Medical College of Georgia, USA.
Friday, April 14, 2006.
A graduate research project at the Medical College of Georgia helps the disabled better plan their outings in Augusta.
The newest version of Access Augusta, a project begun by the MCG Department of Occupational Therapy in 1986, offers a new, user-friendly Web site, www.accessaugusta.org, describing the accessibility of public buildings, stores, restaurants and other sites in the area. Four occupational therapy students spent the past two years updating the project, using surveys and accessibility data from the past 20 years and adding information to include new businesses.
"The Web site is the most comprehensive look at accessibility in Augusta," said Molly Hefner, a senior who participated in the project. "Our aim is to improve quality of life by allowing physically challenged Augustans to live more independently."
The Web site provides a simple chart citing handicapped accommodations available at 100 popular businesses. The businesses are placed in categories such as hotels, apartments, entertainment, restaurants, government buildings and shopping/retail. The survey looks at several aspects of accessibility, including parking, entry, interiors, restroom and assistance.
"Our intent is to make it easy for consumers to access useful information and ultimately to help them adapt," said Vanessa Gabriele, also a senior.
The students attempted to maneuver through store aisles or around restaurant tables in wheelchairs. They also looked at how businesses accommodate other disabilities, such as visual and hearing impairment.
"We found several restaurants with Braille menus and businesses offering telephones with amplifiers," said senior Kimberly Chu.
Goals for the project include creating an unbiased survey of places and determining what percentage of businesses in Augusta are accessible.
"We aren't trying to make any one business look bad or good - we just want the information available to make life easier for people in Augusta," said student Sidra Ahmad.
Donna Domyslawski, assistant professor of occupational therapy and the group's graduate advisor, suggested the project when the occupational therapy department transitioned from a bachelor's to master's program three years ago.
"I wanted to further develop Access Augusta but never found the time," she said. "This group of students has been wonderfully creative with it. I think this has broadened their perspective of what occupational therapy has to offer and shown that it's very much community-based."
The students plan to create and distribute a booklet throughout Augusta for those who can't access the Internet. They hope future occupational therapy students maintain and expand the Web site.
"We want the site to be as encompassing as possible," Ms. Chu said. "It's set up so upcoming classes can add research and experiment with the design. We hope this will be a valuable resource for people in Augusta for many years to come."
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