Second annual State of Accessibility meeting highlights accessibility initiatives on campus

The Disability Center plans to add new parking signs and address accessibility regarding motorized vehicles on campus next.

The Disability Center held its second annual State of Accessibility at MU meeting in order to highlight and publicly announce various initiatives regarding accessibility across campus Tuesday afternoon in the Stotler Lounge in Memorial Union.

The meeting involved three different speakers who all shared their current and past projects involving the Disability Center.

Abbie O’Sullivan, associate director of customer service and support at the Division of Information Technology, said that while there is still work to be done, MU ranks highly in terms of general accessibility for disabled students. She said that the campus is about where it should be considering accessibility.

One new initiative includes the installment of signs that refer disabled students to accessible ramps, restrooms and parking spaces around campus. Amber Cheek, disability inclusion manager, said this was because there was a lack of signs or the signs weren’t displayed properly.

Mohamed Shahin with the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX worked with Cheek on installing new signs and fixing broken ones. Cheek said this was an important step to help improve the lives of people with disabilities on campus.

“It’s a small change, but it makes a big difference,” Cheek said.

Disability Center Director Barbara Hammer said that MU is making progress for students with disabilities. She hopes to see barriers between abled students and disabled students break down as time goes on and thinks these new initiatives will help to do so.

In addition, Cheek worked with Shahin, among other staff members at the Disability Center, on evaluating restrooms around MU. The team assessed different buildings’ restrooms in terms of how accessible they were. This involved looking at a variety of requirements, such as how easy the doors were to open for someone in a wheelchair, or if there was a separate stall for disabled people.

The team later added the restrooms that fit these requirements to their accessibility map, which shows different areas of campus that have accessible features such as entrances and elevators; the map can be found on the Disability Center’s website.

Cheek said this was a “gargantuan task,” and she’s glad she had her team with her to help.

She also mentioned the considerable amount of work currently being done on MU’s campus. The Disability Center is focused on ensuring that students with disabilities feel as comfortable and welcome on campus as possible.

Therefore, when construction is being done on campus, the companies allow Cheek and other staff members to tour the sites and confirm they’re accessible.

Along with physical requirements, the Disability Center also focuses on digital accessibility.

With a major shift to technology-filled classrooms, keeping up with digital access is a major consideration for the Disability Center, O’Sullivan said.

“Everything we do is digital these days,” she said.

O’Sullivan said the Division of IT’s main goal is to have all digital resources accessible to all students.

This means having to adjust some materials to better fit a student’s needs. For example, the Disability Center will sometimes have to convert a reading material, such as a textbook or PDF, to audio. To do so, they will send the reading through a scanner and use a program that will read each word out loud. Finally, Disability Center staff members will then have to listen to the audio to make sure it’s accurate and comprehensible.

This takes a lot of time, O’Sullivan said. In spring of 2016, the Disability Center converted 165 pieces of reading material to audio. That number rose to 187 in fall 2016 and fell to 162 in spring 2017. Hammer said she, along with the rest of the Disability Center, would like more textbooks and documents to be accessible to students.

“We want more publishers considering accessibility among their readers and students before publishing something like a textbook or a PDF,” O’Sullivan said.

The Disability Center’s next project will be to work on accessibility in parking lots, Cheek said.

In addition to specific initiatives, the team will continue to work on improving MU’s campus regarding accessibility by engaging with other departments, such as the Division of IT, Hammer said. Hammer wants a campus that doesn’t present people with disabilities with major problems.

“I always say the best thing we could do is put ourselves out of a job,” Hammer said.

Edited by Olivia Garrett | ogarrett@themaneater.com

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