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Bell Tower Magazine | Arts and SciencesJanuary 01, 2021

Grad Seeks Access for All

Written By: Dr. Judith Hansen


Ciara Fleer, ‘17, always knew she wanted to be an occupational therapist. But she also knew she needed something to set her apart when she reached graduate school. So on her way, she stopped to get a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with an emphasis in biochemistry.

“It was the right decision for me: It showed I could handle a challenging curriculum,” Fleer said. “I knew I wanted to start at UAFS. I loved it, and I loved the supportive faculty.”

As a newly minted OTD – a doctor of occupational therapy – and an August graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, Fleer is ready to get started in clinical practice in the greater Fort Smith region – maybe with a side gig.

For her capstone project at UCA, Fleer studied Universal Design, defined by Ron Mace in 1985 as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

It differs from accessibility, which often requires separate options and segregated access for people who have disabilities, Fleer said.

She offered this example of the contrast. “The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) tells you things like what kind of a light switch to use and where to place it. But Universal Design goes beyond that to help all people. Motion-activated lights help people using wheelchairs and walkers, but they also help parents pushing strollers, shoppers loaded down with packages, everybody.”

As she worked her way through her project, Fleer needed to talk to some business owners. UAFS Alumni Director Rick Goins put her in touch with Brandon Parker, ’09. Parker and his wife Jessica, ’09, own Carrot Dirt Organics, a healthy eating business that recently relocated to 7309 Chad Colley Blvd. at Chaffee Crossing.

“I just can’t say enough nice things about Ciara,” Parker said. “She was always detailed, professional. She’s just amazing.”

Parker helped Ciara by introducing her to people in the community.

“I think most people would be willing to incorporate some Universal Design in their businesses,” Parker said. “They just don’t know what they don’t know.”

Fleer would like to tell them. She notes that the cheapest time to make Universal Design part of a venue is at the beginning. As a consultant, she could help business owners make good design choices.

“We are slowly reducing the impact of disability throughout the whole community,” Fleer said.

“Someday, if everyone adopted these principles, we could have a community where you wouldn’t even have to wonder, ‘Will I be able to get in the door? Will I be able to read the menu? Will I be able to hear my companions?’”

Fleer is ready to help Fort Smith become that community.