By Wendy Sarubbi | July 8, 2015 1:04 pm

A family member’s struggle with disabilities inspired the innovation of a better everyday item for College of Medicine Operations Director Barbara O’Hara, who recently received a U.S. patent for the “hanging corner shelf assembly” she designed.

The free-standing corner shelf is in College of Medicine disability-accessible restrooms. And while people use it countless times to hold their purses, wallets, papers and phones, few realize that the shelf can’t be found anywhere else.  O’Hara was inspired to hand-draw the design after a cousin, who is paralyzed, visited her Orlando home and couldn’t enter the bathroom with his wheelchair. The family took the doors off the hinges, but that gave her cousin no privacy. “That left an impression on me, how difficult it is for people with disabilities to perform basic functions,” she said. “And it made me realize that if someone in a wheelchair uses a restroom at the College of Medicine, they would have nowhere to put their personal items, except the floor.”

O’Hara is one of the original employees who helped design and build the College of Medicine nearly nine years ago. She and other leaders had a priority to make the new facility at Lake Nona meet federal regulations for accessibility in all locations, from the parking lots to the restrooms. As part of that effort, O’Hara enlisted a cabinet-maker to build the free-standing shelf that could be hung in the corner of the restroom stall, not impeding the grab bar, or the space needed for a wheelchair to turn around.

Almost three years ago, when UCF’s Office of Research and Commercialization intellectual property attorneys visited to college and noticed the unique shelves, they began an effort to have the design patented. The university received word this month that the U.S. patent had been approved. “My hope is that it will become a federal requirement that all disability restrooms have a shelf to place belongings,” O’Hara said, adding that this type of convenience is a matter of inclusion for everyone who enters the medical school. “When we think of diversity,” she said, “we have to think of all diversity, including people with disabilities.”

With a patent in hand, O’Hara says she has new ideas to help make the college more accessible and safe. “Sometimes I just wake up in the morning, and start drawing,” she said. “I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to be in this environment that lets creativity happen without barriers.”

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