I am Brian Graves, currently one of the UCIMC’s winter programming interns. A 2nd-year PhD student at UIUC, my research focuses on using genomics tools in collaboration with Indigenous communities traditionally excluded from and harmed by Western research; this ranges from researching topics important to the community, using portable equipment to work directly with our partners on-site, and making STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, & math) careers more approachable for Indigenous youth.

I have a neuromuscular disorder called Friedreich’s Ataxia that forces me to use a wheelchair. Able-bodied individuals often fail to see or anticipate accessibility challenges to individuals with a disability like myself. A client walk-through can help to identify these obstacles. Here are some tips based on my experiences on how to make a space navigable in a wheelchair:

  • Room to navigate: wheelchair width varies a lot; while the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) specifies having a 32” doorway clearance (when possible), often furniture or shelves make an otherwise accessible location difficult to maneuver once past the door. Can you move furniture or objects like trash cans to make passages clear? Pay special attention to corners where users might need more space to turn.
  • Desk/table height: Needs vary, but are individuals going to be able to wheel under desks and tables? If a table has a lip, will someone bang or scrape their knees? At six feet tall, I need a clearance of 36 inches or greater to use a table or desk. New furniture is expensive, but placing plastic risers beneath table legs is a cheap solution.
  • Cables: It’s easy enough for an able-bodied individual to step over a cable, but a person in a wheelchair may get caught on or yank a power cord (or the device it’s connected to). Rubber or plastic cable covers can be purchased if cables can’t be completely moved out of the way.
  • Reach: Are all items reachable by someone in a wheelchair? Depending on the location and wheelchair, an individual might be reaching from further away and risk imbalancing themselves grasping at a far item. Some things to consider are: power outlets, computers, microwaves, and items on shelves.
  • Controls: Are light switches within reach? The ADA requires switches to be within 14-48” of the floor, but this does not account for obstacles between a user and a light or fan  switch. If needed, can someone in a wheelchair adjust the air conditioning or heat? When possible, consider moving objects and furniture away from these controls.

A lot of existing resources are specific to certain disabilities and age ranges. Here are some general resource links for local working group volunteers interested in making their space more accessible: 

  • https://iltech.org/ Illinois Assistive Technology Program. This non-profit organization provides loans (6 weeks) and sales of assistive technology (AT). They are also integrated with a makers program (https://iatpmakers.org/) designed to use 3D printers for creating AT.
  • https://pacecil.org/ PACE (Persons Assuming Control of their Environment), Inc. Center for Independent Living. Nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting individuals with a disability with achieving independence and integration into society. Specifically helps with transportation, skills training, obtaining equipment and translation for deaf and visually-impaired individuals, etc.