Date Posted: 12/17/2021

For the able bodied, accessibility on the Cornell campus may be noticed mainly when paths are closed off for inclement weather. But imagine having such encounters periodically throughout the day, all year round. 

While many points of access have been improved in recent years — from curb cuts to elevated passenger crossings, from ramps to elevators — many obstacles remain. Fortunately, a Cornell program invites and celebrates a competitive effort among undergraduates to help identify those lapses and develop ways of remediating them.

Anjelika Amog, a senior in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science and the College Scholar Program; Priya Bhandari, a student in the Cornell Master of Engineering Program; and Michael Chen, a sophomore in Engineering, won this year’s Structural Stream of the Accessibility Case Competition organized by the Cornell Intellectual Property and Ethics Club (CIPEC). 

“The objective of the hackathon was to come up with ideas that can make Cornell campus more accessible and inclusive,” said Bhandari whose motivation for participating in the competition was twofold — to learn more about accessibility issues on campus and to put her allyship into action by trying to come up with solutions for those issues. 

The team proposed the creation of an app called Cornell Smart Map that would serve as a centralized means for students and staff to report individual access barriers by linking to Cornell’s existing GIS map, highlighting overlays for things such as accessible routes and automated door operators. Users would be able to drop pins onto the map to report malfunctioning equipment anywhere on campus, and they would receive a response directly within the app. Moreover, the team proposed implementing “glowpaths” (solar-powered crystals embedded in walkways) and wheelchair sharing stations across campus to “mitigate issues with access to visibility and mobility respectively.” These solutions could also be integrated into the smart map.

The team approached the challenge by looking at the accessibility barriers they faced personally while navigating on campus. Amog, who had recently returned to campus following an extended medical leave, was particularly excited to join the structural stream of the competition given the challenges she faces with mobility on campus including malfunctioning electronic accessibility buttons.

The scope of the competition extends to the whole team, as everyone on campus can experience situational disabilities. For example, Chen and Bhandari experience a lack of visibility at certain places at night. 

“The [Libe] slope can appear beautiful at night, a ‘post’-worthy backdrop for a romantic date, but just imagine losing your balance and stumbling in the darkness — that would not be fun,” said Chen. 

To supplement their research and personal experiences, the team consulted Andrea Haelin-Mott, Cornell’s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, who showed them the existing Cornell accessibility GIS map of campus. They also received valuable advice from Breanne Kistler, a Cornell Ph.D. student who is deaf and blind. 

“I find it valuable to have learned more about the accessibility landscape on campus, and it was rewarding to work with my teammates on solutions to accessibility related problems,” said Chen.

Read the team’s detailed presentation, which illustrates their site-specific proposals for the Cornell campus.

Bhandari and Amog, along with Kassidy Slaughter, also came in second place in the Policy Stream of the competition. At an upcoming meeting, the team will pitch their proposal to Vice President for Student and Campus Life, Ryan Lombardi, along with Cornell faculty.

David LaRocca is a communications specialist in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.