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How OTs are influencing modern architecture

With developers increasingly required to construct homes that facilitate access for people with a range of disabilities, Occupational Therapists have an evolving role in shaping the design and layouts of properties.

Building regulations require property developers to ensure that homes are user-friendly for older or disabled people with the introduction of elements such as wheelchair accessibility, downstairs toilets and wet rooms, for example.

That is seeing architects and designers working ever more closely with Occupational Therapists in the way they lay-out and equip properties - a theme explored out at the recent Occupational Therapy Show in Birmingham.

Landlords working with OTs on design and layout

In recent years, there is growing evidence that housing associations and social landlords are seeing the benefit of working with people in allied health jobs like occupational therapists when letting properties, or designing properties to let to specific population sectors.

Such input can mean that landlords are able to make their properties more suitable more quickly with the support of an OT, who can work with would-be tenants on any potential adaptations. The OT can offer advice and guidance, be involved in new-build properties from the beginning of the process or advise on the installation of a stair lift, or wet room rather than a bath, for example. This increases independence for residents and helps to lift the burden on those in nursing jobs.

Elsewhere, home modification organisations have collaborated with Occupational Therapists over design to deliver the best outcomes for people with disability and older people wishing and to improve access and safety in the home. Home modification services include an access and safety consultation to advise on modifications for people with disability and older people – including kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, living areas, landscape design and street access.

Working in a variety of settings

Occupational Therapists can work in a variety of work settings and specialisms. They can help someone who has a substance misuse problem by helping clients develop living skills, coping strategies and a more satisfying lifestyle; help someone with Alzheimer's disease to find simpler ways of doing things and identify which skills, abilities and hobbies are most important to them; and support those with severe disabilities by arranging for equipment demonstrations and trials, or liaise with architects and builders over adapting housing.
Health and care services are increasingly turning to Occupational Therapists as they deal with an ageing population. That has moved on from advice on fitting stair rails, ordering hoists, measuring ramps and offering rehabilitation support as they work across the health and social care sector to supporting independence and preventing unnecessary hospital stays.

OT and architecture students learn together

In one innovative move, architecture and Occupational Therapy students at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen have been working together for a collaborative learning opportunity focusing on the needs of individuals with dementia in relation to their living environments.
The joint teaching and learning sessions were developed as an innovative way to support third year students and encourage future colleagues to collaborate, learning with and from each other.

The project has enabled a better understanding of building design and interpreting plans for the Occupational Therapy students, while the architecture students have gained awareness and knowledge of the needs of this particular population.

What do you think? If you’re an occupational therapist, have you found that changes in architecture and furniture design have made your job role easier? We’d love to hear your thoughts. 

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