Stepping up for seniors 

A special three-part series highlighting MRU alumni making a difference for Calgary seniors

Erika Holter and Geoff Crane

Margot Schulman posing with an elderly woman

Alumna Margot Schulman works with aging people who need to retrofit their homes for accessibility, safety and comfort. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has upset life for everyone, but the jarring effects have hit Calgary’s older adults especially hard. 

Beyond the increased risks to their physical health due to the virus’s potency in older age groups, the measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 can be particularly difficult for older individuals who often live alone or are in varying forms of isolation. 

In a special three-part series, we’re profiling alumni who are taking action to keep older adults connected and advocate for their needs during the pandemic.

Read part one and part two. 

Mount Royal alumna helping seniors to age in place

COVID-19 has shone a harsh light on a number of societal issues, one of them being the condition of long-term care facilities in Canada. The Canadian Institute for Health Information reported in May that 81 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths occurred in long-term care, as compared with an average of 42 per cent for other countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). While this was a shocking eye-opener to a large number of Canadians, alumna Margot Schulman, founder of Schulman Design and longtime advocate for aging in place, was not surprised.

“This has been a systemic problem for decades,” she says. “Current care and design models are not set up to succeed. What we saw in Ontario and Quebec, where we were at a point that the military had to be called in, was really appalling. This is a major human rights issue for our time.”

A graduate from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Arts ― Sociology and Gerontology, Schulman was subsequently drawn to complete an Interior Design Diploma at Mount Royal for very personal reasons. 

“It was my lived experience that motivated me to become a designer to help everyone live inclusively,” Schulman says. Her brother, David, suffered a brain injury as a teenager. He lived in seven different care homes over the course of 22 years, giving Schulman and her family special insights into the inherent challenges within the system.

“Most designs are over 50 years old,” Schulman explains. “They are dated and designed for high-density, profit-driven care.” Her interior design education has helped her see that often, long-term care facilities are not built in ways that support social connection, the prevention of infection, access to nature and outdoor spaces, or the facilitation of mental stimulation and physical activity.


Schulman founded Schulman Design with the goal of creating innovative design solutions that celebrate aging and independence.

Since founding Schulman Design in 1995, Schulman has spent decades addressing these shortcomings by incorporating into her work the seven principles of universal design, guidelines originally developed in 1997 by the Center for Excellence in Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Universal design “doesn't simply create an option for people with disabilities and a different one for people without; it creates one solution that works for everyone,” Schulman says.

While working with retired homeowners or with people who have accessibility issues to retrofit their homes for ease, safety and comfort, Schulman ensures that her designs account for their unique needs now as well as for what might come in the future.  

Schulman is so dedicated to her mission of understanding the design requirements for accessible and healthy spaces for older individuals and those with cognitive and physical challenges that she lives in a retirement villa. She says that the inclusion of green space and beautiful outdoor gardens in the villa’s design is a key component to residents’ wellness. 

“Seeing what the residents have in common, witnessing their ongoing curiosity, which they satisfy through things like book clubs and trips to the Glenbow Museum … there is an almost village-like attitude and lifestyle that they live by and a beautiful community awareness in how they support one another,” she says.

As Canada braces itself for a baby boomer retirement explosion, this generation is looking more and more for aging in place strategies.

“We’re at a critical point in our population’s demographics,” Schulman states. “The Alberta seniors’ population will nearly double to 1.18 million in the next 20 years. Forty-seven per cent of people 75 years and over live with a disability. People are seeking homes that allow them to enjoy their favourite activities and continue the day-to-day responsibilities, like laundry and cooking, that many of us take for granted.”

Schulman looks ahead with hope. With glaring systemic issues of long-term care facilities having become apparent to the public at large, she is optimistic for appropriate reform.

“All stakeholders ― government, private and nonprofit ― need to start working together on a solution. It will take the whole community working together to overhaul our aging and long-term care systems.”

Schulman Design is one of the alumni-owned businesses featured in our MRU Alumni Business Directory. If you know of an alumni-owned business that should be added to this roster, please let us know.