Designing AccessibilityPosted on: February 1, 2013
Many students regard the University of Arizona as their “ideal” college, because of the unique climate and beautiful campus. However, accessing this ideal college experience is not the same for all students.
Enter the UA’s Disability Resource Center, which supports Wildcats with disabilities across campus through a variety of services and programs to improve their access and opportunities.
“Our ultimate goal is for disabled students to have as equitable, as similar an experience to non-disabled students - whatever that means,” said Amanda Kraus, Ph.D., Assistant Director for Disability Resources and an Assistant Professor of Practice in Higher Education.
According to Amanda, the more accessible a disabled student feels his/her environment is, the less that student will associate a negative connotation about that disability. “The impact of a disability is different when you have access,” and when the DRC works with students “we acknowledge that it isn't student’s fault that something is designed to be inaccessible and so we try to effect the change on the design end so that everybody can just go about their day,” said Amanda.
The DRC features many unique accommodations, something that attracts a variety of disabled students to campus. “There's a lot of diversity here with the sports,” said Jennifer Poist, currently in her second-year of the PharmD program at the UA College of Pharmacy, who traveled to London this summer to play basketball for team USA in the 2012 Paralympic Games for adaptive athletes. UA Adaptive Athletics provides disabled students with an array of sports.
“A lot of other programs only offer men's and women's basketball,” says Jennifer. “They don't have track, tennis and all of the other sports that go with it.” For instance, UA is one of few colleges to offer rugby, which attracted sophomore Chelsea Falnes to the campus from Wisconsin. “One of my teammates from Milwaukee asked if I wanted to relocate down to Arizona and I had no idea what he was talking about.” Chelsea couldn’t pass up the palm trees and warm weather, “It was November when we came down and it was like 80 degrees."
The DRC’s Adaptive Athletics program is among the most comprehensive in the country and has established an international reputation, thanks in part to students like Jennifer who competed in the 2012 Paralympics. Beyond athletic success, Amanda said “the DRC is also a national leader for how we think about access on a college campus and think about how we do our work.”
Among the other features the DRC offers for students are access consultants, a testing center, and a computer/technology lab. The DRC’s state-of-the-art gym, located inside Highland Commons, also attracts students.
The gym is “unlike any other space in the country; to have a collegiate based wheelchair sports program with five sports, professional coaches, a wheelchair repair shop, and recruitment,” says Amanda. “That's like a hidden gem and nobody really knows that unless you have that connection to the DRC.”
“What really sold me was the wheelchair repair shop,” said Junior Eric Baker from Merced, California. Though he had already committed a California school before picking the UA, “I would have had to transport my chair back and forth because it's not affiliated,” he said. “I don't know...I would have had no resources or anything to even back me up.”
Eric has taken advantage of other services offered by the DRC, especially for his classes. “I'm a quadriplegic so I have trouble writing quickly. They contact a teacher so that someone can take notes for me.”
However, design is the DRC’s main focus. “The way you design anything,” said Amanda “you're either giving access or taking it away, you're either including or excluding people. And that could be the tiniest thing, the way you arrange chairs in a classroom, the way you design a homework assignment, an event with a speaker or a film.” Inclusive design evokes a sense of community and benefits everyone, says Amanda. “If something is designed well so that disabled people might benefit from it, everyone else can benefit from it too.”