The University of Wisconsin – Whitewater Housing and Residence Life is a featured program.
Part of UW Whitewater’s University Housing mission is to provide quality, accessible housing, but what does that mean? Doing our best to meet student needs according to Director of University Housing, Frank Bartlett, on Universal Design, renovating our existing halls, and building for the future at UW-Whitewater.
Challenge to think outside the box
It is University Housing’s building standard to meet the needs of as many students, staff, & visitors to UW-Whitewater’s campus as possible. This means understanding the student population you serve, knowing what your campus needs are, and being able to articulate those needs not only to stakeholders, but to those designing or re-designing physical space on your campus. The goal of UWW’s University Housing is that residents are able to live and go anywhere in our residence halls; a disability or identity are not limiting their living options.
UW-Whitewater has a Universal Design Team comprised of representatives from University Housing, the Center for Students with Disabilities, Campus Planning Office, Office of the Chancellor, and MODE, a student organization for students with disabilities. This team plays an advisory role to any new construction as well as renovations that happen on UW-Whitewater’s campus. As a team, they have interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is not comprehensive enough to meet the needs of many of our students. Instead they have developed a Universal Design Plan that more comprehensively addresses physical space and access needs.
Attention to detail
Allowing students the ability to live in or access any building on campus requires putting a lot of thought into the planning of new buildings or renovating existing structures. The Universal Design Plan guides the planning phases by documenting what Universal Design means for the UW Whitewater campus and setting a standard when it comes to construction. It is easier to plan in the beginning than to renovate. Adding redundancy to our buildings by linking buildings together to provide dual elevators, creating doorways to all rooms wide enough for wheelchair access, and utilizing color to help distinguish which floor you’re on costs more per square foot now, but standardizing and thinking about important details saves money later in renovation costs.
While we do our best the first time to get things right and understanding that changes can be expensive, UWW res life is constantly learning through our students, staff, and visitors about the use of the buildings and listening to their feedback. Moving from a push button automatic door activator to a hand wave as standard across residence hall buildings has allowed those students who have difficulty pushing a button more freedom to move around UWW buildings and was implemented through direct feedback from our students who use our spaces every day. The goal of accessibility and inclusivity is taken seriously in University Housing and it is apparent in the physical spaces across campus.
What Whitewater is known for…
When asked what is something innovative or unique about how UWW works with Universal Design, the first thing that comes to mind for University Housing Director Frank Bartlett is the reaction received from parents and students when they notice the attention to detail put into our buildings. UWW has a higher student satisfaction when a student originally thinking they had only one option is asked where they would like to live and is given a number of options that fits their needs. It’s a win/win for students as well as for UWW since residence life had the flexibility to house many different students with different types of varying needs in many of the residence hall spaces. UWW residence life is not limited, which means students are not limited. Also, engaging in conversations with UWW students about their needs, hearing their concerns, offering solutions, and seeing the appreciation for the dialogue assist the process immensely.
UW-Whitewater often sets the stage for successful projects in the state of Wisconsin. The program is well known both within the state as well as abroad with students traveling from other countries to be a part of our wheelchair basketball athletics, but to also live and go to school in a space which they feel included. Often members of the Universal Design Team will be called to consult on housing projects across the state at other UW-System schools.
When asked where a good place would be to start, Bartlett speaks about education. Often the University will be working with different architecture firms or planning committees every time there is a new project and the goal of the Universal Design Team is to educate. During the planning phase for a new building or a remodel project, the Universal Design Team will do training on our campus’ Universal Design Plan, on the UWW students, and what the expectations are for accessibility. Not only is the Universal Design Team brought to the table with architects and the planning committee, but also a student representative is brought in to talk about what it means for them to be able to go anywhere in a building. UWW Residence Life has found that students enjoy being engaged in a conversation that will impact a large project and our campus.
The UWW goal in renovating current buildings and looking ahead to future buildings utilizing Universal Design is to create quality, accessible, inclusive housing to help all of our residents live, learn, and engage together.
Submitted by Amanda Murphy, Complex Director, University of Wisconsin – Whitewater