UA Students Help Disabled Tucsonans Through Community Outreach Program

Thursday, October 24, 2013

By Maggie Driver, Arizona Daily Wildcat, October 24, 2013

A UA College of Architecture, Planning & Landscape Architecture program is facilitating access for disabled students and providing them a place to relax at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

The UA chapter of AIAS Freedom by Design, a nonprofit organization, focuses on community-based design and implementation of projects for disabled and disadvantaged Tucsonans, according to William Ruoff, an architecture junior and director of the community outreach program. This year, members were focused on adding to their list of previous projects — which included building ramps for local residents to have improved access to their homes — through an outdoor space for students located at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.

“We’re looking at this idea in a different way,” Ruoff said. “We’re creating a space for the kids to relax in that’s bettering their environment.”

Ruoff contacted Steve McManus, assistant program director for facilities at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, in September to see if there were any projects they could work on. When McManus walked the campus with Rouff, the two discussed the possibility of building a patio area where students could relax after classes.

“Sometimes, you just need to get out of your dorm room and sit and relax and chill out,” McManus said. “I think it will be a great area for them to do that.”

After the initial meeting, Ruoff visited the campus again with the Freedom by Design group, who walked around and took measurements. Ruoff said program members are considering how to incorporate various sensory elements into the space, such as feeling the difference between the hot and cold spaces with the sunny and shady areas.

In addition, Christopher Maltez, a fifth-year architecture student and the project manager, said the group plans on integrating aspects of the space that are wheelchair- or blind-friendly for the students. For the blind students, one of the group’s ideas is a decorative wall that might feature Braille or be made of different materials to signal changes in the environment to someone following the wall by touch.

“That will let you know what space they’re in, so they can know what is coming up ahead in the area,” Maltez said.

McManus said the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind have students from elementary school age to 22 years old. The students sometimes live in the dormitories due to the distance from their home to the school, and since the kids sometimes make their own meals, McManus said they are looking at the possibly of putting a barbecue in the patio area.

“These kids are here for six weeks at a time,” McManus said. “It’s their home away from home.”
McManus said the group is looking to do fundraising next and to submit design ideas to the school. Construction work is expected to start sometime in the spring.

Andrew Cusick, an architecture senior and the funding chair for Freedom by Design, said the group plans out the design needs of the client and then gets funding for the project before building it.
“We’re essentially trying to utilize our skills and give back to the community of Tucson,” Cusick said.

Ruoff said the organization’s projects are meant to do more than just improve accessibility.
“When people think about accessibility, they think ramps and handrails and things like that,” Ruoff said, “but really, it’s about improving the lives of the community members.”

- Follow Maggie Driver @Maggie_Driver

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