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From a wheelchair-friendly home bathroom to computer equipment that’s easier on arthritic hands, student innovators from across California designed products and spaces to better serve individuals of all abilities for the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology’s Morton Kesten Universal Design Competition.

Held annually in conjunction with the Davis School’s Morton Kesten Summit, the competition promotes using the principles of Universal Design to make everyday items and locations more conducive to independent living and aging-in-place. Competition entrants submitted a poster and design process paper and were judged on several criteria, including their application of Universal Design principles, their research into the market and need for their design, their engagement of potential users, and how they merged their design’s function with aesthetic appeal. The judges included USC Leonard Davis School faculty members as well as outside design experts.

This year’s first place winner and recipient of a $1500 prize was Adrian Po Villanueva, an industrial design student at California State University, Long Beach. His submission, “DAGR: Wield the Cursor,” detailed a wand-like ergonomic device to replace a typical computer mouse for users suffering from arthritis. The DAGR design concept allows users to hold the device in a comfortable loose-fist position, placing a click button and thumb-operated trackpad within easy reach for those with limited hand dexterity. In addition, the tip of the device can be used to press keyboard buttons, and two of the devices can be used simultaneously for additional functionality.

Villanueva said inspiration for the project came from both his computer-focused professional life and the knowledge that today’s older workers face health problems, including arthritis, that make their everyday work life more difficult and painful.

bathroom redesign genesis chavez

Above: the second place winner was Genesis Chavez, who redesigned a bathroom to be wheelchair-friendly. Top of page: the first place winner was Adrian Po Villanueva; he designed a wand-like computer interface device called DAGR for people with arthritis and other detexity problems.

Helping older adults, people with disabilities, and other individuals maintain their independence is crucial as our society continues to age rapidly, said Jon Pynoos, UPS Foundation Professor of Gerontology, Policy and Planning at the USC Leonard Davis School and one of the competition’s judges. He pointed out that goal of universal design is to create products and environments that are usable by all persons regardless of their age or abilities.

“Modifications and universal design can allow people to more easily engage in major life activities or even minor tasks,” added contest coordinator and judge Emily Nabors, Program Manager of the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence.

The second place winner and recipient of a $1000 prize was a thoughtful bathroom redesign made for a wheelchair user by Art Institute of California interior design student Genesis Chavez. The reimagined space included an expanded floorplan, a lowered medicine cabinet, sink with knee space underneath to accommodate a seated user, a walk-in bathtub, a and roll-in shower complete with foldable seat, adjustable height shower head, an opaque glass door that allows for privacy, and lever bath controls with color-coded red and blue handles.

Two projects were selected for honorable mentions: Inland Empire Art Institute student Ariella Cedillo presented “Fluidity,” a laundry machine design that automatically moves heavy, wet clothes from the wash into the dryer, utilizes pictorial and audio instructions with a touch screen, and indicates when the laundry process is complete with lights and a melody. USC School of Architecture students Yilin Ma, Yidan Hu, and Zhou Li presented the “Slide Bathroom,” an innovative design concept with an emphasis on flexible use of space that includes movable wall units and features in a grid system.

“It is my hope that universal design becomes an integral part of all new product, environment and residence design,” said Mary Lou Dauray, one of the competition judges and an environmental artist and advocate for inclusive spaces and universal design. “The Leonard Davis School of Gerontology competition reflects a desire among some students to include UD principles in their inspiring design projects.”

The Morton Kesten Summit and Universal Design Competition are endowed by a family member in memory of the late Morton Kesten. The Morton Kesten Summit has historically been convened to address the needs of California’s increasing number of individuals aging in place. Next year’s Universal Design Competition will invite students from design programs across the country to submit entries.

For more information and to view this year’s winning designs, visit the competition website:


1st Place Winner – $1500 Prize
DAGR: Wield the Cursor
Adrian Po Villanueva
California State University, Long Beach, Industrial Design program

2nd Place Winner – $1000 Prize
Bathroom Re-Design
Genesis Chavez
The Art Institute of California, Inland Empire, Interior Design program

Honorable Mentions­
Ariella Cedillo
Inland Empire Art Institute of San Bernardino

Slide Bathroom
Yilin Ma, Yidan Hu, Zhou Li
USC School of Architecture

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