Campus as a Living Lab: Discovering the Comfort of Wheelchair Users in the Pedestrian Network by Experiential Learning with High School Students

Although the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) shifted our paradigm for accessibility, the built environment is still not friendly for wheelchair users. The main challenge is that enforcement of ADA guidelines primarily focuses on the design requirements, while actual usability is less emphasized in current practice and evaluation is limited largely to walk-through investigations. In this research project, we will draw on Disability Studies and disability-led design to develop and implement an experiential learning-based curriculum to teach students about disability-related transportation inequities. The curriculum aims to introduce the mobility barriers encountered by wheelchair users—one of the largest minority user groups of transportation infrastructure. The curriculum also covers the educational contents of open source-based data acquisitions (e.g., Raspberry Pi, sensors) as well as data analytics (e.g., descriptive statistics, data visualizations) with multiple hands-on examples. After completing each module, the research team will use the University of Texas at Arlington campus as a living lab for high school students via which they will demonstrate their data acquisition tools and present the results. This series of educational activities will provide experiential learning opportunities for upper-level high school students interested in careers in urban planning and engineering and introduce them to basic concepts in Disability Studies and disability-led design. Ultimately, the curriculum will motivate high school students to develop citizen science-based solutions and to be aware of disability-related barriers when they encounter other transportation inequities in the future.