When Michael Frizell was designing the Bear CLAW (Center for Learning and Writing) in Meyer Library around 2008, he wanted it to be inviting to all students — including those with disabilities.
“Universal design is the whole reason the Bear CLAW exists,” he said. 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.
“The old writing center was barely functional. We had so many chairs and tables it became a maze for people with different disabilities. When we developed the Bear CLAW, we had the opportunity to consider those options. Thanks to student input, we designed it with wide-open spaces for people in wheelchairs ... and much more.”
He also used the services of the University’s Disability Resource Center.
“I consulted with the director during the development phase to ensure color schemes would be easily seen and aisles were wide enough for ease of access.”
Frizell says though accessibility was considered from day one, the Bear CLAW is still updating to be even more inviting.
“I still think we can do better, so we welcome feedback from students. If they need something that is within our power, we will get it for them.”
For instance, at the request of students, the Bear CLAW recently added speech-to-text recognition software for some of its computers. This software can listen to students talk, and write out what they are saying to a fairly accurate degree. It may be used by blind students who cannot see to type, and by those who cannot use their hands to type.
Frizell also helps prepare student workers in the Bear CLAW to help students with disabilities.
“I talk with student workers a lot about customer care. … One of the nice things we have found is, students with disabilities are pretty adept at teaching us how to work with them.”
The customer focus has been noticed: In 2012, Bear CLAW was voted best campus service in the student newspaper The Standard.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from students is very positive,” Frizell said. “We have a 98 percent satisfaction rate. What speaks to our success the most is that 75 percent of our clients were referred to us from faculty and staff, which means that according to them we offer a good service. We always try to go the extra mile for the students.”
Frizell grew up with two parents who loved reading, and he in turn loved reading from their library. As a boy, he wrote his own comic books and stories. The feedback from friends and teachers was positive, so he decided writing was what he wanted to do for a living.
He hopes to inspire students with his passion for his work.
“We work with a lot of tentative writers,” he said. “It’s exciting to see those who are tentative grow passionate. We believe that all writing is valuable, so our job is to help students make their writing the best that it can be.”