OT students head downtown to test accessibility


Sharing expertise helps city while polishing consultation skills

Students and faculty from the School of Occupational Therapy are making downtown a safer, more accessible place to visit. This spring they embarked on a campaign of interviews and inspections at a range of public venues, undertaken in partnership with the Indiana Restaurant Association, Indianapolis Downtown Inc., the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, and the Mayor’s Office of Disability Affairs.

Overseen by Assistant Professor Kate DeCleene and Associate Professor Rebecca Barton, the project was part of an OT course called Issues and Practice, designed to give students experience as consultants. Using a 10-page checklist developed with input from the restaurant association, 22 master’s degree candidates visited 40 restaurants, museums, houses of worship, and other locations.

Making venues safer, more welcoming

At each site, they met with managers and conducted a thorough assessment of the premises, taking notes and making recommendations on issues including ease of parking and entering, size and arrangement of furniture, restroom features, readability of signage and menus, general wheelchair accessibility, and the staff’s ability to assist those with special needs.

“The project is not intended to enforce ADA compliance,” said DeCleene, director of OT graduate programs.  “Our goal is to educate people about simple things that can be done to make their buildings safer and more welcoming for everyone.”

Site visits will continue next year. Indianapolis Downtown will use the information to establish an online guide to downtown accessibility. UIndy’s team is working with the Indiana Restaurant Association to create educational materials for employees on how to respond to customers’ accessibility needs. The OT school at UIndy celebrated its 25th anniversary this spring with an alumni reception and open house held in conjunction with the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Annual Conference & Expo in Indianapolis. Several faculty members helped organize and presented at the conference, which drew 5,000 attendees and is considered the world’s largest OT-related event. UIndy’s nationally ranked OT program awarded its first diplomas in 1987.