Assessing access

On teaching professor in the Writing Program Amy Vidali’s work-in-progress, accessibility map of the UCSC campus, the description of this photograph for users with visual impairment reads: “This is a yellow sign on the road to the Hahn Building, where the Disability Resource Center is located. It says: ‘No Outlet Buses & Semis Prohibited No Turn Around.’ Sunlight streaks the photo, and the sign is on a grassy knoll near cracked asphalt. Redwood trees in the background.” Credit: Amy Vidali.

At the 2019 annual meeting of the Rhetoric Society of America, teaching professor and disability scholar-activist Amy Vidali led a working group that mapped the accessibility of the meeting site, the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno. “We didn’t want it to be just about ramps,” said Vidali. Drawing from the field of rhetorical cartography (the use of maps as tools for persuasion), the group attempted to geographically locate the unmet access needs of people with physical disabilities, as well as those with conditions like depression and autism, which are less commonly considered in determining accessibility.

Upon returning to Santa Cruz, Vidali decided to try a similar mapping of her home campus. When one of her students, sophomore Katie Felberg (class of ‘22), expressed interest, the two started the project as an independent study. Felberg’s cataloging of the campus’s steep slopes revealed the inaccessibility of large areas from the student bus, including the location of the Disability Resource Center. She also found much of the indoor space lit by fluorescent bulbs, making it difficult to use by some people with migraines or other disabilities.

Vidali hopes to continue the project—halted by the pandemic—when students return to campus. In addition to providing a practical resource for people with disabilities, the map will also serve, she said, “as an activist statement about how inaccessible the campus is.”

—Jesse Kathan