When one thinks of interior design the first things that come to mind are paint color, furniture and decorative tchotchkes. Students in Christy Somerville’s Interior Design III class are learning about a whole different aspect of design: accessibility, design for all, universal design, transgenerational design and aging in place. Professor Somerville’s studio class centers around designing interior environments that are flexible and accessible for all users from children, to individuals with mobility limitations to seniors who want to age in their own homes.
As part of the experiential learning model at UNH, Professor Somerville, brought in Jean-Paul Mayhew and Robert Mazzotta from Maxim Mobility, a New Haven, based company specializing in custom wheelchairs and accessibility equipment to discuss how they help clients become more mobile in their homes and out in society.
After a demonstration of two power wheel chairs and a manual wheelchair inside the classroom, students took the chairs out for a spin on campus, climbing the ramp into Bartels, trying to navigate the bathrooms in Dodd and reluctantly descending the hill near campus police.
According to Mazzotta, Maximum Mobility’s clients range from patients with the crippling symptoms of multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s disease to bariatric issues and elderly patients.
During class Professor Somerville pointed out that the first born of the "Baby Boomer" generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, reached retirement age , 65, in 2011. The needs of this aging population group could overwhelm our social services. Teaching students how to assist their clients in making proactive design decisions about their long term needs in their homes today will prevent much needed renovations in the future. The American society is an aging nation and because sustainability has become such a large movement across the country, it is easier and less expensive to design it right the first time and it is a much better sustainable action for the environement as well.
Earlier in the semester the class visited a luxury retirement community in Woodbridge, Connecticut outfitted with unique designs that help older residents move around independently. The Harbor Program for residents with memory care needs provided students with a special understanding of how thoughtful design decisions can make the identification of areas and fixtures within a bathroom easier for the resident. Pathways through the Harbor Unit had small themed sitting areas along the way, such as a "travel" table where a suitcase and travel brochures provided the memory link for the resident and a visiting family member or friend to sit and talk about past travels.
Throughout the semester the students have been reading the chosen Common Read book, "Double Take," which chronicles the life of Kevin Michael Connolly, a young man born in 1985 without legs. With the help of his encouraging parents Connolly comes up with various ways to remain mobile despite his physical handicap in the days before many laws and requirements were put into place to help those who cannot easily move around without the aid of wheelchairs, crutches or prosthetics.As a final project in the class the eight students will create a design in an already existing space for a person with a specific disability. Junior Maggie Heenan found value in Somerville’s class adding, “You always have to use this in your design. In new houses, you need it.”
For more information on Interior Design at University of New Haven, visit the program page.