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Dean's Fellows: Projects

Mapping Access

Description: This Dean's Fellowship draws upon geospatial data, participatory research, urban cartography, and new mobile technologies to map sites and strategies for accessibility on the Vanderbilt campus. The premise of this project is that mapping the accessibility of the Vanderbilt campus environment can both provide necessary information for navigating between buildings and can also provide knowledge and insight into the concept and practice of accessibility more generally. According to the late-twentieth century Universal Design movement, features of the built environment that benefit disabled users also benefit non-disabled users. For instance, curb cuts designed to enable wheelchair users to access streets and sidewalks also enable bicyclists and people pushing carts or strollers to navigate these spaces. Universal Design goes beyond the narrow approach of accessibility compliance offered by laws such as the Americans With Disabilities Act to capture a broader range of built forms that enhance the experience of built environments for all users.

This Dean's Fellowship uses geospatial data and mapping to uncover areas of overlapping accessibility on the Vanderbilt campus. The project draws upon two forms of data: available GIS data regarding campus facilities and qualitative survey data about Vanderbilt's built environment gathered by Vanderbilt students and staff, particularly students in Professor Aimi Hamraie's courses on disability and the built environment. The Dean's Fellow will: aid in collecting additional data on the campus environment in cooperation with existing campus stakeholders and diversity organizations; compile data about accessibility corresponding to disability, gender, and other forms of access; coordinate with Facilities Information Services; build a map linking compiled data to campus sites; and complete pilot analyses of converging sites of accessibility as they emerge on the map. The resulting map will build upon an existing mobile-accessible technology developed by a previous Library Dean's Fellowship ("Historical Tour of the University") to develop layers of information about accessible sites on campus, including wheelchair-accessible pathways, doorways, and restrooms, all-gender restrooms, classrooms with low sensory exposure, breastfeeding spaces, campus safe spaces (such as "Green Dot" spaces) and resources, and other spaces that make the campus more accessible to the Vanderbilt community and its visitors.

Regular meetings to review the map's layers to identify intersections and overlaps in forms of accessibility, made visible through geospatial data, can inform new examples and concepts of Universal Design. For instance, the map may reveal that wheelchair-accessible restrooms, designated campus breastfeeding spaces, and "all-gender" restrooms exist in overlapping sites, or that older campus buildings contain accessible spaces that repurpose parts of the original design. Because this Dean's Fellows project is rooted in a local, historical map of the campus, the map will enable research about the relationship between historical sites and more contemporary forms of accessibility, speaking directly to scholarly conversations about historical preservation, urban theory and history, and universities as democratic change agents. Additionally, Mapping Access will inform Professor Hamraie’s research project about the intersections of public health and accessibility at the urban scale.

The map will be a strategic resource to the Vanderbilt community. To generate new data, the Fellow will draw upon Professor Hamraie's relationships with existing campus diversity offices whose staff and students will use accessibility surveys to engage with their own work environments and paths of navigation around campus to become more aware of Vanderbilt as a site of access. These surveys (and the upkeep of the map) will continue via Professor Hamraie after the Dean’s Fellowship period is complete. The map product itself will also serve as a strategic resource to members of the Vanderbilt community and visitors to campus, who can use it to obtain information about accessible locations on campus. The map will also provide a teaching tool for faculty whose courses focus on built environments, on the campus or Nashville context, or public history.


  • The Fellow will collate existing accessibility data available from Professor Hamraie and Vanderbilt University’s Facilities Information Services department.
  • The Fellow will work with Professor Hamraie to identify additional types of accessible design to survey and work with students and campus stakeholders to organize surveys of campus areas where data has not yet been collected.
  • The Fellow will build the accessibility map using ArchGIS software
  • The Fellow will convert accessibility data into file formats amenable to use with ArchGIS software and input these into the map.
  • The Fellow will have the opportunity to analyze this data for an individual research project (if desired).

Skills Needed or To Be Developed:

  • Interest in disability access: The ideal Dean’s Fellow for this project would have an interest in disability, accessibility, and/or built environments.
  • Geospatial data and mapping: The Fellow will receive Geographic Information Systems (GIS) training through available library resources.
  • Expertise in accessibility codes and Universal Design approaches: Professor Hamraie will provide the Fellow readings and training regarding Universal Design and accessibility in built environments. Professor Hamraie will also train the Dean’s Fellow to conduct built environment surveys (following an expanded version of the American National Standard A117.1 accessibility code and recent additions made by the U.S. Access Board).
  • Accessible information: The Dean's Fellow will have the opportunity to incorporate existing best practices for web-based accessibility (including "multi-modal" and multi-sensory data, screen-reader accessibility, and basic design connects) into the map itself in order to make it more usable to people with vision or cognitive impairments or those who benefit from information in more than one format. Professor Hamraie will provide information on these strategies and connect the Dean’s Fellow with experts in accessible mapping.

Aimi Hamraie (Center for Medicine, Health, & Society)
Carla Beals (Digital Projects and Exhibits, Vanderbilt University Library)
Lindsey Fox (GIS Coordinator, Vanderbilt University Library)

Additional project team members:
Clifford Anderson (Director of Scholarly Communications, Heard Libraries)
Pamela Morgan (MHS Librarian)

Potential Candidates: In addition to the technical skills listed above, potential candidates must be dedicated, organized, and flexible. They should have some knowledge of disability in relation to the built environment or some interest in the uses of mapping to promote social equity. Candidates with knowledge of the campus environment and those who identify as having lived experiences with disability are particularly encouraged to apply.

Dates of Employment: Spring and Summer Semesters 2016 (January 1, 2016-August 1, 2016)
Please note, this is a 2 semester project.

Contact: Aimi Hamraie

Follow the Application Process to apply for this fellowship. Applications will be accepted through October 30, 2015.

See other Spring 2016 Fellowships