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Students present ideas about accessibility in interactive symposium

April 24, 2019

OpenCon top image. A Series of red doors illustrated by Jeff Bland

By Emily Kundrot

VCU Libraries

Access4All, an interactive research symposium Friday, April 26 at noon in the Cabell Library Lecture Hall, features students from Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies presenting projects about how society as a whole looks at accessibility.

Assistant Professor Bee Coston, Ph.D., designed the course (GSWS 391) titled "Resistant Bodies" and the companion symposium to educate and provide a unique experience to attendees who want to know more about accessibility and how they can help achieve it.

From an excerpt of the essays Keywords in for Disability Studies, a required reading assignment for GSWS 391, the word access “literally describes the ability to enter into, move about within and operate the facilities of a site.” However when taken in a more abstract sense, “access” can take on different meanings in different social contexts.

“Accessibility” can mean many things to many different people, the students discovered in the class and in their field work. For people with physical limitations or disabilities, managing uneven sidewalks or buildings without ramps or elevators can be challenging. Other kinds of accessibility issues are less obvious but nevertheless profound.

“All of my courses now involve an experiential learning component. This is typically aligned with the course’s final learning objective to create or develop something new and unique.” Coston says. Friday’s symposium is the class capstone project. The two-hour session will feature 15 different projects. One project produced a zine about accessibility in classroom assignments. Another is a 3D map of campus areas.  

One student, Ris Rodina, will be presenting on a part of accessibility not often thought of: community care. “My goal is to provoke thought and provide viable solutions for building stronger communities so that we all may thrive and thrive together.” Rodina says.

In their research, Rodina found that many aspects of U.S. society target insecurities in individuals. This can can create a sense of isolation and anxiety: The person never feels good enough.

The concept of community care suggests that others step up as allies to encourage and support people who may be experiencing that anxiety or discomfort. “It always seems to come back to the fact that humans are a social and communal species, but we hardly honor that in our society.”

Rodina considered different perspectives. They found societies outside of the United States that emphasized community-based spaces and care in different ways. They hope to bring those ideas both into and outside of Access4All, and continue the conversation in an effort to improve accessibility.

To me, community care is the heart of so many things VCU could do to be more accessible. It’s a lifestyle, and the university would need to deconstruct a lot of its expectations, modes of working with people and be transparent and honest about its goals.”  

* * * 

Access4All takes place Friday, April 26 from noon to 2 p.m. in the James Branch Cabell Library Third Floor Lecture Hall. VCU Libraries is a sponsor of the event and will have a book display on the topic at Access4All. Additionally, interested people can refer to a new research guide on accessibility The symposium is free and open to all and lunch will be provided. More details and registration for the event can be found on VCU Libraries’ website.

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