Gretchen Kingma, OTR/L, CAPS, ECHM, Realtor
REALTOR, Occupational Therapist , Accessibility Consultant
As an Occupational Therapist/Realtor, give us an overview of your work with the aging adult population and individuals with disabilities.
My work is two-fold. For example, when I get a client referral, for someone with specific occupational therapy needs, I first complete a comprehensive assessment of the client’s physical needs and their current living situation. If market data and constraints in their current environment support a move, I will educate the client on the process of selling and purchasing a new home. However, if it makes more sense for the client to remain in their home, I will make home modification recommendations and refer them to a contractor who can complete the home modifications.
How did you transition from Occupational Therapy into creating practical spaces for clients?
As a clinical Occupational Therapist in adult rehabilitation, I had the role of the “home assessment therapist.” Therefore before patients would discharge to home from a rehab stay, I would complete a (quick) home visit and leave them with a laundry list of “to-dos” without real resources of how they could get them done. This was due largely in part to the insurance reimbursement restrictions. Long story short, the bureaucracy of health care in the United States drove me nuts. I landed on “real estate professional” while brainstorming career paths that would allow for a proactive approach of addressing
the built environment. I entered into the residential real estate space with a very narrow mindset, which has grown tremendously has I have been able to increase my reach.
Universal Design – what are some of the functional, yet attractive features that can be incorporated into a home’s design:
For a wheelchair user: Curbless / zero-entry showers are very trendy right now, because they offer a sleek modern look, however this design feature is extremely valuable to a wheelchair user.
For a senior: Incorporating natural light as much as possible is great for older adults as many older adults struggle with some sort of low vision. Incorporating dark colors in the curtains or wall paint can help with minimizing glare.
For someone with Dementia or Alzheimer’s: Backing in the walls (horizontal wood) between the 2×4 studs behind the drywall offers the opportunity for grab bars OR grab bar/toilet paper holders to be installed when needed. This is a great feature to proactively build into homes.
Lever-style door handles as opposed to knobs are easier for all abilities across the lifespan, as well as rocker style light switches.
Do you think universally designed homes will allow aging in place to be more prevalent?
YES! My deepest hope is that someday builders across the board will recognize that universally designed homes are a great option for the consumer and while it may seem more expensive for the builder upfront, the more that is built, the more affordable it becomes to offer a UD product.
What are some of the most basic features every architect/builder should incorporate into homes regardless of who will be living there?
Zero-step entry at one or more entrances, 32” or greater hallways and doorways, barrier-free showers, and main floor laundry
Because universal/inclusive designs reduce functional limitations in the built environment, will you say wheelchair users benefit the most?
No. I truly believe that when universal design is done well, that we all benefit, not just wheelchair users.
Think about the able-bodied mother in her 30s carrying a baby, a toddler and multiple bags of groceries through the front door or the garage entrance. When the thresholds are made minimal, and the stairs are eliminated for entry, this task is made so much easier for the homeowner.
Gretchen is working to release a course focused on how to serve the real estate industry as an occupational therapist.