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Navigating the Campus with New Eyes

Students in a senior seminar in the Knight School of Communication are studying the field of proxemics and how it can improve the way people interact with the space around them.

As a part of the seminar, students recently devoted a sunny, fall afternoon to conducting a handicapped accessibility audit of their campus. Their goal was to simulate for themselves how people in wheelchairs experience the environment. The class borrowed wheelchairs, divided into two teams, explored the campus and recorded their experiences.

"My interest in proxemics is in how to design spaces so they can be best used by the people who inhabit them," says Dr. John McArthur, assistant professor of communication and Director of Undergraduate Programs, who leads the seminar.

Raulston Boger, a student in the seminar, says the exercise opened her eyes to the challenges of individuals with disabilities. "We're having to go out of our way to get into a specific building because there's only one on-ramp - just the little stuff we take advantage of everyday."

An accessibility audit reveals how individuals with different needs negotiate their way through a particular environment, McArthur says, and identifies a location's strengths and weaknesses. Often, an audit reveals simple solutions that make a big impact on a user experience - such as moving a potted plant away from a narrow entrance.

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