Access Mizzou pairs with School of Health Professions

The group is attempting to make the school more accessible for students with disabilities.

In an effort to turn the School of Health Professions into a more welcoming environment for students with disabilities, the Chancellor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities is reinstating its Access Mizzou initiative.

Access Mizzou is a program committed to going above and beyond for students with disabilities, committee chairwoman Cheryl Shigaki said. Because the program cooperates with the School of Health Professions this year, members are currently referring to it as Access SHP.

“There are a lot of things that we’re required to do from the Americans with Disabilities Act, because we’re such a big institution,” she said. “We have to make the campus accessible, and there are minimum standards for that. What we’ve asked people to do is consider whether they wanted to make things more accessible than the minimum.”

During the summer, Access SHP divided into three focus groups: building and structural, education and awareness and information technology issues. Each is facilitated by a member of the committee and has targeted specific issues within the School of Health Professions.

Lee Henson, who is in charge of the building and structural group, said the School of Health Professions’ facilities, Lewis and Clark halls, are in dire need of accessibility-related improvements.

“I think it would be very difficult, maybe even impossible, to bring the buildings up to the level of quality needed to be welcoming for students, faculty and the large number of visitors who come to the buildings, including people seeking help with health problems,” Henson said. “If you compare those buildings to a modern teaching and health care facility, you’d have bigger rooms, bigger hallways, better lighting, more parking, wider doors, a number of things.”

Although Henson said he is skeptical as to whether major improvements can be made with Access SHP’s limited funding, he said the program is trying.

“There’s really no way that Access Mizzou is going to be able to produce a new building, which is really what the School of Health Professions needs if it wants to significantly improve its accessibility,” Henson said.

Improvements seem to be more feasible for Barbara Hammer’s education and awareness focus group. She said her group is trying to promote awareness and education on disability issues, with the hope of making the School of Health Professions more welcoming to students with disabilities.

“We want the School of Health Professions to look at how their programs emphasize competencies so they are more inclusive in their language rather than exclusive,” she said. “We’re doing this so what we aren’t doing is putting up a barrier to some student who really aspires to be a physical therapist, but looks at the requirements and says, ‘I can’t do this because of my disability,’ when in fact they can.”

Hammer’s group’s goals run in line with Abbie O’Sullivan’s group, which is focusing on IT issues. The School of Health Professions is currently in the process of revamping its website, and this group is attempting to ensure students with disabilities will not be discouraged by its content or inaccessibility, Shigaki said.

“We have met and discussed website accessibility, captioning videos, creating accessible course documents and several other topics, like celebrating the great things that the School of Health Professions is already doing that makes the school accessible and inclusive for all,” O’Sullivan said.

To do this, Access SHP has provided the School of Health Professions with the “Compliance Sheriff” software, which evaluates software and programs to ensure they are accessible for students with disabilities. Shigaki said another project of the Chancellor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities is to develop an UM system policy that would require a review of accessibility prior to software purchases, though this work is in its infant stages.

“We’re at the very beginning of this policy idea,” she said. “We’ve talked to several people about it, and we’ve gotten very enthusiastic responses, some of which have gotten us thinking.”

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