Universal Design with Mary Jo Peterson

Universal Design recognizes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to design and construction. By incorporating Universal Design features into the built environment, we can accommodate for the widest variety of people, regardless of their limitations.

But, while the buzz around Universal Design is growing, we still receive many questions surrounding what it means for a specific project and where it can be applied.

To help answer these questions, we’ve asked Universal Design expert and award-winning author, Mary Jo Peterson, to share her knowledge of the topic and provide some examples of what it might mean for a specific project.

Episode Guest: Mary Jo Peterson

Mary Jo Peterson headshot

Mary Jo Peterson is an award-winning author, speaker, educator, and designer with over 25 years of experience. She is president of Mary Jo Peterson, Inc, a design studio and consulting firm established in 1993 with specialized expertise in kitchen, bath, and universal/accessible design. The firm offers consulting services to private clients, manufactures of product, and builders/developers/architects in the design of universal spaces and products. Prominent projects include design for Del Webb, Pulte, and other major homebuilders, demonstration exhibit space for GE Appliances, Jenn-Air, and Hafele, and everyone’s favorite, the Betty Crocker Kitchens at General Mills in Minneapolis, MN. Ms. Peterson has contributed to the development of new national universal design standards introduced in 2013. Author of Universal Interiors by Design (McGraw-Hill Professional, 1999) and Universal Kitchen and Bathroom Planning (McGraw-Hill Professional Publishing, 1998) as well as Kitchen Planning and Bath Planning of the NKBA resource library (latest edition, Wiley, 2013), Ms. Peterson has been elected by her peers to the NKBA Hall of Fame. She is author and instructor of the universal design courses offered by NKBA. Named by NAHB as CAPS Educator of the Year 2014, she is an author/instructor of the CAPS and UD/Build programs of NAHB. Involved with government and advocacy groups, Mary Jo works at integrating universal access and sustainability into home and product design, and actively promotes change and education towards the integration of access, sustainability, and beautiful design.


Episode Information and Resources

Mary Jo Peterson’s website

News: Universal Design in WELL Building Standard

Blog: Universal Design vs. Accessible Design

Blog: Designing for All – Cooper Hewitt’s Access+Ability Exhibition

Book: Universal Kitchen and Bathroom Planning: Design That Adapts to People

Ted Talk: Why We Need Universal Design

About Buildings and Beyond

Buildings and Beyond is a production of Steven Winter Associates. We provide energy, green building, and accessibility consulting services to improve the built environment. For more information, visit


Robb Aldrich | Kelly Westby

Production Team

Heather Breslin | Alex Mirabile | Dylan Martello

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NYC’s Green New Deal? Diving into the Climate Mobilization Act with Marc Zuluaga

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Episode Transcript

Kelly :                                00:05                   Welcome to buildings and beyond.

Robb:                                00:08                   The podcast that explores how we can create a more sustainable built environment.

Kelly:                                  00:12                   By focusing on efficiency, accessibility, and health.

Robb:                                00:17                   I’m Robb Aldrich.

Kelly:                                  00:18                   And I’m Kelly Westby. You may be thinking, so what is this universal design thing anyway? While the name would imply otherwise. Universal design is often associated with a tool for handling the needs of people with disability or perhaps in association with aging in place. But Mary Jo talks about universal design as just good design practice. Mary Jo built her own company in 1993 to assist private homeowners and design build professionals around the country achieve state of the art solutions for kitchen and bath designs. Mary Jo’s own journey to universal design came from a desire to support people with disabilities to make their homes easier for them to use and then realizing she could use her approach to improve flexibility and access for everyone. Mary Jo is constantly asking herself and those around her, how can we incorporate clever, beautiful elements that improve human performance? If you care about having a space that is easier to use and makes you feel good at the same time or if you want to design such a space for someone else, you will definitely want to keep listening. So let’s just jump right in.

Kelly:                                  01:26                   So Mary Jo, thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Mary Jo:                            01:29                   Happy to be here.

Kelly:                                  01:31                   And thanks for welcoming us into your home for the podcast.

Mary Jo:                            01:35                   I’m always happy for that.

Kelly:                                  01:38                   I like to set the scene a little bit with some definitions, so just to get us on the same page and our listeners as well. Can you start just by explaining what your definition of universal design is?

Mary Jo:                            01:50                   Yeah, I’d like to, in fact, it’s a pleasure to have the chance to help clarify because it’s a philosophy and an approach to design that people don’t always get their arms around and when we finally embrace it, we really don’t have to have a name anymore. It’s just good design. But in fact, the name universal design refers to, by formal definition, the design of products and spaces so that they will, with respect for the differences in people, be usable by as many people as possible. The UN has a definition that I think kind of adds to that. It talks about freedom to choose. So freedom, again, I think it’s about that respect of people in differences. If I speak Spanish and you speak English, if, if a space has been designed universally, then that sign will be a figure and we both know that it means that that’s where the women’s room is, right? You know that kind of thing. So, yeah, that’s a great example. It’s a lot about respect.

Kelly :                                02:54                   Yeah and I’ve seen another slight difference in definition, I think it’s from a book by Steinfeld and Measel, that it encourages the design of spaces that empower a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness and social participation.

Mary Jo:                            03:12                   Right. That’s a more contemporary definition.

Kelly:                                  03:15                   Right. And what do you think about the health and wellness aspect of bringing that into design? Where are we with that?

Mary Jo:                            03:22                   I think it’s perfect. I have always thought that universal design spoke to health, you know, other terms, universal design, inclusive design, I think Ed Steinfeld likes to refer to inclusive design. Same kind of deal, but when we refer to health and wellness, we’re talking about a proactive approach that we’re going to create spaces and products that will support people through the changes that may occur in their life and in the life of the spaces that they’re living in. And that really is more of a positive, mo re of a proactive, and that’s what universal design is supposed to be. I think when we define it, we can’t ignore the other terms that are out there. So we talk about accessibility and we talk about universal design and it’s very hard for people who are down in the trenches of it to figure out what’s what there. And I think that if you look at it this way, access really refers to disability. It really refers to creating something that will support someone with respect for a specific disability. It also is a term that is used in compliance in the standards for the ADA, for Fair housing. So it has a very specific definition and it’s also like a solution to a problem. So a ramp would be acceptable as an accessible solution, right? It would be a sloped walkway if it was universal design because you’d want it not to be so visible. You’d want it to be, it has to be, beautiful. You know, I think there are three things that builders often ask me, what 10 things can I do? So I have incorporated universal design and I just want to do that in every house. And I say, no, every house is different. This is really an approach to design. But if there are three things, you know, I would say that this is a design that you have to create it so that it’s something we aspire to. And my best example of that is if you think of a hearing aid and then think of an air pod, we aspire to one, we like one, we think it’s cool. We want to have that in our ear. The other one, we want to hide it, make it go away. So universal design, we need to aspire to it. We also need to make it the standard. It needs to be part of every project that we approach. Every design of product or a space that we approach, because what we’re doing is trying to create some flexibility in that product so that it can be used by the tall and short among us, by the old and the young, by the large and small and with varying abilities. We can’t make everything universal for everybody all the time. But we can have that as our goal. And, so, you know, that’s another thing that we have to work at. And the final thing that it has to be as beautiful. It either has to be invisible or beautiful. You don’t even know it. You know, you walk in and you’re working at the sink and you realize that this is really comfortable. Ah, it’s a better height for me. It’s a flexible height. And now I’ve got it at my height. It’s that A-ha thing. So invisible is good or beautiful. It’s not a grab bar that makes me feel like I’m in an institution. It’s a beautiful decorative element. And Oh, by the way, if I start to slip and fall, I’ve got something to hold onto. Or if I need a little balance as I move through this space.

Kelly :                                06:55                   That’s amazing. And I haven’t actually thought about that. And probably people more involved in the circle think about this a lot, but, and maybe this is my engineering background, but I hadn’t thought about the beauty component of it, the aesthetic component of it. And so that’s a really interesting piece to bring in that we don’t only want to do as minimal as possible to do the ADA compliance. We have to integrate it in a way that’s beautiful and, and compelling.

Mary Jo:                            07:26                   And that sort of speaks to health and wellness because it speaks to the fact that it isn’t just our physical being that needs to be cared for, but it’s our emotional and our spiritual wellbeing. And if we create, especially in our homes, if we create a space that is a comfort to us, it needs to be attractive. It needs to say who we are and and that you know, contributes to our health on all levels. I think that another thing that universal design has to be is smart, and there are some great examples in small products. You know, it’s just thinking through what are the core different people who would use this and what can we do that would make this product or space work a little bit better. One example is the ketchup bottles now that are upside down, the labels on so that you keep it upside. If we can get used to it, if we can just believe that it’s not going to leak, it works much better. You know, or Oxo Good Grips has that Measuring Cup for liquids, and the measures are marked on an angle so you can stand up and look at it. You don’t have to bend over to look at it. So you know, those are examples of somebody was really clever there. And that’s really what we need to do.

Kelly :                                08:41                   That’s actually interesting cause I was listening to, I think a ted talk on universal design and they mentioned the disability, we don’t have to focus on it being a lack of ability, but we can focus on it as being the cause for innovation. So like you said, maybe someone who doesn’t have a hard time bending over wouldn’t innovate and think about creating a measuring cup that you don’t have to bend over. But now when that is a real challenge for you, you’re incentivized to do it and it actually helps everybody.

Mary Jo:                            09:15                   Thats exactly right and I’ll give you a another example. When I started in this business focusing on universal design 30 years ago, I worked with one of our major appliance companies and I said, we really need to do front loading, front control washers and dryers, like the commercial ones, and elevate them. So the idea was that a person who used a wheelchair would be able to roll up under that door and be able to access both the controls. And the appliance. No, no, no, we’ll never do that. It costs too much money, whatever. Now look, today we have on pedestals, front loading, front control washers and dryers. And the reason is that that’s sort of an interesting thing about how access moves into being universal design. The initial reason can be something that has to do with a particular disability, but we find out that it’s that A-ha again, we find out that Oh gee, this just really actually better for everybody. And that’s a wonderful part of this. You know, working with clients, private clients, sometimes they are my best resource for ideas. I know the parts and pieces that can go into this space, but they know the need that they have and what they’ve done, sort of Jerry rigged to make something work and then we can make it more beautiful and more integrated.

Kelly :                                10:34                   Right, right. Working together with the entire team you can create something better. Yeah. And we talked a little bit about this, what are some examples, maybe more specific examples. I know it’s a different design approach. So maybe there are different examples from different projects, but that people can kind of use to wrap their head around what this really means when you’re looking at it from a universal design perspective.

Mary Jo:                            11:01                   So if we start outside, you know, all of my experience really with very little exception is around the home single or multifamily home design. So if we start outside and the approach and entry to a home, we have to think about clearance and we need to think about the level of things- that sloped walkways is one of my favorite examples. You know, we typically have a couple of steps up to the front of a house, whether it’s a porch or an entry. And sometimes that there’s a reason for that. That has to do with climate as well. Sometimes there are code issues that have to be dealt with in order to be able to make that a level entry, find a way to make a level entry. But so, so we need to look at level entry at least one level entry into a space.

Kelly :                                11:53                   And that’s actually interesting. We’ve looked at that too, from accessibility versus passive house compliance, because making it level but also making it energy efficient and making sure you have a thermal barrier can be an issue. So thinking about all aspects.

Mary Jo:                            12:05                   Exactly and new products have been created to help make that thermal barrier. So it’s much easier today than it once was. But this is a perfect example of how universal design is really a thought process. It’s not one answer. So thought process here. If we have a space, if we’re working in Alaska, I’ll just tell you this, you can cut it out later, but Peter Stratton and I did a program, teaching native American housing authorities how to house their elders. So I talked about about universal design and how to incorporate it nicely into the home. And he talked about compliance and one of the things in order to comply with for government funded housing was that you had to have a level entry and these native American housing authorities are nodding and being polite and then at the break we’re talking and they said, you know here in Alaska in the winter we get standing 13 feet of snow. So most of our houses have to be on stilts because otherwise you can’t get into it. So you know you have to work with each space. But with that in mind, in a less extreme example, if we’re looking for that level entry and we’re trying to comply with passive house and efficiency requirements, maybe the level entry is the one that’s inside the garage. Maybe it’s the one that the family uses all the time. It’s not the second. It’s not to say if you need a level entry you have to go to the back door. That’s not the purpose. The purpose is, the one that you use the most is the one that gets the level entry and that way it’s covered. So you know, there are ways to deal with it. And that’s that thinking process. So we got stuck on that, but so outside we need to have clearances, we need to think about level path passageways to the things that we enjoy outside. How do you get to the barbecue, how do you get to the mailbox? How do you take the garbage out? How do you read the meter? All those kinds of things. You know, how do we create it comfortable, not just level, but what’s the surface. So a few things outside. I think that how we inform people on the outside of a house is, what kind of lighting we have around the entry, how big is the number that says what number the houses are. You know, things like that. So having a package drop outside of a house so that if I have to stop to unlock a door, if I don’t have some kind of a smart door and I have to actually unlock it, there is a place to set things down so I can do it. So those kinds of things outside. I think when you come inside in general, that level in clearances I look always to see if I can cut down on a plan. If I’m looking to incorporate more universal design in a plan, I look to see if I can eliminate as many hallways as possible, make them passage through a room as opposed to a hallway because it’s much easier to move and turn. Regardless of, or with respect for whatever mobility aids I might be using, however much space I take up, it’s easier for me to do what I need to do.

Kelly:                                  15:20                   And it’s interesting, the open plan concept is very popular now. And I guess everyone else is getting on board with, Oh, this is actually better.

Mary Jo:                            15:28                   When I started, so 8 million years ago real estate agents used to call me and say, do you know of any homes that have been designed with an open plan? Because I know you pay attention to access and I have a client who is looking for that, so now and today it is every house. There are so many examples of that, but that is, that’s a good one. I think that another thing that I look for in a home is how many places can I eliminate a right angle turn? So we come to the end of the hallway and there’s a doorway to a bedroom and a bedroom. Maybe we angle that so that it’s not a 90 degree turn, but a 45 degree turn because that makes a much easier passage if I have any challenges in terms of mobility and balance, it’s just easier to manage. We have to look at the width of doorways and the amount of space. These are all the same things that will come up when you’re talking about accessibility. But the beauty of talking about universal design is that we’re doing it not just to comply, but we’re doing what is the best for the space. And you know, maybe in the entry to a bathroom, maybe the best for that particular master bathroom in a master suite is that we don’t have a door there, you know, or that we have a sliding door or barn door hardware, because that maintains the integrity of the wall for the support in the bathroom. You know, it’s a thinking process. Universal design is totally about thinking.

Kelly :                                16:57                   So what comes up for me actually with that example and an interesting thought in comparison to other spaces right now, is that accessibility is kind of a prescriptive based requirements. And whereas universal design is more performance, how does it feel once you get in there?

Mary Jo:                            17:18                   There are a number of people who have created universal design standards/programs so that you can earn a good housekeeping seal of approval. I won’t name any of the programs that are doing this, but so if you comply with these things. But what are those things? Because they’re really performance based. How do you measure? Well sometimes on a hill it’s really not worth it. And sometimes it’s more important than you just add some kind of a lifter or elevator, but you’d make that attractive.

Kelly:                                  18:05                   Theres an analogy here I think to where the sustainability standards are going across the country, but also in the codes, right? Everybody, it seems like, we’re trying to move away from prescriptive and get a little more towards performance.

Mary Jo:                            18:25                   That’s right. Yeah. And I think it’s such a good thing because it allows us to make the best decision given the parameters of a job. The budget, the budget of space, the people who are either targeted to live there or who are the known clients. You know, so I love that we can work towards that performance space. That’s a good thing.

Kelly:                                  18:45                   Great. Any more good examples?

Mary Jo:                            18:46                   You know, we can go into the kitchen and bathroom and I could talk for days. So in the bathroom, in the toileting area, one of the beautiful things that we have today is an advanced design of the toilet. Yes I know nobody ever wants to talk about the toilet and I get to talk about it all the time. I know that my Irish grandmother turns over in her grave every time I say toilet out loud to you know, a group of people. But, but here we are talking about the toilet. Yeah. So we haven’t even mentioned the term aging in place, but aging in place is a very popular term and it’s helping advance the cause of universal design, mainly because of the boomers, the number of people in the age boom.

Kelly :                                19:44                   Yeah. I think you talked about this in your book, right? That now we have to really be thinking about this or now it’s on more people’s minds when they’re buying or renovating.

Mary Jo:                            19:54                   Yeah. And that helps. That helps drive the cause. It’s better for everyone. So in terms of aging in place, one of the features of the toilet today is a washlet or a bidet system that can be built into the toilet. And while some of us may think of that as a more European approach and something that’s kind of a luxury or a convenience. As we age, that can become an essential aspect of life. And that sometimes is true of a lot of things in universal design. We add accessories in a kitchen cabinet to make it easier to reach things. Well today it makes it easier a time may come when I’m not able to bend. So it makes it possible. It becomes essential. So the bidet system built into the toilet- Great idea. Universal design maybe won’t include a bidet system on everybody’s toilet, but an outlet in that area or grounded outlet would provide for the addition of that later. And that’s really good universal design too. A wall hung toilet is another thing, I can put it at whatever height, it saves clear floor space in all the post World War Two, five by eight bathrooms that were redesigned. In your new home, probably you have one of those. And given the age of your home, probably you do. And so we’re looking for some clearance in a very tight space. That wall hung toilet will give us back maybe five inches of clearance across the room, which is huge, and it’s easier to clean around. It’s also easier, again, as I advanced in aging, if I can tuck my feet under myself to stand up, as opposed to having to have my feet out in front of me, and with that wall hung toilet, I can get my feet underneath that toilet bowl and stand up more easily. So lots of reasons why that can work. Well, actually sometimes people want to talk about the cost. Is it more expensive to do things that are universal design? If it’s a new space, it’s not more expensive, doesn’t have to be more expensive. But if we were renovating, that wall hung toilet might bring an added cost because we’d be looking to move a waist-line and that’s a pretty big ticket item. But in a new space, adding a bathroom is a wonderful thing to consider. Then we could go into the tub/shower area, and the most beautiful thing to talk about there today is the linear drains and the north threshold showers. I used to say that if I could get all of my production builders in the southwest, they had huge tiled showers, huge, but they would never give up the threshold. And I finally got them to give up the threshold. Then they did a step down because they want to contain the water, and we do have to contain water. But now with the creation of attractive linear drains, people are doing no threshold showers. It’s great from the vantage point of aesthetics because it means I can maintain the same flooring throughout small space looks great. It makes the space much more open,but it also is of course, wonderful for clear floor space and maneuvering in terms of mobility issues.

Kelly :                                23:09                   Yeah. My grandfather was in a wheelchair actually, now that you’re mentioning it, and my parents redid their house years ago and wanted to make sure that it would be accessible for him and we had a roll-in no threshold shower and we actually had an elevator in the house to the second floor to make sure that he would be able to live there and age there.

Mary Jo:                            23:30                   That’s beautiful. It’s an expensive proposition to do it the way they did it. So that’s why if we’re thinking in terms of universal design, every time something changed, you’d look to see how much can I incorporate better access, improved access and flexibility every time, or in new construction, what can I do from the onset, so that it doesn’t cost as much. I think also, you know, you mentioned sustainability and of course this is a major focus of our lives and if we can incorporate universal design when we build or renovate, it means that that home will not have to be renovated again as much because we will have prepared for the changes that occur in the life of the house.

Kelly :                                24:16                   Right. I love that. And we talked a little bit about the kitchen renovations and reusing cabinets from before, which I love that idea. And why not create a space where you don’t have to Redo every five years or as you age or as your life changes, as you have kids, as you get pregnant, whatever.

Mary Jo:                            24:38                   That’s right. Well, so we started talking about the kitchen. Maybe I should move to the kitchen with a few things. We kind of skipped the vanity area, but we did some things on the bathroom. So in the kitchen, one of the things that people don’t always think of, but it is a great universal design thinking process approaching the kitchen, is the heights of things, not just the heights of work surfaces and storage, but also the heights of appliances. You know, traditional multiple ovens in a kitchen, or an oven in a microwave or an oven and a steam oven would be stacked, a tall cabinet. And today we see sort of mid height cabinets with those appliances being designed to fit across. So it creates that strong horizontal line that’s good in design, but it also puts all those appliances at a comfort height. For most people you can choose the height, you know? So thinking about non traditional heights of traditional items in the kitchen is I think one of the less obvious things that goes a long way into making life easier. And if you don’t think so, I want you to think about it the next time Thanksgiving hits and you’re taking the Turkey out of the oven at your age.

Kelly:                                  25:50                   My cousin actually has a microwave that is so high up you have to get on the stool every time you go in there and whatever you get out is probably piping hot. So it’s also dangerous for kids and regular adults as well.

Mary Jo:                            26:07                   Well and who uses the microwave the most? Its kids, right? So it’s one of my arguments against the over the range microwave. I know it’s great when you can save space and when you have to save space, but for those of us who aren’t super tall pulling something that might be liquid out and towards me, there’s a definitely a safety risk there.

Kelly :                                26:28                   Right. It’s a good thing to avoid and fun fact: they’re not as good at exhausting the air when you use that for your exhaust. So we actually have a separate episode that’ll, that’ll come out at some point about that.

Mary Jo:                            26:40                   Well good, the kitchen is a big space to talk about that.

Kelly:                                  26:44                   Right, right. And that has to do with healthy homes and making sure we’re not creating more disabilities by having people live in the spaces that we’re creating, as as designers and as consultants.

Mary Jo:                            26:55                   That’s right. Exactly right. So in the kitchen, we talked about heights of things, also heights of work surface, you know in an ideal world, work surfaces might be adjustable in height and occasionally that is done especially where there is a work center, a cooktop or a sink. But more often, especially in the size of kitchens today, we’ll find a way to have different heights at different places in the kitchen. So the tall person is more comfortable working over here. A shorter person might be more, or a seated person might be more comfortable over there. And if we were ever going to double up on anything, the thing that people most often will have two have of in the kitchen is the sink, right? Because that creates two full work centers. As long as there’s water and a surface next to it and some storage. And sometimes that works out to be the cooking center over here, or the prep center, and over here it’s the cleanup and table setting and all that, so it is great for the function in general of the kitchen, but it also is flexible for the different sizes, shapes, abilities of people. I think lighting is something we haven’t talked about in both rooms. There’s been so many advances in lighting that it becomes a great aspect of universal design. You know, we can take a tiny strip of L.E.D. Lighting now and put it absolutely anywhere

Kelly :                                28:16                   Or everywhere!

Mary Jo:                            28:21                   Right and so its wonderful that we can eliminate shadows in our functional areas, kitchen and bathroom, both being high function areas. It’s also important to have adjustability in that lighting. You know, if I’m cleaning the room, I’m going to turn all the lights up so that I can scrub and see the corners and whatever. If I’m trying to have an intimate dinner, I’m going to turn the turn the lights down. So it’s nice just in general, but it’s also, there are conditions that are common to us as we age. And if we can adjust the lighting in the right ways, we can reduce the impact of those conditions. So adjustability is good too.

Kelly :                                28:58                   Great points, do you have any more good examples?

Mary Jo:                            29:04                   We haven’t said much about technology, and there’s so much happening in technology that really speaks to universal design. It is the story of, it’s a convenience or you’ll say, oh, isn’t it ridiculous? Look what you can do. But the day can come when it’s no longer so over the top, it’s more essential. Things that have to do with controlling appliances, you know, almost all our appliances now can be connected. And when they’re connected, that creates the possibility of a remote control, even just in your telephone, you know, so I can, through my telephone, know what’s in my refrigerator. I can pass that along to one of my shopping services, and the groceries can be delivered, so when I get home at night, it’s all done. But if I’m not able to get around as much, those things become all the more imperative. And the good example of that is the venting over a cooktop. You know, even for an average height person, you know, we have to reach high to reach the hood. If I’m a seated person or a shorter person, I can’t reach it. So that was the first place where we saw those remote controls built in or no, of course in our phones.

Kelly :                                30:18                   Right. Those are great points. And I think the technology piece is interesting, bringing me back to a previous episode, I joked about having the refrigerator walk to the store for you.

Mary Jo:                            30:33                   It practically does, we have the option.

Kelly:                                  30:38                   Yeah, and it never occurred to me to think about it this way, but thinking about it from a health perspective, if you can make it more convenient for you to get those kinds of groceries that are healthier, but it’s not out of your way. Or maybe you don’t get home until late and only the corner store is open. If you can have something that gets delivered, but it can be a healthier option, maybe that could actually improve things. I’m not sure if that statistically is what’s happening with this

Mary Jo:                            31:09                   So I have a good friend who is a naturopath and she focuses on all the ways that we can enhance the eating experience, and improve the healthy aspect of what we do and eat. And that’s one of the things that she mentions that if a person can plan ahead it’s much more likely that they will eat healthy. And that allows that, without taking quite as much time. So I think it does make a difference. I think sitting just like the way you and I are around the corner from each other is another social aspect of eating. So our long island with all the seats on the back of the island, maybe if we could wrap those seats around the corners, it’s a design concept that just makes it a little bit more of a social experience. It’s a good idea for health in general, it becomes much more of an imperative as we age because we isolate, you know, and we can lose interest in healthy food or food at all.

Kelly :                                32:03                   Actually I was just listening to something about technology and the impact of technology on social interaction. And they were saying that millennials are having issues with social interaction in the workplace because they’re so used to just being on their phones.

Mary Jo:                            32:18                   Absolutely, you know, sitting next to each other texting instead of talking. I think about that how we were talking about, WeWork earlier and the WeLive concept. One of the beauties of it, it’s an instant social network for people. You know, you go into the communal center, you can bring your computer or you can sit and talk, but you have instant community.

Kelly :                                32:40                   And they’re very conscious about creating space, and some offices are like this too, but creating spaces to channel people together into central locations.

Mary Jo:                            32:50                   I think it’s why it’s so popular with millennials because it makes it easier.

Kelly:                                  32:55                   Yeah. So as we’re sort of getting towards the end of our time here, is there one key takeaway that you think we should all leave this conversation with?

Mary Jo:                            33:07                   Well, if I had to take one concept, one thought and send it forward. If people changed the way they do things in one way from our conversation it would be to understand that universal design is a goal and a way of thinking, not a prescriptive list of details that need to be done, but an approach to design. And it should be part of everything we do.

Kelly :                                33:33                   That’s great. And the last thing that I like to ask people or that we like to ask people on this is when we have you back on the podcast in five years, what do you think we will be talking about then?

Mary Jo:                            33:47                   I think that one of the things we’ll talk about is technology and how much it has impacted the way we live. I’ll give you an example. Our aging boomers, a group that I belong to, and I’m happy to belong to, but as we age, you know, everything that has a chip in it can be a monitor as well. And so integrative health and the ability of our homes to help support us and maintain us as we advance in that aging process, I think that’s going to be a significant part of what’s going on in the world. So it’ll be interesting to watch.

Kelly :                                34:25                   That’s a great idea. And you were just talking to me before we started recording about a robot that makes your home healthier without you even having to flip any switches. You don’t have to control it remotely or at all.

Mary Jo:                            34:38                   He’s thinking for us. Right. That’s a little spooky, all of this is a little spooky. You know, on the one side I want my privacy, I want my control. But on the other side when it comes to home health, would I rather have a person hanging out at my house with me or you know, monitors that can let somebody know if I’m in trouble? Right. So it’ll change how we live.

Kelly:                                  34:58                   Yeah. Well I think that is very a great statement or sentiment to end on. Hopefully on the better side of that. Thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Speaker 4:                        35:20                   Thank you for listening to buildings and beyond. For more information about the topics discussed today, visit and check out the episode show notes buildings and beyond is brought to you by Steven Winter Associates. We provide green building and accessibility consulting services to improve the built environment. Our professionals have led the way since 1972 and the development of best practices to achieve high performance buildings. I’ve production team for today’s episode includes Dylan Martello, Alex Mirabile, and myself. Heather Breslin, thank you for listening and we’ll see you next week.


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