2018 Accessibility Awareness Day

Author: Rosalyn Wells

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Accessibility Awareness Day is an annual event that offers architecture students the opportunity to explore accessibility issues in the built environment.  Organized by Prof. John Mellor ‘95 and ‘10, the School of Architecture, and Notre Dame’s Sarah Bea Disability Services, fourth year undergraduate and first year graduate students explore campus with a simulated accessibility issue.

The day begins in Bond Hall with Prof. Mellor encouraging students to take note of their experiences on campus throughout the day. Architecture students are placed in groups and encouraged to help each other navigate campus.  Students rotate the wheelchairs, crutches, and eye masks, provided by Sarah Bea Disability Services, to each member of the group so that each person experiences a variety of perspectives on campus accessibility.  Students go to their normal classes and dining halls during the day and consider which buildings and spaces were most difficult or easiest to navigate and why.  

Fourth year architecture student, Austin Proehl, found that wheelchair access on campus presented some challenges.  While noting that campus restrooms were easy to access via wheelchair, Proehl and his group had an impossibly difficult time entering one building.  They found that their only access point was locked and required a phone call to the front desk to unlock the door.  They were never able to enter that building.  Proehl says this experience forced him to think about ways to design buildings so that everyone can have “the intended sequence of experiences” while navigating a building.

After the simulated experience, students reconvened in Bond Hall for presentations on accessible design and to discuss their experience.  Presenters included Prof. Mellor, Prof. Kim Rollings, Prof. Todd Zeiger, Pam James of Notre Dame Facilities Design and Operations, and Chris Hartz of Alliance Architects of South Bend.  The intention of this event is to encourage students to exceed American Disabilities Act design standards and focus on designing buildings that offer a good experience for all who desire to use the space