“I like to support people in their march toward happiness”

María Lledó is a young woman passionate about art and design who wants to help improve the lives of people with functional diversity. She is currently pursuing the Postgraduate Degree in Accessibility: Universal Design Specialist at UIC Barcelona. Her final degree project, La Fourmilière, is co-housing for young people with functional diversity. She believes empathy and listening to future users is key. She thinks that not just architectural barriers, but social barriers as well must be brought down to achieve a more inclusive society.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Castellón de la Plana. Since I was a young child I have been very perceptive, and art has been important to me; it has been my way to express myself. I have been training in the different artistic techniques, learning and enjoying it. This summer, I finished a degree in interior design and I am currently studying the Postgraduate Degree in Accessibility:  Universal Design Specialist at UIC Barcelona.

What is studying this this post-graduate degree like for you?

The training is excellent, very extensive and the teachers are all extremely active people and specialists in accessibility who know all the latest actions and realities from different fields, and in the different regions as well. 

Your final degree project, La Fourmilière, is co-housing for young people with functional diversity. Where did you get this idea?

It started as a concern after meeting so many young people with functional diversity in the hospital environments, where I find myself often because of my different illnesses. They suffer from numerous architectural and social barriers, and I wanted to create a space that would seek their well-being and autonomy that would be based on listening to the user.

What was the most difficult part of creating this co-housing?

Its dimensions; it is a very large space, and I am extremely perfectionist and wanted to take care of every detail of the entire space. Also wanting to meet the needs of every user, or the largest number of users is always complex because diversity is very broad.

What was the most important thing you learned?

The enormous responsibility that comes with designing, how it affects the user’s life, their daily activities… And also how important it is to be empathetic, to listen well to the people we are design for. Many times, they themselves know what they need and what doesn’t work.

You received the award from the Association of Interior Designers of Catalonia (CODIC) for your final degree project. How did you feel about this recognition?

Very happy that they valued my work, but even more happy to make the different needs of these young users more visible, because sometimes society forgets about them.

What barriers do you think still exist today in terms of accessibility?

Many barriers exist in all aspects of life. There are barriers that are more visible and those that are less visible, and we have almost all of these barriers integrated into the way we talk, think and/or act. I am still understanding and learning about barriers in postgraduate course. Undoubtedly, the first step is to recognise them so that we can move forward and look for alternatives.

What do you think would be needed to improve the situation of people with functional diversity?

I think you need to listen, you need to empathise. You don’t understand everything quickly or easily just by seeing someone, you can’t evaluate or interpret it lightly. Diversity is very broad and I think that working together from different professional fields is very enlightening. That is what we are experiencing this in the course, a stronger interdisciplinary approach is needed to better attend the diversity of needs. And this is very important because inadequate action isolates the individual, makes their life harder and their increases their suffering. 

What would you like to do in the future?

I’m still not sure how, but I would very much like to collaborate or cooperate in designing, so that life is easier for people, as I like to say, to support the person in their march toward happiness. I’ve always been a real dreamer, but I’d like to do my part to improve people’s lives.
 

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