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ND students ‘disabled’ for day

Becky Hogan | Monday, September 1, 2008

Last Friday fourth-year architecture students had the opportunity to walk in a disabled person’s shoes – or, in some cases, crutch and wheel around Notre Dame’s campus as part of a day-long event sponsored by University Disability Services and the School of Architecture to help students understand the importance of designing with all people in mind, according to a University press release.

The 47 architecture students experienced three different physical handicaps – some had to be on crutches for part of the day, others were confined to wheelchairs, and others walked around with blindfolds simulating individuals who were physically handicapped or blind. Additionally, some students had the task of leading others around campus, according to senior Tereza Schiable.

Architecture students in their fourth year are required to focus on regulation codes and accessibility in their designs, she said.

“Empowerment, inclusion and independence are things that we should strive for in our designs,” she said. “We should make people who are handicap feel like they could get around in any building that we designed.”

Students followed their normal class schedules in the morning, navigated Notre Dame Stadium in the afternoon and attended a lecture presented by Jack Catlin and Gigi McCabe-Miele of LCM Architects on designing in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a University press release.

According to Schaible, this was the first year that the School of Architecture, in conjunction with the Office of the University Architect, has teamed up with Disability Services to host such an event.

The day’s experiences offered different perspectives on the challenges of being a disabled student on campus, she said.

“There were a lot of things I had never really noticed before. It was really hard to get up the ramp of LaFortune [Student Center] in a wheelchair,” she said. “It made us more aware of how a small thing such as the steepness of a ramp can really affect people with disabilities.”

Senior Brian Droste said his experiences on crutches and in a wheelchair presented challenges to getting around campus that he had not noticed before.

“One thing I was most surprised by was that none of the sidewalks of campus are completely flat. You were constantly having to correct yourself in a wheelchair,” he said.

Droste said he was surprised how difficult it was to climb ramps in a wheelchair.

He added that he was disappointed in how the handicap ramp of LaFortune is used.

“The garbage that gets taken out [of LaFortune] is taken down the ramp. The ramp is stained with garbage juice and smells terrible,” Droste said. “The humiliation of rolling across garbage juice was really eye-opening and frustrating.”

Schaible also said she noticed how disorienting being in the dining hall was when she was blindfolded.

“It was really overwhelming because you could hear people all around you,” she said.

While some buildings on campus presented challenges, others were more accessible, Droste said.

Notre Dame Stadium was one such area that made it easy for people with physical handicaps to get around, he said.

“Surprisingly, it was easy to get around the stadium. The handicap section has an excellent view, although there is no handicap seating for wheelchairs in the student section,” he said.

Schaible explained that the day’s events were an eye-opening experience for architecture students because it stressed the importance of universal design.

“It was an important experience for us because we have to learn how to design with all people in mind…Designs have to be accessible to everyone without just adding a handicap ramp last minute, so that you are not separating or disrespecting people,” she said.

Additionally, Droste said the event made him realize how the smallest details can affect how disabled people enter buildings and get around campus on a daily basis.

“I learned how every little detail makes a huge difference-an inch or two can really make someone’s life a lot easier whether it’s the width of a door to a bathroom or wheeling up to computer and not being able to fit under the desk,” Droste said. “These are things people take for granted. We have to think about how to incorporate everybody to get into a building without having to go in the back way.”

The day’s events will impact the work he does in the future, Droste said.

“I have a newfound respect for people who deal with [disabilities]. It was a really positive experience for us to draw on in our designs or in policy,” he said.

Last Friday will also have an impact on Schiable’s outlook, she said.

“Most of us really enjoyed learning from the experience. It is something that will stay with me for a while,” Schaible said.