I believe my life is designed to do exactly what I do.
Meet my younger brother, David Schulman, we were 11 months apart. He was a talented athlete, involved in many sports, such as hockey, biking and swimming. He set provincial records in swimming that stood for 11 years, until Canadian Olympian Mark Tewksbury broke them. Dave embraced life through a variety of other activities as well, including photography, fishing, hunting and building models.
In 1981, Dave’s life was catastrophically altered when he was involved in a bike-car accident that resulted in a severe closed head injury. David’s brain injury caused significant cognitive impairment and he spent 22 years living in medical facilities – 19 of which were spent in 3-4 different seniors’ homes. But every Friday night, he would return home for the weekend and our family would come together to care for him and bond over much laughter and chaos.
Over those two decades, I learned first-hand about seniors’ homes and operational and caregiving models. Taking Dave out on numerous outings always taught me how to design something better. I used to think, “there has to be a better way!” or “if they had only designed it slightly differently.” Pushing Dave in a wheelchair, I understood how difficult and cumbersome life could become. For most of his life, David languished in institutional settings. As hard as our family advocated for change, Dave’s independence, dignity, pride and self-worth eroded. He was physically restrained in a wheelchair and continuously medicated, despite how often we met with the directors to explain it was not OK or necessary.
We desperately sought after a facility with specially-trained caregivers who understood the unique needs of the people in their care. We advocated for Dave and those in similar circumstances for years and eventually such a facility was built at the Sherbrook Community Center in Saskatoon, SK. Dave moved into a ‘home within a home’ there with five young men and a dog named ABI (acronym for Acquired Brain Injured). They had consistent, specially-trained caregivers and they all bonded and functioned beautifully as a family of young men. They cooked together, ate at a dining table together and enjoyed life in similar ways young men do. David’s life changed for the positive and he was able to make independent decisions during his daily life. He was a changed man!
Since then, I have dedicated my life to understanding what better options can exist for people living with cognitive or physical challenges. When I design the interior a home or multi-family facility, I take time to understand what the user’s needs are. What brings them JOY and an increased independence? How can they live life to the fullest? How can I make their experience comfortable and EASY by incorporating seamless modifications into their environment? What are the little things that make them HAPPY?
What opportunities have inspired you in your own life?