Drew T. Dorner

Now in its second semester of development, the Uptown Access Guide is planned for release this December.

The guide, which will serve as a tool for persons with disabilities to find their way in and around uptown establishments, is an ongoing project in associate educational psychology professor Kathy McMahon-Klosterman’s Introduction to Disability Studies class.

“It’s a multi-staged process,” McMahon-Klosterman said. “Students in a class last year did a walking, visual exploration of all the businesses and churches in the uptown area.”

The students were looking for possible detriments to handicap accessibility, including narrow doorways, steps and stairways, and the absence of grab bars in restrooms, she said.

“The students came back with the information and they compiled it, but the truth was that the semester was over,” McMahon-Klosterman said. “This semester, a group of students will be contacting all the businesses uptown and telling them we’re developing this accessibility guide, and that we’d like them to be included.”

If all goes according to plan, McMahon-Klosterman said the guide would be found on both Oxford’s Chamber of Commerce Web site and in paper form around Oxford by the end of the semester.

Diana Durr, executive director of the Oxford Visitors and Convention Bureau, said the guide would be a welcome addition to the city’s literature.

“There are always ways communities can improve,” Durr said. “We’re trying to get businesses to be more aware … that there are people who have different situations.”

Durr said businesses worry that accommodating persons with disabilities are not serving their own best interests.

“It’s foolish on their part (to not cooperate),” she said. “This is a customer with a wallet just like anyone else, so not to be cooperative is defeating. Most of our businesses are great about helping anyone who enters their store.”

McMahon-Klosterman agreed.

“That it is expensive (to accommodate disabilities) is not an uncommon response from a business,” she said. “But the reality is, we can show them the figures that it costs usually about $200.”

This figure covers the basic changes such as expanding door width, grab bars in the restrooms and Braille menus.

Megan Albertz, a Miami senior assisting with the project, said she and other students would be aiding uptown establishments in implementing accessibility measures.

“Some students, for example, will go to the same restaurants this year, and if they don’t have Braille menus or large-print menus, they’re going to get owners in contact with the right people,” Albertz said.

She added that this project is important not just because it will be a resourceful guide for the uptown area but also because it raises awareness for students and businesses alike.

“It’s a very important thing that these students are taking on, because accessibility is important for everyone and disability is something that can happen to anyone,” Albertz said. “It doesn’t make uptown seem like it’s excluding anyone just because it’s not accessible to a couple of people.”

According to Albertz, the Uptown Accessibility Guide is not the class’s only project.

“Another group is going to off-campus apartment complexes and finding which complexes have accessible apartments, and another group is working in conjunction with the speech pathology department to get an accessible playground in Oxford,” she said.

Albertz acknowledged that even though they have started working on this playground with Habitat for Humanity, there is still plenty of work remaining.

“We’re in the beginning stages,” she said. “People have just decided which projects they want to do, but I think everyone is very excited about making Oxford more accessible.”