Accessibility Awareness Day: Empathy in Architecture

Author: Evan Vandermeer

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Student in wheelchair drinks from water fountain

On Friday, September 16, the School of Architecture continued a long tradition of hosting Accessibility Awareness Day, an annual event thrown to educate fourth-year students on the importance of accessible design in the architecture profession. As in recent years, the event was organized by Associate Professor of the Practice John Mellor.

The Francis and Kathleen Rooney Dean and Professor Stefanos Polyzoides kicked things off at 8:30 a.m. with opening remarks to participating students, who then viewed Zach Anner & The Quest for the Rainbow Bagel, a clip documenting the many accessibility-related difficulties a man with cerebral palsy faces as he tries to buy a bagel in New York City. Students were then given equipment such as crutches, blindfolds, and wheelchairs to depend on throughout their days on campus, the purpose being to heighten their awareness of the many ways buildings fall short of accessible design.

Even just a morning navigating campus with a semblance of a mobility or vision impairment gave me a completely different experience than I would normally have,” said Nathan Walz ’24. “It’s critical to keep this wide array of experiences in mind as we’re designing environments for those around us.”

The empathy Walz alludes to is precisely what Accessibility Awareness Day is meant to impart on students. 

“As architects, we can use this experience to be compassionate with our design,” said Ashley Straub 24. “We have the challenge and responsibility of creating the built environment. It is our duty to be inclusive.”

In addition to navigating campus with their assigned equipment, students also sat through presentations by University staff from Sara Bea Accessibility Services and Facilities Design and Operations, as well as by professional architects from both Universal Design and Alliance Architects. The day concluded with a round-table discussion and Q&A session, followed by a recap of the day’s events. A full schedule of the events can be found here.

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