that that now is baked in, right? (Steve: um-hmm, um-hmm), WELL has now come since then, Trauma-informed Design, which I’m a part of, will be coming in right after that. I mean, it’s a changing field for sure. (Steve: right, right).

Meg: We need some certified sort of universal design quest that

Janet: … quest, checklist. Right.

Meg: Yeah, that architects…

Steve: We need a triumvirate of like…

Janet: an understanding, an understanding and process… that’s the other part. (Steve: correct). (Meg: yeah).

Steve: Yeah. And you actually have an independent body, and you know, you can have your ceremony and put up your little cornerstone that says it. I mean, it should be a thing, you know, it should be like getting 4-diamonds from the AAA or so. It’s a pride thing. (Janet: right).

Now, I certainly, well, I’m not a rich man because I probably kill half my potential clients by telling them what they did wrong. And if they don’t want to move towards heaven, they don’t get, you know, I don’t work with them, but, you know…

Janet: (laughs). Well, you’re still surviving Steve, so, you know, right…

Steve: yeah, oh, I’m, life is very good, and I don’t need Bill Gates lifestyle. (Janet: yeah, yeah. laughs). But anyhow, um, no, but just, you know, to maybe end on my part on a positive, because I, you know, when you point out what’s wrong, sometimes it comes off as negative, (Janet: right). And again, I’ve always been a person, you know, that wanting to see all different people or, or that wealth of diversity was just something that seemed natural to me, and it’s just grown. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with creatives that have felt that way.

Not that the whole world we’re, we’re in a very polarized world, certainly as we live in, but not to overly do it. But to go back to that, that race based thing. First, we introduced the negativity, but, (Janet: yeah), you know, you can all tell me I’m handsome and look 38 or something, but I roll 60 next year.

So that means I’m old enough to remember when very unfortunately, some architects might’ve said, ‘Oh, this person’s African American, but, and they’re top of their class from a very good school, but they will probably be a glorified drafts person because I’m not sure if my clients are ready to see a person of color closing the deal or managing the project. (Janet: right).

Or again, maybe it’s terrible for me to say as a male, but I certainly know even at the newspaper I worked at, there were like city editors and managing editors that they would not give the most prime beat to a woman because there’s all these stereotypes of, ‘Oh, as soon as we get her trained to cover city hall, she’ll have a kid.’ (Janet: right).

Or you know, ‘there’ll be this time that she’s under the weather and that’ll be right when we are fighting with the other crosstown paper or the news to break it.’ You know, just terrible pejorative. But lo and behold, some of those women who maybe took the ‘crappier’ beat and worked through it became the publisher or the managing editor. (Janet: right).

And, that case that I happen to know with a small architecture firm when I thought maybe that was what I would do instead of criticizing and writing about it, because I can’t do the math or the, you know, the building would fall down if I were at the switch. (Janet: laughs).

I happen to know a small firm in my native Akron, Ohio, where the black person who the hiring manager knew was super bright but was a little bit trepidatious about, ‘Oh, you know, can they carry the water?’ Not only did they become the rainmaker for the firm, but they bought out the founder of the firm. He’s just getting ready to sell the business for a very tidy profit that will send his grandkids to the best schools, but you know, go off and do foundation work. So they will probably sell it to a rival firm for a tidy sum.

And I think the parallel obviously is with people with disabilities. Not that there aren’t already, but I truly think, and this is more Meg’s thing for me to shut up and pass the torch, but I think there’s people that are entry level, they’re run of the mill, they’re, you know, they’re a cog. And I think they should be at that C suite with the right training, the right accommodations, feeling comfortable asking for what they need. (Meg: right).

I just read a story that, you know, Publix is the big grocery chain in all of Florida. (Janet: right). I think they’re naming a new CEO or whatever, and they started as basically like a checkout bag boy, you know, and they moved up. So you know, maybe you didn’t come out of the Ivy League, but you worked you’re way up, and I think we’re probably maybe 30-years behind in that compared to other marginalized groups, (Janet: that’s right). As far as recognizing the strength, the problem solving. It’s not like ‘oh I hired two people I can go to heaven now I did my charitable act.’ It’s not a charitable act. It’s a, this makes good business. So with that I will pass the 440-relay torch over to my friend and colleague, Meg. (laughs).

Meg: I’ll happily take the baton. (laughs). So, I guess the only other thing that I would say is that, you know, we are seeing pockets of change when we think about accessibility inclusion. And earlier this year, Lowe’s, the home improvement store, and AARP teamed up to start featuring accessibility products, and how you could do that within your home.

Whether it’s, you know, shelves that you can pull down so if you’re in a seated position, you don’t have to worry about either not being able to reach it or even standing on a step stool, which as we all age, that gets harder to do, right? (Janet: laughs).

So we’re seeing, you know, big companies start to focus on access and inclusion, and we’re seeing hiring initiatives. You know, Michaels is one of my clients and I was on a call with them earlier today. We’re in our third year with them. They’ve hired over 350 people. And they were saying, ‘we have these 2 guys that are twins with autism in one of our warehouses.’ They’ve been working there for 4-years.

Both are now in leadership positions where everybody thought no way they’re lucky to have a job and now they’re leading teams. (Steve: hmm). And so we see real examples of when companies step into this realm and really enter into it with an ‘and yes’ mindset of ‘how do we do this?’ and ‘what’s the next thing we should be thinking about’ that they’re seeing huge successes. (Steve: right). (Janet: right). and making a lot of money off of accessibility inclusion.  (Steve: yeah, yeah).

Janet: Yeah. They left so much money on the table. (Meg: yes). And that was the crazy part. And I just want to throw out a little thing out to the universe right now, if Lowe’s wants to talk to me about making designer grab bars, I’m more than, (laughs), I’m more than open to start that part of my design empire. (Steve: yeah). (Meg: excellent).

So, well, because it’s so important. I haven’t seen any really great grab bars lately, (Steve & Meg laugh), but like when I do see them, I post them and I say crazy, sexy, cool, grab bars. (Meg: right). It’s to get people used to, and to think of what grab bars are and how they can see them as opposed to granny bars, (Steve: right). Right. And this institutional kind of look, we can make them beautiful and gorgeous. Just like we talked about with homes. (Steve: right), (Meg: right, right). And just have them be, you know, fit into your decor and not look, again, like these institutional pieces.

Meg: Right. There is a company out of the UK. I’ll think of the name in a minute, and it was started by a gentleman who had an accident…

Janet: ‘MotionSpot’…

Meg: Yes. ‘MotionSpot’ (Steve: oh wow), I knew it started with an M and I was like, I just need a minute. It’ll happen. (laughs). Yes.

Janet: Yeah. We interviewed them.

Meg: So, you know the story. It’s an amazing story.

Janet: It’s an amazing story. And they’ve been doing such an incredible job too. They take the idea of the aesthetic and the functionality and…

Meg: … design and function meet.

Janet: Meet, right. And so just, so again, if you’re listening, it will be on the website— ‘’ — and we will post that episode again, as well as the information for Motion Spot. (Meg: excellent).

And ‘Ponte Guilio’ is another, just grab bar group that’s an Italian company, but it’s also here in the United States. (Meg: right). And they’re also another one of my favorites to have again, beautiful, accessible bathrooms that, you know, buck the old idea of what inclusive bathrooms should look like.

So, but yeah, I know I’m keeping, I’m keeping an eye on the time, Steve, don’t you worry about it. (Steve: yeah). So is there any last minute. Did you want to finish up your conversation Meg on ‘MotionSpot’ or did you want to…

Meg: No, I was actually just bringing them up because you were talking about your grab bars and thought that they would be a great resource for you because I know they’re doing a lot in office buildings and hotels and all of those places.

And that’s another thing that we’re seeing, right? Is that there are so many companies like this popping up that slowly, and it will be very slowly, (Steve: hmm), but change happens slowly. And with companies like ‘MotionSpot’ and others that are teaching companies what they need to be doing and how to do it, (Steve: uh-huh), the more we see it in the mainstream, the better it’s going to be for all of us.

Janet: Yeah. When we talked to them, and this is important for our listeners to understand, which is that they did, it was a hotel. I know it was the Brooklyn hotel. I remember that because I come from Brooklyn— a shout out to Brooklyn— and the Brooklyn hotel was in UK, and they had made it an accessible building, period. It wasn’t just 1 or 2 rooms in this hotel. It was everything. Everyone had the same room that was all accessible.

And their bottom line, I want to say went up (Steve: yup), but I know that their profits had increased as a result of that. And that to me, I mean, if that doesn’t say it all, (Meg: right), (Steve: hmm). Right, I don’t know what does. (Meg: well, and look…) Oh, go ahead Meg.

Meg: Look at the accessible fashion industry. This was not (Janet: a thing) even happening 10 years ago, (Janet: right). It was still medical grade clothing that you would never wear outside (Janet: chuckles). It looked like a hospital gown with straps on it. And you had ‘Runway of Dreams’ teaming up with ‘Tommy Hilfiger,’ (Janet: Hilfiger, yeah), and now you’ve got ‘Target’ and ‘Kohl’s’ and ‘Macy’s’ and ‘Isaac Mizrahi’ now coming out with a line. (Steve: uh-huh). So in 10-years that that movement has started, that is a 400-billion-dollar industry. (Janet: billion, yeah). (Steve: I know).

So we tell companies all the time that we work, if you’re looking for your next innovation, talk to your employees with disabilities. (Steve: yup). Because they can tell you what problems need to be solved that no one’s paying attention to. (Steve: yup). And that’s such a perfect example to talk about. It’s not just about inclusion, it’s about being disability competitive. (Janet: I love that). Because if you’re competitive in whatever your industry is in market, people with disabilities are going to choose you over your competitors. And that’s what you want.

Everyone wants the market share and people with disabilities go, and their families shop, it’s a 15-trillion market opportunity. So it’s just silly if companies, buildings, organizations are not thinking about access and inclusion.

Janet: Ah, I just enjoy talking to you guys so much. I always enjoy talking, I call it my peeps, right? (Meg: laughs). Right. Our audience is peeps, right? We really do enjoy it. I just want to give you guys a couple minutes if there’s anything else that you feel like you want to add to the conversation or that we missed, overlooked or we felt like we just didn’t get in. Steve, I’ll let you go first.

Steve: I don’t know. I mean that that last thing, Meg hit that, I mean…

Janet: I know, she kind of knocked it out of the ballpark at that point…

Steve: She really did. That was like one of those grand slam home runs, clear the bags at Fenway, you know, go home…

Janet: She did. I was like, all right. Well now we’ve said everything. We might want to put at the beginning, cut it down to five minutes and call it a day. That’s right. (laughs).

Steve: I guess the only other thing I would say that maybe we didn’t is just, you know, I do a little bit of stuff with AARP and I’m old enough to be the member or whatever now, but you know, it’s just, I remember when they kind of started, you know, it was all these save social security, save Medicare, lobby Congress.

And now every magazine along with some celebrity that looks 15-years younger than their actual age, you know, (Janett: chuckles). There’s, all these stories about nerdy stuff about placemaking and inclusive parks and aging in place and how to retrofit your house cheaply.

So clearly there is a market there. (Janet: right). Whatever, you know, probably half the Madison Avenue advertising I see says, ‘oh, you know, 60 is the new 40’ and I get it. But BS, you know, if I pull an all-nighter for a client, I feel like I got the flu the next day. And I’m guessing most of the folks do. (Janet: laughs).

And if I go out and play soccer and wrench my knee, it feels like a, you know, 20-year-old would probably just, (Janet: walk it off), and go home. (Janet: right, laughs). And I’m like, ‘ah, should I go to an urgent care?’ (Janet: urgent care, right). (Meg: laughs). But you know, the point being, you know, what is it, something like 10-thousand people reach retirement age every day in America? And that number is just going to go up.

Janet: Yeah, it’s the silver tsunami, it’s already here and we haven’t hit the top of the crest yet, that’s the thing. (Steve: yeah). Yeah.

Steve: And, you know, with all due respect, the kids coming out with a master’s degree have 300-thousand in student loans (Meg: hmm), and are moving into a micro unit, (Meg: yup), especially if they want to live in a, you know, in a top tier city (Janet: right). And It’s the silver tsunami who has the money to invest.

So as Meg was saying, if you’re, you know, if your ‘bagel-ry’ has better bagels than Manhattan, if your croissant place outdoes Paris, how am I going to know if I only go to places that are accessible? (Janet: yeah), because that’s the way I vote with my feet. You know, I’m kind of a social media addict. I don’t TikTok, but I do all the other platforms. If somebody burns a pizza, you know, a thousand of my close personal friends know, and they tell their friends. If they make the croissant that’s half the price of Paris, and I don’t have to go fly into De Gaulle, I tell people.

You know, again, I don’t think this is just doing the right thing, I think there is a killing to be made with this. (Janet: yeah). You know, we’re, everyone on this call is old enough to remember, you know, ‘oh, bottled water. It comes out of the spigot. Who would pay for that?’ Ha-ha. (Janet: right, laughs). I mean, money isn’t everything, but don’t I wish my dad would have somehow put his money into bottled, (Janet: yeah), (Meg: laughs), you know, even if we owned one one-thousandth of the bottled water market, I’d be, you know, I would have had time to learn 5 languages and cure cancer or something in my spare hours. (Meg: laughs).

Janet: Well, you’re doing an incredible job being an advocate. (Steve: yeah). And then, but Meg, you said what is it, it’s a 15-trillion-dollar business. Is that overall?

Meg: Yes. That’s globally. (Janet: globally). It’s a 15-trillion-dollar market opportunity. (Steve: hmmm). (Janet: wow). Yeah, it’s like 250-million in the US alone. (Steve: hmmm). So really, if you’re not thinking about people with disabilities, you’re really missing an opportunity. (Steve: yup).

Janet: Wow. That’s a great, great way to end it. Listen, thank you so much both for being here and keep up the good work and we’ll be in touch when we create our universal plan…

Meg: I love it, let’s do it…

Steve: I know…

Janet: Ooh, great. (Steve: I know). I’m in on it, right. And I have a team, we can work this. We just need to get some funding and stuff like that. I’m in. And thank you for all the work that you guys do.

Meg: Well thanks for having us and inviting us on. It’s been a pleasure…

Steve: Yeah, very much a pleasure.

Janet: Right, thank you.

Steve: Thanks.


Janet: I love how Meg is helping companies be accessible to all people of different abilities – including design and policies which help promote productivity. Even helping those that have dyslexia to make the workplace accommodating. And we need to remember that the wheelchair is not the only disability.

Carolyn: As Meg said about accessibility… “it’s not a facilities issue, a building issue, or a maintenance issue— everyone has a responsibility to it”

Janet: And Steve made some very good points too. He is so right that design that separates someone with a disability from their co-workers can make them feel inferior. I agree that we all need to design for dignity. We want environments that work for everybody, and that don’t need special considerations or accommodations because they’re already built into the environment.

Carolyn: So you are saying Steven Wright was right!

Janet: Really? Funny, but it’s true. (laughs).

Carolyn: You know I couldn’t resist, but you know, you are not wrong.

Janet: Nope.

Carolyn: But seriously, when Steve talks about urban planning, it’s getting around in our cities and streets. And for Meg, it’s access in buildings where people are employed. They both encourage using universal design concepts to ensure spaces that are open and available to everyone.

Janet: The pandemic created a paradigm change in the workforce, but we know disability inclusion in the workplace is a 15-trillion-dollar global industry.

A lucrative opportunity that many companies are leaving on the table. With 250-million dollars in America alone.

I have got to help them create these new design measures as we discussed! I am so busy, but I think it would be great! A quest if you will… A checklist along with process and understanding.

Carolyn:  And it sounds like you already have the right team to get it started.

And to our listeners, stay tuned for updates on this.

Janet: Absolutely! And we will share the link on how to contact Steve and Meg, and of course, the links to all the work they are doing, and all the many other things mentioned along the way during this discussion… all on our website at inclusive-designers-dot-com.

Carolyn: That’s:…

Janet: A big thank you to Steve and Meg. And, of course, to all of you for listening.

Carolyn: Along with all the regular places you get your podcasts— such as Apple, Google, Spotify, and Pandora— you can also find us on YouTube as, you guessed it, Inclusive Designers Podcast.

And of course, if you like what you hear, feel free to go to our website and hit that Patreon Button, or the link to our GoFundMe Page.

Janet: Yes, please do. And let us know if you have any questions or suggestions for topics you think we should be covering in upcoming shows!

And as our motto says: ’Stay Well…and Stay Well Informed!’

As always, thank you for stopping by.

We’ll see you next time.

Carolyn: Yes, thanks again.

(Music up and fade out)




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