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An Interview with Barbara Beskind

Publish Date: January  01,  2017


PROFESSION: I am a lifelong problem solver and designer in both my 44-year career as an occupational therapist and my new career as a conceptual designer at global design firm IDEO, where I have recently been named a fellow.

MOTTO: Stay vertical and move forward with an inquisitive mind.

CURRENTLY READING: Nothing. Being legally blind, I can read only one letter at a time on the New York Times headlines to identify articles on business, technology, and current work. Tuesday’s edition (the science section) is a special treat, and I relish having articles of interest read to me. Without fail, I listen to a three-hour book program each weekend to keep abreast of recent books on world events, archaeology, history, and technology.

FAVORITE HOBBY: A lifelong love of learning. I’m an artist, a writer, and a designer.

FAVORITE PART OF JOB: As a soon- to-be 93-year-old, I’m a conceptual designer at IDEO, where I share a lifetime of experience with young designers and engineers. My favorite part is working with young people and exchanging ideas. My expertise focuses on improving life for the physically handicapped, the elderly, and the visually impaired.

SURPRISING LESSONS LEARNED WHILE AT IDEO: The warm welcome, respect, and acceptance of my ideas and point of view from people of all ages and global backgrounds. They energize me! Unless you stretch the mind, you will not be able to access untapped resources. This is what working at IDEO has done for me.

BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT OLDER ADULTS IN THIS COUNTRY: That the elderly are no longer able to contribute meaningfully to their community. People may also equate aging with cognitive decline.

ADVICE TO TEENAGE SELF: Establish good posture and a strong walking gait to maintain optimal balance in one’s older years. And keep a passion for lifelong learning!

INVENTION THAT GAVE YOU THE MOST SATISFACTION: My design of inflated therapeutic equipment for children with learning disorders to improve their balance. I had developed these in my occupational therapy [OT] clinic, which was the first private OT clinic in the United States.

BIGGEST CHANGE OR ADVANCEMENT THAT NEEDS TO BE IMPLEMENTED TO HELP  SENIORS: Develop hearing aids that are more user friendly for the elderly. For example, some elderly people have a hard time changing the small batteries due to poor vision and/or dexterity.

ADVICE FOR SENIORS WHO WANT TO BE MORE ACTIVE: Never let age define you nor limit what you can do! Always cultivate and contribute to active, engaging relationships with younger generations.

BIGGEST CHILDHOOD INSPIRATION: My parents taught me up to be a problem solver, and to be self- disciplined, self-motivated, and self-reliant. Because I grew up during the Great Depression, these were essential skills. They served me well during my 20-year Army career, one of the most important experiences for me in successful aging. We lived with my grandmother, who was a voracious reader. She had a “lockbox” memory, reciting Shakespeare the day she died at age 96.

THOUGHTS ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN AND OLDER PEOPLE: There are more opportunities for women to work outside the home in professions other than teaching, nursing, and secretarial work compared with when I began my career. As a result, women may be somewhat better prepared for their later years. I was fortunate to never be disadvantaged or harassed during my Army career.

As a child, I saw elderly women, like my grandmother, put on a pedestal when they became widows. Currently, it’s more acceptable for women to move forward in their lives after the loss of a spouse. I believe this is moving in a healthier direction.

THE AFFECT OF AGING ON YOUR PERSPECTIVE: I treasure the exposure to diverse ideas, in both my personal and my professional life.