University of Iowa Ramps Up Accessibility Efforts - Brings People with Disabilities into the Loop (IA UCEDD)

June 8, 2015

The University of Iowa (UI) continues to make strides in becoming a model campus for accessibility and universal design.  In the past year alone, dozens of improvements, including remodeling projects, stair removal, installation of hearing loops, and development of a wayfinding app to assist individuals who are blind or visually impaired, have been completed.  Leading the way in this effort is Brian Manternach, UI Facilities Management Accessibility Coordinator.  Manternach credits his association with the Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD), Iowa's UCEDD, for heightening his consciousness concerning the needs of individuals with disabilities and for assistance with moving accessibility initiatives forward.

The partnership between CDD and UI Facilities Management grew from a discussion held during a meeting of the UI Council on Disability Awareness, an interdisciplinary group of faculty, staff, students and external stakeholders who are working to encourage the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life at the University of Iowa.  Manternach, CDD Program Coordinator Mike Hoenig, and Student Disability Services Advisor Carly Armour conceived a plan to train students with disabilities to consult with engineers, architects, and other building professionals on accessibility and universal design for building and remodeling projects on campus.  The three developed a training curriculum incorporating self-advocacy, empowerment, and universal design principles.  They then recruited and trained a group of UI students with disabilities who came to be known as "Hawkeye Accessibility Ambassadors."  Manternach, Hoenig and Armour accompany the Ambassadors to meetings of design professionals, serving as mentors to the students while sharing their personal perspectives from a disability and engineering standpoint.

Since beginning their consultation with design professionals in Spring 2013, Ambassadors have provided significant input on major construction and renovation projects associated with entities including University Libraries, the College of Engineering, and the new College of Pharmacy.  Manternach is particularly proud of the College of Pharmacy consultation, explaining that the Dean intends for their new facility to be the premier Pharmacy College, especially in the area of accessibility.

Due to the program's success, Facilities Management now regularly seeks out the expertise of Ambassadors as construction and renovation projects are considered.  Currently, Ambassadors are consulting on the renovation of a 13,000 square foot space in the Lindquist Center, home to the UI College of Education.  CDD will benefit from having a presence at the table, as the space to be renovated houses several educational and assistive technology programs who serve as frequent partners.  The Lindquist Center project illustrates the synergy which often results from multi-disciplinary collaboration.

Manternach clearly recognizes and appreciates that synergy.  "The great strides we have made towards designing and constructing physical space which is supporting and inviting to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities, could not have been accomplished without the partnerships of CDD and others," Manternach said.  "Early on in the partnership, CDD Program Coordinator Mike Hoenig, who is blind, assisted with the creation of a universal design brochure.  We grew that partnership through the development of the Hawkeye Accessibility Ambassador Program which is empowering students with disabilities to transform the UI campus into one which incorporates universal design principles as a part of standard operating procedure."

Manternach's philosophy embodies the principles of inclusion which are at the heart of our AUCD network.  "For universal design to be achieved, diversity must be at the core of the design process from the very beginning," he says.  "True universal design is indicated in inclusive environments which do not stigmatize, segregate, or marginalize people.  An inclusive environment is one that is inviting and supporting to everyone, one that augments independence and instills dignity. Access isn't just about physical access to a space. It's also about access to the experience."

To view recent accessibility improvements at the University of Iowa, including a link to a demonstration of the wayfinding app which assists individuals who are visually impaired, visit

http://www.uiowa.edu/cda/ui-campus-facilities-accessibility-progress-updated-01162015.  A recent article in Public Works magazine offering a detailed description of the app and its development can be found at http://www.pwmag.com/technology/mobile-app-assists-visually-impaired_o.aspx.  To learn more about the hawkeye Accessibility Ambassador Program, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/haa/people.  To learn more about universal design principles, contact Brian Manternach, brian-manternach@uiowa.edu.