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Interactive maps show best routes for accessibility

Sept. 4, 2009

KALAMAZOO--Navigating a new college campus can be challenging enough, but for students and visitors with physical or visual disabilities, it can be intimidating and exhausting. To combat that problem, Western Michigan University has set up one of the most detailed campus maps available online.

WMU Web maps identify the best routes for mobility and access to every campus building, including noting electronic door openers, the grade of sidewalks and steepness of hills and curbs. The information was compiled into an interactive online University map now available online.

Once on the site for the map, click on the far right tab labeled "WMU" and select to show features for "Access" or "Mobility." Visitors can search by building or category of building.

WMU's Department of Facilities Management tapped students who face physical barriers every day, such as senior Lauren Harkness, to travel across campus and document features inside and outside of buildings that would affect a person's mobility or accessibility. The interactive maps can be manipulated to show specific details at every point on campus, from tracking the shortest route to an entrance, to which floors have accessible bathrooms.

"When I came to orientation, I was intimidated. There are a lot of hills, and I wasn't sure where to go," says Harkness, a Mattawan, Mich., native who transferred to WMU in fall 2005 from Kalamazoo Valley Community College. "I was looking for powered doors, hills that weren't too steep. It's not just the distance or getting to a building, it's being able to get up a hill or curb, opening a door and being able to get around. When I first transferred to WMU, I didn't have a powered wheelchair, so there were some things I just couldn't do."

It was WMU's resources for disabled students that first attracted Harkness to transfer to the University, noting its staff at Disabled Student Resources and Services were committed to helping students. The office also put her in touch with Facilities Management to help with the interactive maps.

"I think having these maps helps students find their way around, but they also show people what needs to be done for people in wheelchairs," says Harkness, a family and consumer sciences major. "Hopefully, the maps will help future students not to be so intimidated when they arrive on campus."

WMU Disabled Student Resources and Services assists about 400 students, and about 40 have mobility issues. Yet, the interactive maps have the potential to help many more, as the office does not track faculty or staff or those students who have temporary physical disabilities, says Director Beth denHartigh.

"The hills are often an issue on campus, so the maps let students blow up certain portions to help pick the best routes," she says.

The University has published printed copies of accessibility features on campus, but the interactive Web versions allow them to be updated 24/7 and provide more detail, says Peter Strazdas, associate vice president for facilities management.

"It provides more detail than any other accessibility map we've seen. The direct input from students who need the map was key to the success of this initiative. The collaboration between users, academic programs and professional staff has resulted in a home run," Strazdas says.

For more information, contact Peter Strazdas at peter.strazdas@wmich.edu or (269) 387-8584.

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Media contact: Deanne Puca, (269) 387-8400, deanne.puca@wmich.edu

WMU News
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Western Michigan University
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