Active Aging Role Model: Barbara BeskindActive Aging Role Model Barbara Beskind

We love featuring inspiring stories on SeniorAdvisor.com. That’s why we’re kicking off our Active Aging Role Model series. Each month, we’ll feature a senior who’s doing great things and living life with vibrancy. This week, we’re honoring Barbara Beskind, who, at the age of 91, is a UX designer at Silicon Valley design firm, IDEO.

Once a week, Beskind takes public transportation from her nursing home and walks a few blocks to the IDEO offices (using two ski poles she’s modified to help her walk more easily), where she serves as a designer and advisor on a team focusing on human-centered design for food, packaging, electronics, and aging.

Sitting on a couch in the office’s common area as her desk, Beskind uses no smart phone, tablet, or even desktop computer, but simply brings innovative ideas and insightful experience to a team of co-workers, some of whom are up to seven decades her junior. She often works directly with the designers in R&D to give practical input on how a senior may use a product, offering up thoughts and ideas they might never have consider, such as how a product needs to function in small spaces like an elevator.

Beskind initially began working with IDEO as it branched out to cover products for the aging, and is now integral in several products in development, including an innovative walker that helps the user stay more up-right, and home medical devices that can be rented by families to help loved ones age in place more safely and comfortably.

When Beskind arrives at the IDEO office every Thursday, a company-wide email is sent out and team members stop by to discuss projects with her and to seek her council. She explains that the staff is extremely supportive, almost like a “second family.”  Beskind often uses her own nursing home as a test environment for products, and even designs mobility aides for her friends there in her spare time. Beskind explains that she often sits and watches other residents function in everyday tasks, considering what could be improved upon and how to do it.

“People who design for the elderly think we need jeweled pill boxes or pink canes,” explains Beskind. “We need functional equipment.”

Two years ago, Beskind acquired this role after seeing an interview on 60 minutes with IDEO founders; she was so impressed that she sent a letter to the company, expressing her desire to work with other individuals with a passion for problem solving and innovative design. She explains that she was called to come in for an interview with a large group of engineers, was asked one question, and ended up speaking for 20 minutes then taking questions. She was immediately offered a position on a one-time project (a new product contest for which she would serve as a judge), but was later offered an extended role on the team.

An inspiring inventor since age 10, she explains that creative ideas simply ”bubble up” in her mind, and on the days when she goes into the IDEO office, she feels 30 years younger. Growing up during the Great Depression, Beskind had many opportunities to be creative, such as building a hobby horse out of old tires. But when time came for her to pursue her love of design and innovation after high school, she was told that there were no engineering schools that would accept female students.

She instead joined the Army, pursuing a career in occupational therapy, among other interests and hobbies. Five career changes later, she finally had her chance to become a full-time inventor, at the age of 91.

Explains Beskind’s coworker at IDEO, Gretchen Addi, “Our culture is telling us that aging equals decline. Barbara is very solidly standing there saying, ‘I’m going to call you on that.’ She’s just an incredible resource for us.”

Thank you, Barbara Beskind, for offering an excellent example of pursuing one’s dream, even 80 years after it began, and inspiring us to never give up learning or working hard to improve others’ lives.

Do you have an #ActiveAging role model you’d like us to feature on the SeniorAdvisor.com blog? Let us know in the comments!

Megan Hammons lives in the Central Texas countryside just outside of Austin, pursuing her love for copywriting after a career in high-tech marketing. She is part of a large, diverse family and enjoys spending time with the multiple generations living in her community.

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