If you're going to talk about patient-centered care, you ought to know about Patricia Moore

Patricia Moore had worked for famous product designer Raymond Loewy for three years, but one planning meeting about a refrigerator would change the course of her career.

At 26, Ms. Moore was the youngest and only female industrial designer in Loewy's New York City office. During this planning meeting, she suggested the fridge door be designed so someone with arthritis could open it with ease. The idea was swiftly rejected by her superior with a stunning retort: "Pattie, we don't design for those people."

The comment stung Ms. Moore, who was raised with her grandparents. 

"I never saw my grandparents as those people, but I witnessed their inability as they aged in place and could no longer do the simple tasks of everyday living. I knew they weren't broken; the products that confined them and confounded them were the issue," she said in an April 2019 talk at the Columbus College of Art & Design. She still remembers the day her grandmother could no longer open the refrigerator door; it was the last time she cooked a meal. She would die one year later.

If she couldn't design for those people, Ms. Moore decided to live as one of them. The 26-year-old soon after began her life as an 85-year-old woman, episodically, for three years. 

With the help of a professional makeup artist, clouded contact lenses, gray permed hair, and full-body prosthetics to stiffen and slow her body movement, Ms. Moore set out in 1979 to experience ordinary moments in a youth-oriented society. This was not merely a costume, but a wholly immersive and empathic experience with features that altered her physical abilities. 

She visited airports, supermarkets, parks and neighborhoods across 116 cities. Her research was in response to what she encountered at Raymond Loewy and named "Darwinian design," in which products are made for the white urban professional with 2.3 children, a dog and a white picket fence in mind, as she described it to the Chicago Tribune in 1985.

"The fundamental thing every architect, designer and engineer needs to realize is that we remain very much the same person, the same consumer, for every day of our adult lives," she told Metropolis Magazine in 2012. "The activities and environments you enjoyed in your youth will remain the things you desire and rely on until your final breath. It is only when we can no longer manage the places and products we experience, not because of age, but rather because of changes in our level of mental and physical ability, that the quality of our life is in jeopardy."

With this thinking, Ms. Moore grew concerned about mismatches between design and ability, such as bottle caps and arthritic fingers, coffee mugs and weak wrists, prescription labels and cataracts. But her first and perhaps most profound observation was her invisibility when costumed as an elderly woman. 

Ms. Moore first lived as an elder in Columbus, Ohio, at a conference about design for skilled nursing care. She was ignored until the second day, when a young man said, "Yesterday there was an old lady here, why don't we talk to her?" 

Physical obstacles were aplenty, but just as impressionable were the prejudices and social stigmas she encountered. Cashiers would short-change her, assuming she didn't notice. Hordes of people would race by her in airports, nearly knocking her down, or cut in front of her in line. "People would see me and call out cruel things, tell me to, 'Get out of the way, you old bag.' She could not cross the street in the time permitted before the traffic light changed.

Ms. Moore also endured extreme trauma during her time as an elder. She was mugged twice. The second time she was beaten by a gang, which resulted in pelvic injuries that, as she learned years later, would prevent her from having a child.  

Ms. Moore's experience and field notes went on to inspire international product design and the concept of universal design, in which products embrace the needs of all consumers with principles of accessibility, inclusivity, empathy and autonomy. After retiring "the other Pat Moore" in 1982, she started her own design firm. "I've been going into boardrooms and talking about universal design until I am blue in the face," she told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. For 38 years she has served as president of MooreDesign Associates. In 2019, she received the distinguished Cooper Hewitt National Design Award in the Design Mind category. 

You are likely familiar with some of the design concepts that Ms. Moore — nicknamed the "Mother of Empathy" — has inspired or created, including OXO Good Grips products and more than 300 physical medicine and rehab environments for healthcare facilities around the world. (Her healthcare clients include Kaiser Permanente, Baxter Healthcare and Johnson & Johnson.) 

She designed a mammogram with a function that automatically releases the machine's compression once the X-ray is complete — ending a woman's discomfort swiftly and not continuing it for one second longer than necessary. "That's one of my proudest moments, fighting against — sadly — the men who were financing this project and who said we didn't need to spend money on that detail," she said

Who in your organization is asking the kind of questions that Ms. Moore posed back in the 1970s as the youngest and only woman in a room full of "old salts," as she called them, who decided on features that determined who could and couldn't participate in ordinary life? These questions aren't limited to any specific appliance or design; they're open-ended questions that aim to start a more inclusive conversation, starting with "what if" or "what about." 

"I would meekly raise my hand to add, 'Well what if?' What if, what if, what if," Ms. Moore recalled at CCAD. "It was always about what if we expanded our design vision and included people who were not considered primary consumers, primary customers. They typically were our elders, people with arthritis, people who walked with wheels, saw with their fingertips, listened with their eyes."

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