Celebration of Scholarship & Creativity

Graduate Students Assess Accessibility of City Theaters

May 21, 2019
By: Nicole O'Connell

Worcester State University’s 12th annual Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity was held in April, but some students, including graduate students Kayla Hogan and Anne Quinlan, are continuing their research.

The Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity was an all-day campus event that included student presentations, posters, panels, and performances. Almost 200 abstracts were received, representing many of the departments across campus.

At the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity, Hogan (Communication Sciences and Disorders), Quinlan (Occupational Therapy), and their advisors Joanne Gallagher (Occupational Therapy) and Susanna Meyer (Communication Sciences and Disorders) presented, “How Accessible is an Urban Performing Arts Theater?,” a project aimed at helping the local community.

Hogan and Quinlan, along with their advisors, went through training for the Community Health Environment Checklist, a tool used to assess usability for public spaces. They then visited a local theater with the checklist to determine the theater’s accessibility for people with hearing loss, people with low vision, and people with mobility disabilities.

Areas of focus included stairs with patterned carpets, bathroom stalls, signs, and the placement of trash cans in hallways.

“We used that checklist to go through the building and evaluate different areas we thought might be accessible and areas we thought might be a barrier for someone with a disability,” Hogan said. “The theater was very cooperative and interested in what our results are. We are going to be presenting the results to them eventually so that they can try to make some changes and make it as accessible as possible for their patrons.”

Hogan and Quinlan had never met before this project, but Hogan is glad their advisors recruited them to partake in this interdisciplinary project.

“It was really great getting to work with her and getting to see her perspective,” Hogan said, explaining that occupational therapy usually deals more with mobility impairments as well as visual impairments, and CSD deals with things from a hearing-loss perspective. “We used the knowledge from each of our fields and combined it into a holistic view of the theater.”

The Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity offers students a venue to showcase their research, an important opportunities for students to present and share the work they have been doing. Hogan had never presented her research before and believes it was a beneficial experience. Even before presenting their findings to the theater, their project is making an impact.

“[Our research] was applicable to people looking at our poster,” she said.

One interested visitor wanted to learn about the checklist that they used because it could be useful to herself and her profession. Hogan and Quinlan gave her the information. Other visitors were also attentive to the work they were doing.

“They all had different questions, which was good,” Hogan said. “You only are given a short amount of time to explain things to people, so it’s always nice when they ask further questions so you can go into a little bit more detail about areas that they’re interested in.”

At the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity, students do not only get the chance to present their work, but also to learn about the work of other students. Hogan enjoyed seeing the research of other students both within the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department and outside of it.

Along with presenting at the Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity and the plan to present their findings to the theater, Hogan, Quinlan, Meyer, and Gallagher are hoping this research will also be shared at the American Speech-Language Hearing Association Conference in Florida this November. Presenting their updated research on campus at next year’s Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity is also a possibility for the group.

“It would be great if we could do it again,” Hogan said.

For now, the next step is to continue the research.

“We have plans to expand the research by sending people from the community with disabilities to the theater and having them assess what they find to be strengths and weaknesses,” Hogan said. “This summer we’re going to start working on that and move forward from there.”

Hogan hopes to pursue projects like this in the future.

“It’s so important for public spaces to be accessible to all people,” she said. “There’s a lot of people in the community that have disabilities that don’t know what is available to them. There’s ADA laws that places have to abide by, but sometimes, little things like the signs at the theater get overlooked, and it was good for us to be able to point that out to them. It’s an easy fix, and a great thing to look into.”

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