Get to know “Universal Design Partners”: Friday Featured Local Business

This week’s featured local business is Universal Design Partners.



About: Universal Design Partners is run by Scott and Sarah Pruett; both of whom are health care professionals who specialize in Universal design and accessibility. Their passion is helping businesses design things that are functional for the greatest amount of people.

So, Sarah, give us some background on your company. What do you do and why do it?

We both have a background in physical rehabilitation and made a decision to apply our skills in the community instead of in a clinical setting. I’m an occupational therapist and Scott is a therapeutic recreation specialist. Back in 1999 Scott was in a skiing accident, broke his neck, bruised his spinal cord, and has been using a wheelchair ever since. It wasn’t really one of those things he planned for and life changed quickly. Lesson learned: life isn’t predictable. I know we’re not alone in realizing that.

We’ve each worked with people whose lives have been turned upside down by some sort of physical issue, whether age, injury, or illness – speaking very generally here – that has affected ways they interact with nearly everything in their homes and communities, and we see tremendous opportunity to help make life easier for them.

We’ve chosen two things to focus on:

  1. Encouraging widespread use of universal design, which is about the design of things that are highly accessible and highly usable for the greatest amount of people, regardless if a health condition exists or not.
  2. Consulting with businesses and organizations to help make the things they offer more accessible and usable. Not only does this increase value of what they offer, but if enough businesses and organizations get on board with the idea of universal design, it will ultimately will make communities more “welcoming” and easier to access for people who live in them, again regardless if health-related needs exist or not.

There are places that people want to go and things people want to do on a regular basis that are more difficult than needed, simply because of the design. When things are designed well, whether a place, product, or program, all sorts of stuff in life becomes easier and less stressful. Who doesn’t want that?

Do you have an ideal client? If so, what do they look like?

Yup. We ideally want to work with businesses or organizations who are designing, building, or creating new things. This can include everything from residential homebuilding, commercial construction, product development, leisure service, and all sorts of things in-between. We want to work with clients that value the intellectual capital that we can provide as healthcare professionals to increase the functionality of their products and/or services.

What is your favorite success story in the past few years?

We love to travel; two years ago we were able to move to a small mountain town in Colorado for 4 months as Scott was finishing his graduate degree in Parks and Recreation Management. We rooted ourselves in Crested Butte while Scott worked at The Adaptive Sports Center – an outdoor adventure organization that specializes in providing opportunity for people with disabilities to participate in outdoor adventure sports. These sports, activities, or programs offer tremendous therapeutic value through increased physical skills, confidence, and other context-specific benefits. It was a wonderful change of pace and gave us the time to challenge ourselves both physically and vocationally. We also worked with local lodging providers to increase accessibility for participants of the center, and we saw firsthand that all that’s necessary to catalyze big results in people’s lives is a little problem-solving. It was rewarding personally and professionally as we saw positive changes as the result of our efforts.

What do you like to do for fun in Harrisonburg? Favorite Restaurant? Favorite place to spend a Saturday afternoon?

Well, Strite’s Donuts isn’t really a restaurant, but we live downtown and they conveniently park their donut truck within easy walking distance on Tuesdays and Thursdays; we love their hot and fresh awesomeness. Union Station and Dave’s are also downtown favorites. We enjoy getting away from the quick pace of everyday life and getting outdoors, whether taking a walk around the neighborhood or taking our Subaru or Jeep up into the mountains for a little off-road adventure. If we stay in for something low-key, it often includes Netflix, coffee, and maybe a dark craft beer. We’ve also developed some close friendships through our church community, and regular evenings with them provide entertainment and some borderline unhealthy amounts of laughter. I play volleyball once a week too.

What is on your (iPod, radio, phone) while you work?

It depends. Sometimes we need to work in silence, but usually Pandora is streaming something in the background. I typically work best with music from film scores or other classical music without words so I won’t get distracted by the lyrics and start singing. However, when doing mindless data entry you’ll probably hear either oldies, folk, contemporary bluegrass, or acappella music of all kinds coming from my computer. Scott’s music preferences are a little different from mine, but again dependent on what he’s doing. It’s typical to hear everything from acoustic folk/bluegrass/americana to bass-heavy uptempo stuff.

What is your favorite book?

I’m not a big reader these days, but I read Real Simple Magazine often. Scott’s a nerd and reads mostly non-fiction. His recent recommendations for business-related stuff are “The Personal MBA” by Josh Kauffman, “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip & Dan Heath, and the book of Proverbs from the Bible.

What is your favorite app for your phone?

Haha, other than Facebook and Pinterest? When out-of-town I use “Around Me” to locate places to eat or get gas. I’m definitely known to play several games of “Ticket To Ride” on long car trips. Scott’s are Any.Do, Buffer, Catch, and Flipboard.

Where is your favorite place to vacation?

I like the mountains and the beach. My favorite trip was a Caribbean cruise (our honeymoon). Scott doesn’t have a favorite, but he’d likely gravitate to the mountains for something quiet. Or, on the total flip side, he’d suggest a road trip to a big city for a bit of culture change and entertainment.

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