Seeing a better future for visually impaired students

Samantha Molina/Courier - The braille translation on room 240 on the second floor of the C Building labels the room number but does not state that it is a women's restroom.

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Students have been putting up with antiquated and inaccurate braille signs throughout the older buildings on campus for years and now campus clubs and the administration are finally coming together to build a stronger, more accessible campus for current and incoming disabled students.

The level of inaccessibility throughout parts of the campus became apparent for Students Unlimited president Roger Martinez after his friend and Access Technology president Philbert Tjong, who is blind, asked Martinez where the C Building bathroom was located.

Martinez realized then that Tjong had been making an extended trek over to other buildings just to use the bathroom.

Tjong has been working on a computer science degree and because of the complexity in some of the math classes he would forgo a bathroom break altogether to avoid missing any bit of the lecture.

When Martinez examined the bathroom braille sign he was shocked to find that not only had the braille sign lacked a gender specification, but the sign had only the room number printed on it.

“Wouldn’t you want to fix that?” Martinez asked.

Now the Students Unlimited and Access Technology clubs have set out to do right for their fellow students by working with the administration to make the campus more accessible than ever before.

Tjong is not the only student affected. Jane Suh and Joseph Duncan, also members of Students Unlimited, have experienced the lack of accessibly and consistency in the signage throughout the building.

“There are signs everywhere,” Suh said. “But I don’t know which side the door is on.”

Suh and Duncan pointed out that there is no consistency in which side the door will be on. Even worse, in some cases the signs will be next to a door that is no longer in service. However, that out-of-service sign is typed or handwritten, leaving Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) students in the dark.

While established students might have already found their way around campus, new students might find it particularly difficult getting use to the lay out of the campus and buildings due to flat printed maps.

“This is a printed map of all the important rooms,” Martinez said, referring to the C Building directory.

“I wouldn’t know that,” Suh said, running her fingers over the flat surface.

This is problem for students when professors instruct them to go to the auditorium.

“They don’t usually give us the number,” Martinez said. “But the braille just mentions the number.”

But that doesn’t matter for the Sexton Auditorium, because the braille has been scratched off the sign.

“I can read the print,” Suh said. “But it just says 230.”

“If only they would put the name of the auditorium it would help a lot of students,” Martinez said.

“Or even in print!” Suh exclaimed.

Students Unlimited discussed the inadequacies with the braille signs throughout the C Building, and after performing a walkthrough of the building—mapping out each and every opportunity for improvement—they began brainstorming bigger ideas.

Some of the ideas expressed by Martinez, Suh, and Duncan involved safe spaces for the DSPS students during active shooters, a text messaging service for those who might otherwise have difficult accessing the situation, and signage that can be read during such an event.

Dr. Kent Yamauchi served as the Associate Dean of Special Services for over 25 years. Until the administration can hire a replacement, which they are in the process of doing, Dr. Cynthia Olivo, VP of Student Affairs, has stepped in as the interim.

Olivo is spearheading collaboration between multiple departments within the administration to address the concerns. To Olivo’s knowledge, these issues had not been brought to Yamauchi’s attention.

Olivo is ecstatic that these two clubs have come together, not only with each other but with the campus to right the wrongs.

“I love that the students are working with the college to create solutions that meet the student’s needs,” Olivo said.

Olivo met with Martinez and Tjong to listen to their concerns and receive feedback on some ideas the administration has been considering to improve disabled students’ lives on campus.

One administrative proposal is to work alongside the Design Technology Fabrication Lab and local 3D printing and “hackerspace” Deezmaker to develop a three-dimensional tactile map.

This map would allow hard-of-seeing students to get a literal feel for the campus, making a better experience for current students, but particularly new students.

PCC and Deezmaker worked together in 2014 to create an aid for the visually impaired by designing and 3D printing a braille-laden map with both the birds eye view and the legend being tactile for students to feel their away through campus.

The project turned out so well that the team was invited to CSUN for a conference to present their work.

Another proposal is to establish a peer advisor who would work as a go-between with students and the DSPS office.

“In counseling we’ve created this position called an academic coach,” Olivo said. “The bridge between a student and a counselor. This really helps out in our first year pathways program. The peer advisor could be the bridge between [DSPS students] and DSPS.”

Olivo expressed that the idea behind this is so there is a closer connection for the students where the advisor works as a more personal coach that is looking for them.

Tjong could see the opportunity.

“A peer advisor could help fill in the gaps of DSPS,” Tjong said. Having someone who cares about their success. That goes a long way, I think.”

“It’s a different bond,” Olivo said. “Looking out for them, care for them.”

 

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