Last Updated: Mar 28th, 2013 - 15:54:01
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Metro State students’ project aims to make places more accessible for people who are blind

By Cliff Foster

Communication design students taught by Art Professor Lisa Abendroth teamed with the Colorado Center for the Blind on the “blind spot” accessibility project.
You’re in a checkout line and want to pay with your debit card, but you can’t see the number pad. You might have to give out your pin so someone else can punch it in. Or you need to get cash from an ATM but you have trouble navigating the touch screen because you’re blind.

Addressing frustrations like these in a positive way is the aim of a joint effort by Metro State communication design students and the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton. Called “blind spot,” the project will use business cards, postcards, posters and other design elements, plus a yet-to-be launched website, to educate business owners, government officials and others about things that don’t work for people who can’t see.

The project is meant to “open up awareness and create an opportunity for education around what accessibility means,” says Art Professor Lisa Abendroth, communication design coordinator. “We’re really positioning accessibility as a human right…a civil right within the context of the urban environment.”

Her class in community-based design is intended to get students out of the studio and connected to a problem or issue in the real world. “I got a greater understanding about how important access is; as a sighted person, you don’t really think about,” it, says senior Jessica Kanzenbach. “It’s kind of invigorating to be able to design something for somebody that you didn’t know there was a need for.”

The 10-member class met regularly with students and staff at the Colorado Center for the Blind to identify challenges faced by blind people, particularly relating to communication and technology in an urban setting. They even wore blindfolds and walked around for 15 minutes or so to experience firsthand how it feels to be visually impaired.

“By midterm we were coming away with an impression that this is much more about us advocating and empowering…the entire blind community and also creating a bridge between the sighted community and people who are blind,” Abendroth says.

That bridge is the blind spot campaign, which was developed over 14 weeks this semester. Among other things, it involves using graphics called “spots” to promote awareness about accessibility in businesses and public spaces, with the aim of educating. The website will allow people to post the location of a design problem so it can be resolved, and include free downloads of window decals a business can use to signal that it is sensitive to the needs of blind people.

The project “is all about a positive communication between the sighted community and the blind community,” Abendroth says. “We want to turn that connotation of what a blind spot is totally around into…a focal point that this a place for people who are blind, a place for all people.”

The project is still in the prototype phase but is seeking a $13,000 grant. The hope is to turn it into a national campaign.


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