My work as a researcher in urban transportation focuses on the accessibility of various systems to those who have disabilities. My awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities in the built environment started when I was studying architecture in my undergraduate. My school used a standard book for dimensional requirements such as corridor width, ramp slope, elevator size and so on. Wheelchair accessibility was a factor to consider when designing all public buildings.
When I changed career direction from architecture to transportation planning, I started paying attention to the needs of persons with disabilities. For example, does a bus kneel down? Does it have a ramp for wheelchairs to mount? Is there an elevator at a metro station? Unfortunately, in the US a large number of persons with disabilities do not have access to reliable transportation or never leave their home because of lack of transportation.
While I am not in architecture anymore, I still pay attention to how accessible the environment is when I am in a new setting, especially old buildings. New buildings that serve the public constructed after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 are required to comply with provisions of the Act that aim to make the built environment accessible. Old buildings are a different story. Retrofitting them will have to reasonable in order for them to be renovated and be accessible for persons with disabilities. Think of New York City metro stations. Many of them were built before 1990. It would be cost prohibitive to retrofit all of them with elevators and, therefore, many of them remain inaccessible.
Bringing down the question to my immediate surroundings, I got curious about the accessibility of the buildings at Virginia Tech’s Alexandria Center in the National Capital Region. Last year, the architecture department had a visiting faculty from the famous Bauhaus School of Architecture and he used a wheelchair. I wondered how accessible he found the buildings to be. I know for example, the door to the building where my office is located, there is no automatic door. If you are a wheelchair user, someone else has to open and hold the door for you.
My curiosity inspired me to assess the situation in my diversity scholar project. In the project, I propose to survey the three Virginia Tech buildings in the National Capital Region. I look forward to presenting my project to the class and receiving feedback.