Heather Newton

A wheelchair ramp leads to the entrance of the Oxford Municipal Building. (Michael Pickering)

For majority of Miami University students, a stroll into any uptown business typically presents no barriers.

However, accessibility in uptown Oxford isn’t easy for everyone, and a group of students are in the process of creating an Uptown Access Guide for people with disabilities.

In disabilities studies – a minor that is new to Miami’s campus this semester – professor Kathy McMahon-Klosterman has asked the students in her introductory class to turn their newly gained knowledge into action.

The two sections of the class split into groups and came up with ways to spread awareness about accessibility, both on campus and off.

A group of 11 students in the class decided to create an Uptown Access Guide, hoping to inform the disabled as well as business owners of which restaurants, stores, churches and other buildings uptown are handicapped-accessible.

Miami junior Jill Gottke, a women’s studies and political science major with a minor in disabilities studies, is a member of this group. Gottke completed an internship last summer at Open Doors Organization, which according to its Web site, was established in 2000 hoping to create a society where people with disabilities have the same consumer opportunities as those without.

In this internship, Gottke worked to create a similar guide for the city of Chicago, and decided to use this experience to make a difference locally.

“I wanted to take what I had learned and apply it to Oxford,” Gottke said.

According to McMahon-Klosterman, the businesses uptown vary in their degree of accessibility.

“Some are fully accessible, some are not at all accessible, and some would only have to move an object out of the doorway or get rid of one little step up at the entrance,” McMahon-Klosterman said.

Roger Perry, the owner of Bruno’s Pizza, said he had not been contacted by the group, but that his store already met the requirements for handicapped-accessibility.

“We are accessible and were required to make the front door a certain width and the restrooms accessible also when we opened the restaurant on High Street,” Perry explained.

To create the guide, each of the students first surveyed a block and compiled all the information relevant to the project. They are in the process of taking this information and placing it on a map, with hopes of having the Oxford Chamber of Commerce put a link to in on their Web site. They also plan to have hard copies available in the Disabilities Resource Center.

The group has been working on this project since the middle of the semester and will continue their work outside of class next semester until they have accomplished their goals.

Other projects in the class have been of a similar nature; one group is working alongside the Uptown Access Guide group by informing merchants uptown of how they can improve the accessibility of their businesses.

Another group is helping a mother whose child has cerebral palsy apply for an “Extreme Home Makeover” so their home could be made accessible, while others worked on campus with the Upham Action project. These students spread awareness of inaccessible entrances on campus by placing purple ribbons across doors that were not handicapped-accessible. Another one of McMahon-Klosterman’s classes has also created a DVD on the history of major figures in the disability rights movement.

“I’m very proud of my students for taking what they’ve learned and putting it into action where they live and here at Miami.” McMahon-Klosterman said. “People with disabilities aren’t asking for special treatment, they just want their civil rights. No more, no less.”