Barrier-Free Design | Maegan Blau
Elevating Spaces Through Barrier-Free Design: A Conversation with Maegan Blau
Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia, a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.
Open hearts, clear paths. Let’s go.
Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I am Alycia, and we are talking about barrier free design today with Maegan Blau.
I am one of her biggest fans. I have been following her on social media for years at this point. She is the founder of Blue Copper Design which is a full-service interior design studio based in Arizona, and she is an expert in barrier free design that is also may I note beautiful and stunning and amazing. And, I wanted everything and all of it in my house.
It is a combination of accessibility with beautiful interiors to elevate and empower their clients. Their designs are brave, intentional, inclusive, intuitive, and they are very thoughtful in your designs. Maegan, welcome.
Maegan Blau: Thank you so much, Alycia, for having me… very flattering introduction.
Alycia Anderson: So, you know that since the moment the Instagram angels crossed our paths. I have been completely obsessed with your design specifically because I think when I was introduced to you, I was just buying my house and I was going through all these design things and I just wanted my house to be accessible. Which it is not still…
And, I came across your Instagram and your kitchen is perfection for a wheelchair user, at least it looks like it and your bathroom, actually…
I have been enjoying watching the design work that you do ever since. Do you want to jump in really quick and give a little overview of who you are, how you started in this work and a little bit about your business?
Maegan Blau: Yeah of course, like you said, my name is Maegan. I have been a wheelchair user for I think it is 13 or I cannot remember 14 years now. I am a quadriplegic, so I had a diving accident when I was 17. Got my spinal cord injury there from that and have been moving on ever since.
So, in 2018, I started my business Blue Copper Design, and it really came from my personal journey. Like you just said, Alycia. Like I bought my first house. I needed to make it accessible, but I also have always been, like obsessed with design, so I have a very specific vision for what I want in my house to be. And I hear this all the time from other people with disabilities, which we can get into later, but they always say, like, I do not want my house to look like someone in a wheelchair lives there.
If I could quote that and put it on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker I would, and then I would burn it.
But back then I had that same notion. So, I hired a contractor. I went through the whole process of my own home renovation and I really fell in love with it. Like the good, the bad, the ugly, the messy.
It was kind of like a disaster, but beautiful in the same term.
Like if it was, I always say if my if that project was like one of my projects… I would be like, oh my gosh, this is a disaster, but I did not really… you know, I was not acting as a designer. I was just a homeowner directing my contractors and really like my journey and my experience with that sparked the idea to create an interior design studio that was focused on barrier free design.
Because I found that I was having to explain myself a lot to my contractors and they did not understand what I meant when I was like, I do not want ADA code. Like, I want it like this and they were like, but ADA says this and I am like, yeah, I do not care.
This is my personal house and I do not need it to be ADA code. I just want it to like function for me. And I realized like, oh my gosh, it is like a whole another level of advocacy that I could not find anyone who specialized in.
So, I decided to specialize in it myself.
Alycia Anderson: You know what I just loved about that comment? A contractor is telling you no, this is ADA code, and you are saying I understand that, but this is what works for me, and I think we are already seeing…
You know, my platform is based around ableism and general society kind of understanding their bias towards people with disabilities, and that is absolutely one… that we should all fit in this box that fits into ADA and it should all kind of be the same.
Which, you know, every disability is so different, and so I think that that is a really, really cool mention and something to know.
What is it like for somebody with a disability to not have accessibility? Can you give us a couple like?
Maegan Blau: I mean, I am really picky when it comes to my homes, obviously, and that is why I decided to come into this realm. So, like I will say, I feel very lucky and blessed to like not have to live in super inaccessible places.
Now, I mean, obviously traveling and the first home I went to after the hospital was not accessible at all and I like just had to adapt and everything like that, but from personal experience like I am demanding with that because it is really like disempowering.
And so, when I say, like, we build spaces to empower our clients’ lives, like, I truly mean it.
Because I think when your home is not accessible and you have to put that much effort into like overcoming and like persevering in your own home, you just do not have a lot of energy, much energy for anything else. Like, it is very discouraging. So, the places that I have lived that have been less accessible or less set up for me, it is just more of a struggle and then on top of that like it is more dangerous.
Like, the person I was at year two or three in my injury versus now in year 13-14 is not the same person. Like, I have a lot more wear and tear on my body. I have a lot more needs. I have a lot more pickiness.
But yeah, like I cannot… it is just so much harder to like muscle your way through life as you age in general, and then as you age with a disability…
So, I just think it is really like… in one word, I think it is… disempowering, and then I also think, it is also exhausting.
Alycia Anderson: It is not only disempowering, but it is exclusive, right? Like, we have got an open floor plan when I am cooking in the kitchen I cannot see into the room where everybody is because my head is like below [the counter], you know, so there is just like also some exclusion from society.
What I also heard you say is you have changed as you have grown into your disability and things wear and tear, right?
Like, you do definitely start to wear down a bit and your body changes, but I think the longer you live with a disability and it really like becomes yours. You get a little bit braver and the things that you demand, that you know… that you deserve, to have in your life while you are navigating it.
And, I know for me, I have been more brave as I have been cruising down this advocacy path and it, you know, exploring these tougher conversations and…
What do you mean by brave in your design? Like, what does that mean to you?
Maegan Blau: For me, brave, from an aesthetic standpoint, it is like we are going to do something you have not seen before. Like, we are going to punch it up. We are going to, like, take a little bit of a risk. Like, I am not the biggest risk taker with design, and I, you know, I am not going to throw up pattern everywhere in different colors and stuff, but I do want to have an element where it is like, oh, I have not seen that before. And having my clients be a little bit afraid to like implement that in their homes, but it always will turn out cool. So, for me, from an aesthetic standpoint, that is what it means.
And then also from an accessibility standpoint, it is like… OK, we are going to tell the contractor, no, that is not how it is going to be done.
When your tile guy says, “I can’t do it this way.” We are going to be like, “Are you sure? Because we have already done it this way before.”
We are going to be brave in our voice. We are going to be brave in our needs and we are going to, you know, we are going to ask for what we want. And, we are going to… we are going to get it. One way or another.
Alycia Anderson: I love it. What are some of the barriers that you run into that you are constantly having to dismantle?
Maegan Blau: Yeah, I would say honestly, my biggest barriers besides like the physical thing. So, if we are going to talk about just more, you know, dealing with people and getting ideas done. My… obviously I have a barrier with working with contractors. I’ve kind of circumvented that at least here in Arizona because I have now used the same contractors over and over. So, they kind of know what I am about, but I will say I have been in business for five years.
Alycia Anderson: That’s a good number.
Maegan Blau: Thank you. I think so too.
The one thing that is really taking me by surprise is that my clients are actually barriers for me and they are barriers for themselves.
It has been like a really interesting like human study of like psychology, when you have people who are disabled, especially people who used to be able-bodied and then they became disabled. They have this like oh I do not need that or like it is fine if we cannot accomplish that or like, you know, like, yeah, it is a little hard, but I can do it.
It is really, breaking down the fact that, hey, you deserve to have a home in a space that works for you that you do not have to like muscle through. Let us make it right.
And so, that has been an interesting barrier we will say I never expected that.
Alycia Anderson: I can only imagine, like if you are newly into how hard it would be to turn off that internalized ableism of: I do not need that, that is for a disabled person or that type of thinking. Weird.
And my husband and I are in disability sports and we like, advocate for people doing different sports and whatever and it is the same kind of work that we do. Like, hey, do you know that this is out there? That you can go and play this… or do this?
So, I think it is awesome that you are leaving that information forward because even if it is not fully received in the first, like go around, that is all powerful information for them to take with them throughout their life. That is awesome.
Maegan Blau: Thank you for saying that. I mean, it is something I am like trying to get better at navigating because it can be like super sensitive, obviously for people we are constantly having to change ourselves to fit in with the rest of the world.
And, I think it is just like an extension of that more than anything else.
Alycia Anderson: What I see? Yeah, like the problem is not us. It is our environment around us. It has been so inaccessible through millennia that society looks at us like we cannot do XY and Z.
And if we do, there is a big party because we have accomplished something that is basic and is just a part of life. What is your average typical? Are they wheelchair users? Is there… is it a mixed bag? Like, who… who is your client?
Maegan Blau: It is definitely a mixed bag. I would say 70% right now of our projects have some elements of barrier free design.
So, a big criticism I get online… it is like, oh, that’s not ADA or that’s not barrier free.
Well, not all my projects are.
And I like that. I mean, it just speaks to me as a person. Like, I tell people all the time, “If I wasn’t in a wheelchair, I would still be an interior designer.”
So, I welcome the able-bodied people as well.
Alycia Anderson: Well, and you know what I love about that too… number one, you are pitching to everyone, and it’s the universal design aspect that like every consumer wants anyways, so you’re actually creating this premium product whether you have a disability or not to have these amazing spaces that function to fit multiple ability levels, which is an intuitive way to access infrastructure or products or whatever the universal design aspect of it, I think is so valuable…
You are listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia and we will be right back.
Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. I am Alycia, and we are talking about barrier free design today with Maegan Blau.
You know the whole adaptive product line is finally starting to gain some traction.
Is that coming across your desk and do you have any favorite designers the most?
Maegan Blau: One mainstream one that I have seen in recent times has been from Pottery Barn. So, Pottery Barn has an accessibility tab on their website and it has everything from like adjustable bed vanities like roll under vanities that are already pre made which are nice and then just like a few other furniture items.
So, when I am looking for furniture, the biggest thing I pay attention to is seat height, but as far as like accessibility lines, no. I mean, I am in the furniture world all the time and it is something that I have talked to like wholesale manufacturers about, and it is when it comes to furniture, for me it is like a super simple thing, it is transfer height.
And then, like, sturdy. Like, how sturdy is this piece of furniture? Does it have an arm? Is it going to tip over if I, like, push off of it to transfer in and out of? And, that goes for beds and things as well.
And then there is a whole other side of, like, renovation. So that is I always kind of break up my design tips into two because there’s furniture and there’s renovation. And of course, renovation… we all know what grab bars are, and that there’s pretty ones out there now, and I do not know about you, Alycia, but I never use grab bars unless I am traveling and like, I am a little unsteady in a shower or toilet area.
But in my own house, I do not even have grab bars.
Alycia Anderson: Yeah, I have never used grab bars either, and I actually like was adamantly against them forever just because they look like torture, right? Like they just came out of a hospital bathroom or something. It just reminded me of having surgery or something you know?
Maegan Blau: Yeah, I mean, you can definitely get like… they have better detail and then you can get the finishes to match your plumbing hardware like Polar and Delta pretty much all the major plumbing brands will make their grab bars and all of the finishes they offer or at least the majority of them.
So that’s nice and grab bars are great for certain people. Like it is great for seniors, it is great for people who maybe, like, do have some mobility and they just need some stability when, like in those areas. Like maybe they do not need the wheelchair all the time, but as far as like transferring.
I feel like there is this misconception that people [in wheelchairs] use grab bars and I have yet to find that. I just think people use it more for stability.
Alycia Anderson: So, where do you think the industry is going?
Maegan Blau: I think the future looks super bright. I mean, since starting my business, I have gotten some really great feedback. I see it more like in the past two years than I ever have in the past three years.
The mention of aging in place, universal design, barrier free design, I think we all understand like OK if… what if I… like, fell and broke my leg and had to have a surgery like does my house work for me?
Well, like there is no reason why it should not. So, there is even from, like, acute injuries to, like, severe disabilities and everywhere in between. And like, I think people are starting to see that.
And then I think the biggest level of traction that we have got honestly, is like the aging in place with the boomers, like everyone is afraid about where the boomers are going, and I am like, hey, let us talk… like, if they are gonna start the conversation, I will finish it. So, I would say as far as traction on that, I am very hopeful.
I still think that there needs to be a lot of education for people like who are actually making the changes as far as contractors and designers and things like that.
And then also this is something I have learned over the past five years. I did not really know exactly how to explain barrier free design because I felt like people always thought it was this big, complicated, scary, expensive thing that no one really wanted to touch. They do not know how to talk about it because it can be a sensitive topic to people.
And I am like finally knows talking to like a business. So, it was like… it is really actually, like… not that hard, and she was like, OK, that is what you need to tell people.
So here I am telling people, “It’s actually not that hard.”
The minimum of barrier free design is not that hard. We want an accessible entrance, so a curb is entrance, one to a house or a portable ramp at the minimum, and we want one curb less shower and one pretty good accessible sink and toilet.
For most people, that would change lives.
Those like simple, simple things are… That is not even being done in new builds and renovations. And I think that is, like if… I mean it is not enough, but I would love, I would be so happy to see that being started.
Alycia Anderson: There, feels like it opens up a lot of opportunity and return on investment and all kinds of things.
Maegan Blau: We only have 1% of homes in the United States are considered accessible. 1%! We definitely have some work to do, like, your house will be more valuable if you make it more accessible.
It does not have to be ugly. It does not have to be a hospital.
And side note, I have like a little case study. So, I did a barrier free consultation for a woman, her son was disabled and used a power chair, and we met with like a big home like a national home builder, which I typically do not do, and I ended up with the changes that we made to make her one of her bathrooms more accessible.
We saved her $13,000 on her home, so it is not a more expensive [option] because they use less material.
So, it is always easier to make a home accessible from scratch.
That I will say is a thing renovating things to make it accessible is where things get tricky, but renovations are tricky anyways.
Alycia Anderson: I love it. I love it so much. Before we wrap up, I like to wrap up every show with a pushing forward moment, so this might put you on the spot… Is there anything that you could give our listeners to inspire them to start down a journey such as yours?
Maegan Blau: So, whenever I come across anybody who asks me questions like those, I just say like, what would you do if you were not disabled?
Go do that. This is my hot take.
I think all too often people with disabilities think like, OK, I have to make this, like, my whole entire life now. My whole identity is being a person with a disability.
And, I think it is more powerful to see people, people who are with disabilities, in areas that they are passionate about, so if you want to be a teacher, go be a teacher, like go show, go show people that people with disabilities can be a teacher.
If you want to work for NASA, go show people that people with disabilities can work for NASA.
Find your interest as a person and pursue that, and then your disability and your power of advocacy… I think will just follow.
Alycia Anderson: Yes. So, Maegan as a consumer, as you are talking about all these amazing designs and your services, like what keeps coming to mind is, number one, you definitely look like your brand is beautiful and premium and gorgeous and just what I would want.
But also, I feel like as a consumer with a disability it would be… working with you would be like having a vacation from having to be a teacher to other contractors or other vendors that might not understand the lived perspective and what like we might need in a space.
Maegan Blau: A lot of people do not know what they are doing with homes able-bodied wise. So, can you imagine trusting your renovation to like a contractor who does not know what they are doing? So… and that also kind of speaks to like having the disability community understand that like they deserve luxury too.
Like some people think that they do not deserve it because they are disabled, and whatever reason… that just like… no, like, we deserve luxury.
We deserve services just like everybody else, and so I really wanted to start my business to advocate for, like, regular, like a traditional interior design studio business model, but that just caters to people with disabilities.
Alycia Anderson: And thank you so much. So, everything will be in the show notes, but please tell our audience how to find you, how to book you, how to get a consultation with you, all of your services.
Maegan Blau: Yeah, of course. I offer three different services all at different price points and tiers.
Our most involved, just full service that is if you want to start to finish through the whole journey of your project, and then we also offer virtual design.
So, if you are just needing some help like getting started and you want to plan and you want to execute it on your own, that is alright.
And then we also offer barrier free consulting. So, that is just a one-time 90-minute service where we can go over anything you want.
That is great for people who already have plans if they are already working with an architect or contractor, and they just want us to review it. That has been the most common use for that, but you can use this for any time, anything in those 90 minutes.
And then, best place to find me is Instagram. Blue Copper Design is my name on all social and I am most active on Instagram and you might find some like unhinged things with me on TikTok with number design.
And then my website is bluecopper.design and if you find me on one place, you will find me everywhere.
Alycia Anderson: So, I love it. Maegan, it has been my absolute pleasure to finally meet you women to women. Hi you are so talented. You are such an artist and a wonderful human being and you are just making so many great moves and changes and advocating for inclusion, and just all of it.
So, thank you for being you and doing the awesome work and showing the world that people with disabilities can be amazing interior designers as well.
This has been Pushing Forward with Alycia. I am Alycia, and that is how we roll?