In response to accessibility limitations on JMU’s campus, the Office of Equal Opportunity partnered with facilities management to create an online map that addresses all the accessibility features that are available on campus. The map documents efforts to make JMU more accessible and inadvertently highlights the need for more features, such as additional handicap entrances or lactation spaces.
The project began with Beth Nelsen, the program office assistant, who started the process by hoping to improve the on-campus parking map. As Nelsen looked further into the map’s accessibility issues, which were limited to handicapped parking spaces, she saw the need for a more comprehensive map of all the university’s accessibility resources.
“The question was, ‘If I came to campus and I had an accessibility issue, how could I do my front-end research to figure out where I was going to park?”’ Nelsen said.
Starting in the fall of 2017, the Office of Equal Opportunity began collecting data on the accessibility features in each building. These features include handicapped entrances and bathrooms, gender-neutral bathrooms, baby-changing stations and lactation spaces.
The idea came from looking at the accessibility resources of other universities in Virginia, which made it clear to Nelsen that a map would be an easy, efficient way to document resources. Nelsen then reached out to facilities management in the winter of 2017 to incorporate the data collected into an online, interactive map of campus.
“It was a really great teaming project where we were able to help them get the data, and they were able to load it on this map,” Nelsen said.
The project fell into the lap of Foster Ezell, a facilities management engineering intern. With the help of Nelsen’s data, Ezell created a map that allowed users to search and visualize the features available on campus.
In a polished purple and gold color palette, the map uses aerial views of campus from Google Earth and drone-collected images to ensure they’re up to date. The map, which can be accessed through a link at the bottom of every JMU webpage, allows the user to search for a specific feature or view all the accessibility features offered in each building.
“That’s what Beth was really aiming for from the beginning, for the user to be able to find something without any assistance,” Ezell said. “That’s why I think we did a really good job of creating it.”
Another notable aspect of the map is that it’s mobile-friendly, something important to both Nelsen and Ezell. This increases the accessibility of the map itself and allows users to take advantage of the map’s resources in real time if needed.
Both Nelsen and Ezell are happy with how the map turned out, but it’s still a project in progress. JMU’s accessibility obstacles have been highlighted recently by a faculty senate resolution that identifies one significant issue: inadequate lactation facilities available in buildings on campus.
Tara Parsons, an assistant professor of justice studies, faculty senate representative and mother to an 18-month-old, was the faculty member who introduced the motion. Though she believes that the interactive maps are a movement in the correct direction, Parsons argues they aren’t enough to address the obstacles to accessibility on campus.
“I do think it’s important to be able to see where they are, especially visitors to campus,” Parsons said. “Having it mapped out is important, but JMU needs to address the fact that there’s not enough — not enough, but a good first step.”
Parsons asked one question: Will the map show the places that aren’t accessible on campus? For students and people visiting campus, knowing which buildings to avoid could be helpful.
The map represents JMU working toward a more accessible campus, though it still requires work to address all the obstacles on campus. But for Nelsen, her project to improve JMU’s maps has allowed JMU to meet some of the needs of students, faculty and visitors that experience accessibility obstacles every day.
“We were just trying to put ourselves in somebody else’s place,” Nelsen said.
Contact Jamie McEachin at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.