The University of Illinois has long been known as an innovator, incubator and facilitator for those seeking to improve the lives of those with disabilities. One of the latest projects undertaken by U of I students fits right into that mold.
Meghan Burke, an associate professor in special education, has enlisted her students in creating a website – Access Urbana-Champaign – that lists the accessibility features of more than 100 C-U restaurants.
Want to know if Biaggi’s entrance is accessible by ground level? Want to know if Chili’s is located on or near a public bus route? Need to know if the doorway leading to the restrooms at Hamilton Walker’s has at least 32 inches of clearance space?
The website can answer all of those topics and more. No less than 27 questions are covered for each of the 116 restaurants reviewed on the site.
Restaurants are given an “accessibility rating” from “limited” to “excellent” while being evaluated on areas like audio and visual signals for emergency alarms, bathroom measurements for those who require wheelchair assistance, and whether menus are offered in Braille or large print.
“(Restaurants) have been receptive,” Burke said. “They’ve been curious about the purpose of this project. A lot of them want to hear the results of where they’re scoring and what they can do better. Since the site has gone live I’ve received an email from at least one restaurant saying how can we get our restaurant on there? In general people have been very positive about it.”
Burke modeled the project after one started by Vanderbilt University students for the Nashville area.
“Each student looks at (at least) two restaurants for their accessibility and then turns the rubric into me and a reflection of what they learned from the assignment,” she said, “and also resources for the restaurant for ways to make the restaurant more accessible.”
The site – designed by a separate group of U of I students – officially kicked off last year. Given that the C-U restaurant scene is ever-changing, Burke said her plan is “every year in the fall my students will complete this assignment and then we can go back and revise as needed to make sure the site is as reflective as possible.”