Wide photograph taken outside on the University of Utah campus of five students on a sidewalk. Four students are walking while communicating in sign language and one student is using a wheelchair.

The Universal Design and Access Committee

July 26, 2021, is the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in areas of public life, including schools. Over the past several years, many ADA improvements have been made on the University of Utah campus, including the installation of ADA ramps, changes to parking lots and the creation of new pathways. This work has improved campus accessibility, not only for individuals with mobility disabilities but also for other users, such as bicyclists and those with strollers.

Still, there is work to do, and the Universal Design and Access committee (UDAC) is leading the charge.

“With broad representation from across campus, we are working to expand and design a more accessible U,” said Scott McAward, co-chair of the UDAC and director of the Center for Disability and Access. “A key component of that is beginning to integrate the conversation of universal design and access with other equity, diversity and inclusion work happening on campus.”

The UDAC is tasked with advising the One U Thriving Steering Committee on policies and procedures affecting campus community members and visitors including, but not restricted to, persons with disabilities relative to employment, educational opportunities and accessibility. The committee proactively works with a range of university entities to enhance university accessibility for students, faculty, staff and campus visitors according to the principles of universal design in areas such as curricular design, built environment, technology and information, campus events and workplace inclusivity.

“Universal design is about making processes and environments more usable and accessible to more people,” said Angela Smith, co-chair of the UDAC, director of Disability Studies and associate professor in gender studies and English. “It goes well beyond the built environment, and while it is certainly about attending to needs of those with disabilities, it is very intertwined with making a university an accessible place for those who have long been excluded in terms of race, class and gender as well.”

The UDAC is in the process of creating an accessibility website for the campus which will collate links for and information about campus accessibility, events planning, employee accommodations, technology accessibility, the Center for Disability and Access and disability studies. The committee is also developing guidelines and suggestions for hosting accessible events and working on improving accessibility online for social media and university websites.

“So much of the last 18 months has been electronic and has really brought some of these gaps to light,” said McAward. “As we plan to return to campus, we want to continue what we’ve learned and continue advancing these components of universal design instead of returning to where we were before.”

In what is called the ADA Pathways Project, the committee is also gathering and updating university data on the U’s more than 60 miles of sidewalks in order to help convey accurate information about access and paths of travel on campus and identify needed improvements.

“Sometimes people believe that addressing disability and accessibility is too difficult or expensive,” said Smith. “However, on this committee, we have people from all over campus who really care about these issues and are passionate about improving environments for as many people as possible.”

If you have questions or suggestions for the UDAC, you can reach out to Smith at ang.smith@utah.edu or McAward at smcaward@sa.utah.edu.

Additional resources

UDAC Committee Members

Scott McAward, co-chair, director, Center for Disability & Access; Adjunct Associate Professor, Educational Psychology

Angela Smith, co-chair, director, Disability Studies Initiative; Associate Professor, English and Gender Studies

Keith Bartholomew, associate dean of Academic Affairs, College of Architecture + Planning

Matt Beach, associate director of Facilities, Housing & Residential Education

Christina Derbidge, assistant professor (clinical), Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, School of Medicine

Danna Duncan, Learning Experience Designer, Teaching and Learning Technologies

Barb Iannucci, associate director, Content Management & Usability University Support Services

Steve Panish, assistant vice president for Capital Programs and Space, Health Sciences

Rochelle Randazzo, director, Finance/Accounting, Planning, Design, & Construction

Anabel Reyes, ADA specialist, Human Resources

Tricia Sugiyama, director of the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs

Erin Sullivan, associate director & Deputy ADA/504 Coordinator, Office of Equal Opportunity & Affirmative Action

Julie Thomas, Office of General Counsel

Marina Allen, student representative, Health, Society, & Policy major