Class projects draws positive reviews from Braintree leader; student participant says project opened her eyes

Doctor of Occupational Therapy students recently received some flattering feedback from a town councilor after assessing the wayfinding accessibility of the Town Hall in Braintree. It all stemmed from an assignment given by Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy Kevin Berner. 

“The assignment was to perform accessibility evaluation of a public building in their own community or surrounding community,” said Berner, “but not just Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility but more around how an individual with a disability can access the public services they are entitled to access.”

So, students Tiffany Tsang, Jean Paul Vazquez Rivera and Alison Xi went to work, scouring the town hall building and submitted a 10-page report complete with pictures and overview of how visitors can access this public building. 

“I feel like applying that occupational therapy lens to this really made a difference in terms of how I was looking at things,” said Tsang. “Suddenly, the stairs are interesting to me, even though beforehand it' would just be something I'm not even bothering to look at.”

Among the building’s strengths, the students noted a digital, interactive directory that could be moved up and down for individuals in a wheelchair. When it came to limitations, the report cited a lack of “signage directing people with disabilities to accessible parking spaces nor signs indicating where each ramp leads to within the Town Hall.” The pavement around accessible parking spots is poor and limits access to people with disabilities, the auditorium doesn’t have a ramp and isn’t accessible for those with disabilities, and there are no signs with accessibility features for non-English speakers, and those with cognitive impairments or visual deficits. 

The student recommended better signage, smoother pavement, clearer markings on the accessible parking spots, repairs to the ramp connecting the parking lot to Town Hall, a ramp for the auditorium stage, an audio component to the directory for those with visual limitations, and better signage. 

“More clear signage (tactile map, braille, raised characters, or those for non-English speakers) is necessary for individuals with visual or cognitive impairments and non-English speakers to navigate the building and reduce confusion,” the students wrote. “By incorporating these recommendations, several features will become more accessible and can improve the environment for visitors with disabilities.” 

“Personally, as an able-bodied person some things like this don't necessarily affect me but there are plenty of people in the community who may not be able to access the building, or even just other buildings in general that are of similar like age and design, because of these limitations,” said Tsang. “So, I think it's really important to just consider these things and be mindful of how other people are able to use these spaces that are meant to be for the community, for the public.

The work drew the attention of Braintree Town Councilor Elizabeth Maglio, who commended the students’ effort: “I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for the analysis you provided,” she wrote. “I find your recommendations to be immensely helpful…. On a positive note, some repairs have been made to the parking lot, and there are now better visual cues for handicapped parking spots. However, as your report points out, we still have a long way to go.” 

Maglio said she would be sharing the document with the Braintree Commission on Disabilities and invited the students to join the commission.

“I thought the students did a very well-rounded comprehensive overview of this essential public building in Braintree’s town center,” noted Berner. “It was great were able to share with the town councilor, who appreciated the analysis performed by the students.”

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