Last updated on November 13, 2019
Who We Are
Welcome to Access in Bloom, a blog about accessibility and universal design in public spaces. This semester, we are focusing on our own campus, Saint Joseph’s University in West Philadelphia.
We are doing this project as part of our communication studies class, Digital Storytelling. This semester our class has learned about what accessibility is and how our campus, in particular, can become more accommodating to the students, faculty, and staff in terms of design.
We will map a few of the 88 buildings on our campus with 360 virtual reality (VR) video cameras, similar to the technology used by Google in their Street View maps. The final product will be a comprehensive accessibility map of St. Joe’s. Our goal is to raise awareness about this important issue of accessibility, as it can affect anyone.
The interactive map will include information about ramp access, Braille signage, push-to-
open doors, elevators, proximity to a handicap parking space, wide hallways, high visual contrast, etc. Accessibility is not exclusive to people who are confined to a wheelchair; disabilities are diverse in nature. It is important to think about people who are deaf, blind, etc.
What We Believe
Disability Justice examines disability and ableism as it relates to other forms of oppression and identity. It’s the idea that only some disabilities are thought about, while others are not considered “enough” to be thought about. Our project takes this into consideration and works at making our campus more aware of the range of disabilities people face.
People can develop a disability at the drop of a hat, and disabilities can be permanent or temporary. Think of a time when you had to use crutches and had to rethink the way you navigated a space you occupy every day. If a woman is pregnant, her ability to access certain spaces can be hindered. Everyone at one time or another will have a disability of some kind.
Accessibility is defined as the quality of being able to be reached or entered. Places are usually considered accessible if they’ve been determined to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Some disability activists and scholars have suggested that compliance is an insufficient way of measuring accessibility, and that we should instead be working toward a standard of universal design.
A place is only truly accessible if everyone has the ability to use it. This is where universal design comes in. There are several universal design principles, which include equitable use, flexibility in use, tolerance for error, low physical effort, simple/intuitive use, perceptible information, and size/space for use. These help to define a wide range of ideal building designs, both internal and external, that allow use from everyone, regardless of disabilities.
We shouldn’t have to make adjustments to buildings to make them accessible, but they should be accessible by nature when they are first built.
Accessibility at St. Joe’s
St. Joe’s has a lot of older buildings that are not easily accessible for everyone. Our goal in this project is to make members of the community aware of this and to consider where we can make a change.
Our class was inspired by the University of Pennsylvania’s Access Map, available both online and via an app, which details obstructions, entrances, and buildings around UPenn’s campus.
Over the next few weeks, we plan to conduct interviews with students, both current and past, who have experienced difficulty with accessibility on St. Joe’s campus as well as faculty, staff and those who work in the Office of Disability Services in order to gain more insight into the services they provide to students who need assistance.
We’ll also be delving more into accessibility and universal design and what they mean.