Interview with Gail Zahtz, Universal Design Advocate, Part 2

This is the second part of an interview with Gail Zahtz, Universal Design Advocate. The first part of the interview was posted earlier. We have inserted some of her Pinterest Board pins to get our creative juices flowing!

What kind of accommodations have you had to incorporate into your home for yourself – inside? outside?

We bought a 1940 house.  I specifically wanted a house that had not been overly remodeled so that I could do it my way.  From Craig’s List, I bought custom cabinetry, complete with granite countertops. Then in the reconfiguration I made sure that the sinks were a good depth (7 1/2 inches deep) – I thought I would be giving up pot space, but because I got longer sinks, and a higher faucet with an 8-foot pull cord, there is not a pot I can not fit in there – and that includes my huge canning pressure cooker.  I made all of the sinks cabinet-less underneath. 

You can make cabinet doors that slide in for sitting or rolling under, but I used, at least for now, curtains that I had sewn to match the curtains in the kitchen.  So I have now, instead of an ugly cramped galley kitchen, an L shape of 22 feet by 32 feet and a tremendous kitchen.  Nothing went into the landfill, as many items were “up-cycled” as much as possible, and the kitchen is 100% designed for anyone.  I have counters at different heights, pull out drawers and shelves, a pull out cutting board right next to the stove.  I put under-counter lighting for good vision.  I even took an area and put in no cabinet at all, and re-purposed one of those hospital bed-side rolling tables that changes heights;  it slides right under the counter, and then comes out for extra work space. 

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Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design Kitchen 2

The best part of the kitchen (other than, of course, the fact that it’s gorgeous) is that I made work areas everywhere.  So with Ikea rods and buckets, and baskets, and items on the walls, you never have to walk far to get what you need.  So we can have six cooks working full time (from my 6-year-old all the way up to the most senior), and everyone has what they need without taking all their extra energy just finding stuff and a place to work.

Another goal was to make the first floor fully livable for anyone whether using assitive devices or not.  There was a bathroom on the first floor, and a bedroom, but being an older home, the hallways were narrow, and the doors tiny.  So by taking out just one small corner of a hallway cabinet, and one cabinet inside the bathroom, I was able to put in a large pocket door for the bathroom and make it so a wheelchair can do a full turn and go into the bathroom without any assistance.  And everyone really likes the larger doors, and of course the wood pocket doors are beautiful and convenient. 

sliding doors zahtz Interview with Gail Zahtz, Universal Design Advocate, Part 2
Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design

We’ve been adding sensory nooks throughout the house. Studies have shown that sensory integration helps everyone from children with hyperactivity, to reduce anyone’s pain, to people with memory loss and children with severe cognitive disorders.  So we’ve been using everything from string lights bought the week after the holidays, to $1 toys that act as “manipulatives”.  It’s really about being creative and finding ways that you can integrate everything you want and need and still stay within a budget.

Of course I have many more plans… next up is the outside, to make a more beautiful entry for anyone (currently we’re using plywood ramps) and I want to build a sensory garden for everyone.  It goes on and on… I only got the house in July!

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Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Sensory Garden

What’s your favorite element in your “Craigslist” accessible kitchen now that you’ve lived with it awhile?

I love that there is a full contained work area in every single place in the kitchenIt’s like every nook has everything from food ingredients to beautiful design, from glass jars for ingredients, to cutting boards, to stools and chairs, spices, knives, and white boards.  I love white boards and cork boards – I write on them everywhere.  So every corner of the kitchen keeps getting a new white board, basket and message station.  I use them for everything for ingredients to menus, the kids draw me pictures, and they are of course all magnetic, for me to clip a quote or a picture or a new recipe that I am bound to change from just one to ten ingredients.

What accommodations have you been part of (planning, execution, discussion) for your parents, children, other family and friends?

I am really honored to be asked more and more to be a part of exciting important projects for homes and public spaces.  People have Skyped me and shown me their living arrangements, and I have been able to make suggestions right from there.  People ask me about products from faucets to showers. 

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Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design Kitchen 3

I have gotten the opportunity to help design a school for “special needs” pre-schoolers that has been very exciting. 

I am very very excited about some of the lines we’re coming out with to make available at Carpool Health.  We’re working with a manufacturer who creates these beautiful fabric walls that are removable and can be put up by anyone the same day they get them home.  We are making sensory walls, so that parents, and children of parents that have sensory needs, can have an instant sensory room in a day at a fraction of the price.  They will be able to choose from different types of sensory wall designs, and then put them up the day the package arrives, and instantly make an extra room or a bedroom into a full sensory room. 

I am in talks with other designers and manufacturers of ways we can take what they are doing now and do it just a bit better or differently so that it can be both functional and/or sensory and yet still maintain the beauty of the design.

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Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design 8

And yes, I am the go-to person for friends, family and neighbors on everything from colors that can add some more peace to the home, to how to make it easier to move children who can not walk on their own.  I don’t have a degree in this, yet I talked for an hour and a half to a two-person team who billed themselves as consultants to universal design, and at the end of the talk they said I knew more about products and alternatives then they did.  A lot of it is experience, a lot is just being willing to look at it differently, and a lot is just not accepting that there is no better way.  It’s a whole new world available in what we can do in people’s environments, it’s just going to take some education and a bit of “proselytizing” for both consumers and the industry to see that this is much bigger than green – it’s even more than saving our environment (which I am deeply committed to doing) it’s saving our lives, our homes, our families.  3 in 10 people live with a person they have to take care of, in a “caregiver status”, and this is only going to increase;  we are moving back to multi-generational homes by sheer default. We are already short 40 million assisted-living-rehab beds.  So yes, it’s become a bit of a mission for me.

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Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design 2

I love your Pinterest boards (links)! I am following you on Twitter and Facebook. Where else might we find you and your energies?

Thank you.  Pinterest started as sheer hobby for me, it was relaxing and then I started making boards to collect ideas I liked in categories.  Before I knew it, if you google “sensory room ideas” my Pinboard is the first non-promoted link.  And of course I never thought to make links for myself!  I ended up, last I saw, with a 97.5% “Pin to Buy” which basically means that people like my pins enough that if they click through, they are more likely than anywhere else to actually purchase it.  Maybe one day I will learn to make money off of it, but it’s really been for myself, and the many people who use what I share.  Of course I have been so busy lately, that I haven’t been Pinning much!

Currently if you go to you can get to most of my “locations” – Pinterest, Linked In, Twitter  – ping me and I will almost always respond.  My blog of course.  I have a YouTube channel that I haven’t developed yet, but as CarpoolTV gets off the ground – with the goal of having 24/7 programming – more clips will be uploaded there.  I need to update Slideshare more… but you know it’s a lot of time.  So I am focused on the “getting there” rather than being all done.

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Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design 3

But of course most exciting to me is that very soon you will be able to find me, and many many other people at  Right now it’s a WordPress site that just has some articles I put up in my basement.  But we’re already in Beta right now, and within weeks you will find “Communities of Practice” ranging from Cancer to Publishing (we’re aiming to publish 12-24 books a year), to “Lupus Style,” to incredible pain management work being done out of Australia.  It’s a community-based site, so it will be up to hard-working volunteer community leaders to really take on their passions and create their communities.  We, for starters, are offering unlimited pages, video, pictures, “idea forums”, and even a calendaring system that enables you to sync with your own iCal or Google to get online or in-person events that are about the disease, diagnosis, or solution you need or want to learn more about.  Eventually, when we have the right compassionate and forward-thinking sponsors, Carpool Health will be customized so that you can go and find exactly the information, community, and resources you need, that has been recommended by your doctor, or is automatically rated by the community and shown to you because of your interest.  On the flip side, it will save a lot of already limited physician time because doctors will be able to “prescribe” home care, communities, resources, and more to their patients, or to anyone who cares about that issue with a click.  I really believe with the right support that Carpool Health will be the number one place people go to for trusted information, community and resources within the next 5 years.

It’s a combination of Netflix, Amazon and a medical journal – it will bring the information and the people to you based on what you say you want.  And we aren’t accepting any pharmaceutical funding and keeping to other standards, so that this can be a place of trust.  And of course community-support, sharing, and discussion… so people know they are not alone.

I read that you will be appearing at the Universal Design Summit in May. Can you share what you message might be there?

So the official title of my talk at the Universal Design Summit on May 6-9, 2013 is “Marketing Universal Design for Greatest Results” but of course it’s so much more than that.  And then there is the problem of trying to get everything into one speech, which of course is impossible.  I hold three things:

  • As I have discussed with you, we have to change our perception and the way we show great design for all to both the industry and to consumers.  I want to just pull out every ugly grab bar picture and hideous kitchen and metal ramp picture out of every book.  If we all find and share and show that sensible design, regardless of age, ability or even lifestyle can be breathtakingly beautiful and remarkably comfortable and functional – then people will start demanding it.  It’s become a vicious circle:  the design-build community does not do many jobs specifically for this, and so they don’t have much to show; they don’t know the great products and the fabulous design ideas that are possible.  Then consumers just see ugly, awful institutional design and of course they don’t want that.  So even if they need it that moment, they don’t demand it.  Then more doesn’t get built.  That is going to require a radical shift in how we look at our environments, and how we show solutions – which is yes, marketing.  Look at my Pinterest boards – you won’t copy them because it’s sensible, you’ll do it because it’s beautiful, and oh, it just so happens it is accessible, easy to use, integrates multi-sensory design, etc.
  • hiddengrabbarfb51d0086b9b09eefc4fb4f62fe97254 Interview with Gail Zahtz, Universal Design Advocate, Part 2
    Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design 4
  • We have to include a huge piece that for reasons I just do not understand has been completely left out of the design for all picture – the health community.  When you have an accident, a surgery, a diagnosis – where do you hear about it?  At your doctor’s office.  There they will give chemo patients brochures on where to get and how to style great wigs, you get home care information of what you “can’t” do… something has changed radically in your life, and the information you need the most is not available – how are you going to live well, and safely, comfortably and still surrounded by calm and beauty in your own home?  You don’t get it because no one is giving it to the healthcare providers.  Clearly, one day I would hope that every home is built or remodeled for everyone, and it does not take a tragedy to make people make changes.  But at the very least, when you need it the most, from the people you trust the most to know what your body needs – you should there and then be able to get designers, contractors, products, resources, websites and more that help you make the home a great place to come to for you, your spouse or child, your parent, or anyone.  I don’t know why the design-build community has left out of this critical triangle – the health community – but I aim to change that.  It’s just good business for architects and contractors, and I personally know that Occupational Therapists, Physicians, Home Care Nurses, and more, would be thrilled to be able to give real solutions to their patients.

    colorfulgrabbarsa17cf5ebc1b6b50847436eb97a559170 Interview with Gail Zahtz, Universal Design Advocate, Part 2
    il Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design 5
  • Of course, it’s far past time for both the industry and consumers to get online, get into social media, and show how beautiful and wonderful these solutions can be.  You go on “disability” websites or sites for “special needs” children and the offerings are awful, the prices three times as much as “normal” stuff is, and the pictures from a decade ago.  There are some great forward-thinking designers, contractors and architects who are using social media, but they are very much the minority.  At Carpool Health, we will be having whole sections on the site designated for design for health – but again I hope that we are a big welcoming house that encourages every designer and architect and manufacturer to use the free resources and show consumers how beautiful and inspirational sensible design can be.

    fold down table zahtz Interview with Gail Zahtz, Universal Design Advocate, Part 2
    Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design 9

Now that it obviously a lot to get into a talk or two.  We will be broadcasting my segments live on the web, and making them available for replay.  But it just is not enough time.  My goal is to start the conversation, so we can continue having it at important trade shows and conferences around the world.  It’s about changing the language.  I am grateful to the Universal Design Summit for realizing the importance of the message;  I may be the only speaker without five appropriate degrees after my name, but the R.L.Mace Institute is very forward thinking, and they were willing to take a risk and give me a chance to share this message at an industry show.  And I hope this is only the beginning.  It’s really going to take many, many conversations and talks for people to start changing their language, changing their pictures, and designs, and start creating spaces people crave, not just because it’s “good for them.”

What’s the name of your new book, what’s it about, and when will it be coming out?

Ah, the book.  The book is supposed to come out at the conference, which is only weeks away really.  I am working on a series.  Originally I had hoped to have a three book series out for the conference, but with everything else I am doing, it just was not realistic.  So what I think you will find is a series that comes out in pieces – a book at a time.  My goal is to show sexy design for all.  I want to make a “Little Black Book of Design” that people can carry with them of great ideas.  And then I am working on a book that talks about the big ideas behind this movement I see. And of course, I believe that the really good “stuff” will come with coffee table books.  So of course this all takes time and money.  I have been working on them all, and now it will be a bit of a surprise which comes out first, and then when they all come out.  But I will definitely keep you posted!

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Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design 6

Tell us about Carpool Health and BigFish?

I think I already talked about it quite a bit.  I will say this about Bigfish – they have heart and guts.  It’s not easy being first.  As the website they designed starts rolling out, we are getting requests for meetings constantly (I am so behind on them all actually).  But Bigfish, they had the kind of special vision and faith that it takes to be first.  They saw a great idea, a huge need being met, they believed in me and the community we were building, and they, as people say “put their money where their mouth was” and came out with a six-figure sponsorship before we had anything to show.  Now, of course, it’s going to be up to a lot more sponsors with heart who want to reach patients, caregivers, parents, and/or physicians, nurses and healthcare providers to step forward.  Right now we are a volunteer organization that is solely dependent on transparent sponsors to keep us going.  We have chosen to not incorporate as a non-profit because we believe in social enterprise – in fact, a recent graduate student who majored in “social entrepreneurship” told me that is what I’ve been doing my whole career – “Making it Good Business to do Good.”  I don’t want to always have our hand out for a donation.  We have real value to our members, and that translates to real value for our sponsors.  Truth be told, I have been so busy trying to meet the many needs of our sky-rocketing interest by physicians and patients (which of course is all of us at one point or another) that I have not been able to “solicit” sponsorship.  So when you see names on the website – it’s going to be because fabulous concerned companies have come forward and said, “Yes, we believe in this too!”  and they care enough about our members and enough about our vision that they want to put their name on it.

ramp 2 zahtz Interview with Gail Zahtz, Universal Design Advocate, Part 2
Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design 10

What can we do to give back in this arena of accessibility for everyone?

Everyone can do something.  I would say first, start looking around and seeing great design that is easy to use for everyone – and also start seeing the barriers in our homes and buildings for everyone.

Everyone should have to spend a day in a wheelchair – it will completely change your perspective.  I am shocked when I go into a hospital and it’s not wheelchair accessible. 

You have people who are completely dependent on buses with wheelchair access and they have to schedule their trip days in advance and then may be ride the bus for 3 hours for would take ten minutes if you could drive. When you are going to make a change in your home, think about how you can do the same project in such a way that anyone can use it.  Pull up your area rugs and put in some good lighting. 

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Gail Zahtz Pinterest Board: Universal Design 7

Have a basket of dollar store sensory toys or crochet for anyone to use.  Hold the door open please.  Look around you, I cannot tell you the number of times someone in a wheelchair or a walker can’t get into a building because the door doesn’t stay open and all it takes is 10 extra seconds to hold the door open.  If you are on a board or committee that is overseeing design for a new wing of the community center, please think about making it a place where everyone is comfortable, not just meeting county codes that make little difference to people with different abilities.  And above all – remove the stigma.  You have no idea what will happen to you or someone you love today or tomorrow.  If that happens, you want to be the person who took the chance when chance was given to them to make someone’s life a little easier, and more importantly to live with the dignity they deserve.

Again, thanks so much and best to you!

And thank YOU, Gail for taking your time to talk to us and share your ideas!

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