We are a diverse team of students working to implement a radical solution to the problem of accessibility on Rice's campus.
Coby Kaskel - team lead and all-around chill dude
Beril Uzmen - Turkish delight
Angelo Ragan - loves La Croix
Connor Rothschild - enjoys petting dogs
Irene Kwon - lover of canned peaches and corgis
Shane DiGiovanna - also enjoys petting dogs
Our project has officially begun! This week, we have started broad research regarding problem spaces around disability and accessibility on college campuses. We have asked questions such as, "what is disability? What is accessibility? What does living with a disability look like on a college campus? What does living with a disability look like at Rice? What resources are available for these students?" While seemingly broad, these questions will provide us with a broader understanding of the problem space and allows us to ask more focused, educated questions. We will use insights gained from this research to define more specific problem spaces and create a list of interview questions for experts and potential users.
We met today to discuss potential interviewees, our research, and important insights. Here are a few:
- Sixteen percent of students with disabilities earned a bachelor's degree, compared to 27% of students without disabilities... (Horn & Berktold, 1999)
- Quality of disability support services at Universities is highly variable despite how crucial its services are to the quality of life of these students.
- According to this ranking, rice does not rank in the top 50 most disability friendly schools in the United States.
- In many cases, ignorance of faculty and staff has made it difficult for students to get the help they need, which in some cases makes students less willing to disclose their conditions or ask for help.
- While many universities work hard to provide accommodations in the classroom, there is little work being done to help students accommodate to have successful social lives.
We discussed these insights and have a long list of narrower problem spaces. Here are a few:
- Faculty/student communication
- Classrooms and teaching styles
- Student awareness
- Parties/social events
- Handicap accessible doors
- Orientation Week
- Buildings with no elevators
- Service animals
Tomorrow, we will be focusing on both expanding this list but narrowing down the number of topics. Ultimately, our goal is to settle on a problem space that is small enough for us to deliver a solution within a semester while being ambitious enough to make a meaningful impact on the Rice community.
This past week, we tried to better understand the experiences of, and empathize with, our stakeholders. We gathered insights for our three primary problem spaces: pedagogical, social, and structural.
- Rice DSS appears to be reactive as opposed to proactive in accommodating the needs of students at Rice
- There are too few existing resources for individuals at Rice with disabilities
- Sometimes there is a lack of understanding between faculty/staff and students with disabilities due to lack of training/exposure/forethought
- Students with disabilities are often unable to participate in the same activities and events as their able-bodied peers
- Students who miss out on the social experiences of their university don't get the "full college experience"
To gain more insights into the structural problem space, members of the team ventured across campus and went inside notoriously inaccessible buildings in wheelchairs and scooters (thanks, Shane, for letting us borrow yours!). This video (thanks, Beril!) shows our team's struggles in navigating our way around some of the least accessible placing on campus.
This video, and the experiences which it captured, revealed many important insights to our team:
- Many buildings on campus are not accessible at all
- Sid Richardson College, Herzstein, Lovett Hall, etc.
- Nominally accessible buildings can often be archaic in reality, meaning "accessible entrances" could be the opposite
- This distinction can be made with the classification of buildings as "technically accessible" and "universally accessible"
Our frame has narrowed to the improving the social experience of students with physical disabilities at Rice University.
Our interviews with both physically disabled students as well as event planners have revealed some important insights:
- Students with physical disabilities feel as if parties are not "made" for them.
- Students with physical disabilities feel that attending social events is an essential part of one's college experience.
- Event planners, known as "socials," often assume that students with disabilities have no interest in attending their events.
- How can we improve the quality of life for students with disabilities at Rice?
- How can we make the sites at which public events are planned (residential colleges, academic buildings) more accessible to students with physical disabilities?
- How can we ensure event organizers proactively consider accessibility in the event planning process?
- How can we incentivize students with physical disabilities to attend more social events and ensure they are enjoyable?
How can we ensure event organizers on Rice’s campus accommodate for and make events appealing to students with disabilities?
This week, we ideated 50+ answers to our final HCW statement, "How can we ensure event organizers on Rice’s campus accommodate for and make events appealing to students with disabilities?" We narrowed our findings down to two final ideations.
Our first ideation was a buddy system. Modeled after exemplary buddy systems at other universities, and tweaked for our final HCW, the buddy system aims to connect disabled students who would like to attend social events yet may feel intimidated with able-bodied peers who would like to accompany them.
Our next ideation was a checklist given to event planners that provides guidelines they must follow while organizing their party. Borrowing from the principles of Universal Design, our checklist follows seven principles of accessibility. This checklist would provide a clear and concise mechanism to keep event organizers accountable, and could be included in logistical planning forms that event organizers have to provide to the Rice Student Center in order to maximize accessibility at all events on Rice’s campus.
(beril is definitely not photoshopped in)
We want our checklist to be easy to...
- to the current event planning system
- we want our checklist to be intelligible and easily understood by event organizers
- we want the information on the checklist to be easily executable; the requirements on the checklist should not be made impossible by infrastructure or anything else
Architectronica: Before Architectronica was shut down this year (R.I.P.), a few members from our team had the opportunity to see how accessible the party was after party organizers were given a copy of our accessibility checklist. We found that Architectronica was remarkably accessible, with the only exception being the men's bathroom, which seemed to only be accessed via stairs. Upon further questioning, it was found an elevator was available, however our hope was that the checklist would prompt signage or proactivity among staff to make known that there was an elevator available to whoever needed one.
Sid Richardson College Night: We were also able to test our checklist at Sid Richardson's College Night. We found that the event was also accessible. We did find that the majority of events in the yard which College Night was hosted required some level of physical activity, making them inaccessible to physically disabled students. Despite this, the area where people would eat food, talk with friends, and simply hang out was fully accessible to students with physical disabilities.