Cindi Barnett, the director of the Foster Family Recreation Center, had a goal as the facility was being built from 2010 to 2012: Make sure all students, including those with disabilities, could use the center.
“The recreation center was designed by the students, for the students,” she said. “They wanted it to be environmentally sustainable and accessible to all students. So we used universal design in our construction, meaning that it was built from the ground up to be available to all students.”
Universal design is the design of products and environments to be used by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. This model means buildings are constructed so those who are disabled don’t have to use delayed or segregated accommodations. This model challenges how we see disability, and asks us to think proactively about all people who may enter the building.
The recreation center includes many universal-design features.
“We wanted an entrance that was inviting to all,” Barnett said. “So, rather than having a swinging-door entrance specifically for students in wheelchairs, all of the doors at the front entrance are wheelchair-accessible. Transitions from one room to another are seamless as well. We have ramps from the main floor to the gym floor, an elevator to the second floor, ramps into our pools and even pieces of workout equipment that wheelchair-users can use just as if they were standing.”
Barnett had the input of the University’s Disability Resource Center, known as the DRC, while the center was being designed. The director of the DRC attended meetings with architects, contributed suggestions about the building and helped select fitness equipment. The DRC director also helped Barnett touch base with several students with different perspectives who contributed ideas.
“I highly recommend inviting the Disability Resource Center to assist with planning any project or event,” Barnett said. “They can contribute a wealth of information and ideas. They played a large part to ensure the Foster Recreation Center is accessible to all patrons.”
She said students have responded positively to the universal design features.
“They are thrilled, and people of all ages appreciate these features. I think it’s really important that this building was designed according to the students’ input. It really is their building and their input is really important to us.”
For Barnett, health and wellness are a personal matter: “My dad used to tell me that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” she said. “So I believe everybody should be able to think about their health and wellness. If they choose to improve their health, then the Foster Family Recreation Center is the place to come.”
She said the best part of her job is working with students.
“I love interacting with them and I love watching them succeed and achieve whatever it is they are trying to do.”