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90-year-old designer shakes up Silicon Valley

June 24, 2014

Barbara Beskind has retired five different times, but that didn't stop her from applying for a new job last summer designing with one of the top firms in the San Francisco area. The 90-year-old California resident takes the train from her independent living community in San Mateo to the IDEO office in Palo Alto once a week. Her personal experience with technology is limited to a medical alert device, basic cell phone and computer for word processing, but she has found herself a home in the flourishing tech industry.

Breaking the age barrier 
Silicon Valley is an ever-expanding center for innovation and technology in the U.S. The area draws fresh graduates who are well-versed in cutting-edge programs, systems and devices. Mixed in with all that youth is Beskind, an active 90-year-old who has what seems like endless ideas for new inventions. According to her recent interview with Senior Planet, Beskind applied for a position at innovative firm IDEO. She said a "60 Minutes" segment featuring the founder of IDEO inspired her to approach one of the firm's internal challenges. The Wall Street Journal reported that IDEO launches an annual invention challenge, and last year's was devices to benefit older people.

Beskind spent two months perfecting her resume before applying for the position. She didn't have any prototypes ready to show, but the company chose her to be a judge as other people presented their inventions. She now acts as a consultant to designers and collaborates with them on her own creations. 

Beskind's history of innovation
According to The Wall Street Journal, the senior began her designing career during the Great Depression when she created toys for her friends. She continued on the innovative path when she became an occupational therapist in the Army and designed unique braces for injured soldiers. Following the war, Beskind opened the first independent occupational therapy practice, wrote multiple books and started a lampshade replacement company. 

Currently, Beskind is working on two inventions on which she's willing to divulge details. One is an updated version of the classic walker that will allow people to stand up straight instead of leaning forward. The second is a type of prefabricated structure that can be set up behind a family home. Her vision is for the structures to be used for alternative independent living homes or end-of-life care. 

Despite her declining vision caused by macular degeneration, Beskind spends her days off observing people in her retirement community to brainstorm new inventions. However, she still takes the time to embark on daily walks using ski poles she modified to support her during the leisurely strolls.