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Behind the Inspiration of Project Bloom: UPenn’s Accessibility Mapping Project

 In the fall of 2017, Mark Bookman introduced the Accessibility Mapping Project at the University of Pennsylvania – a project that would eventually pose as one of the major inspirations behind our very own Project Bloom. 

As we strive to challenge SJU to think more critically about design for everyone, we decided to dive deeper into the Accessibility Mapping Project to get a closer look at the behind the scenes work of neighboring college campuses that are developing ways of achieving this goal as well. 

Check out some highlights from our conversation with Mark!

The Birth of the Idea of AMP

   Mark Bookman, the lead developer behind AMP, has studied accessibility at 7 universities, including Villanova University, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Tokyo. In the later years of his time at Villanova, he had the opportunity to travel to Japan for the first time, where he described accessibility as being entirely different from how we think of it in the U.S. After deciding to continue his undergraduate studies abroad in Japan, it was “going back and forth in a different body” that helped Bookman come up with the idea for AMP. As his muscular dystrophy continued to progress over time, he was able to experience the same environments in different bodies. 

“The first time I went to Tokyo, I was walking. The second time, I was using a manual wheelchair. The third time, I was using an electric wheelchair. The fourth time, I had caregivers with me. As my access needs changed and I visited the same place, I became aware of how that place fit different types of people,” said Bookman. 

Going back and forth from those experiences, Bookman was beginning to recognize access issues around him he’d never realized before. As he sought to continue his studies on accessibility further, Bookman wanted to be somewhere close to home (Bryn Mawr) but where he would encounter new environments with new kinds of access – this led him to the University of Pennsylvania, where eventually he was able to begin his accessibility map project. 

Inspiration

Although Bookman expresses that there were hundreds of accessibility projects he turned to for guidance, he names a few that were especially influential: 

Obstacles and Strategy 

  Bookman discusses a few main obstacles that needed to be tackled when developing the AMP and their significance. 

Privacy: 

  • College campuses and administrations tend to be wary when you upload information about access to their campus – they’re worried about people using that information in various ways and that’s why a lot of campus maps tend to be vague.
  • Can release some confidential data if students are looking from a certain IP address or certain input methods 

Tech: 

  • Thinking about sustainability from the start is really important 
  • The map requires a lot of upkeep – If you don’t keep things up to date, then the map is useless in terms of improving accessibility 

Audience: 

  • Who are the users? Is it students? Faculty? Staff? Community members? All these different audiences have different needs and sometimes they conflict.
  • Do you want to have multiple versions? Multiple kinds of users? 

Promotion

As the project developers sought to get more exposure to the AMP, they started by connecting to the local community around them. Bookman explains that incorporating more undergraduate and graduate students in the development of the project ultimately allowed for more traction throughout the student body. Within 2-3 months, the AMP had earned the attention of faculty and staff that began addressing issues identified within the project. Eventually, Bookman found himself frequently meeting with the president and provost at the University of Pennsylvania, where conversations about the project’s initiatives and feedback were met with the granting of resources that helped continue AMP’s development. 

Although Bookman wasn’t successful with getting the university to integrate the AMP on their main website, the awareness he created for accessibility made great strides – even stretching itself to the SJU community. 


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