Currents

Advance Work

Opening doors: The new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired was designed with accessibility in mind.
OPENING DOORS: The new South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired was designed with accessibility in mind.
GRAPHIC CREDIT: Northern State University, South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and tSP
Architecture for All

Consider the physical elements that make your campus unique: rolling green lawns, sleek glass buildings, dramatic porticos. Now imagine how difficult it might be to navigate them without sight.

Every campus can present particular challenges for blind and visually impaired students, says Chris Downey, a California architect who lost his sight in 2008. An advocate for creating spaces that are accessible for the blind, he recently helped design a new building, projected to open in fall 2019, for the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired on Northern State University's campus.

Globally, 1.3 billion people live with vision impairment. In the U.S. alone, some 62,000 elementary, middle, and high schoolers are blind—but only 15 percent go on to earn a bachelor's degree, according to the National Federation of the Blind. Access to education, Downey stresses, is crucial.

To create a space that's navigable for the visually impaired, he considers—among many things—these three factors:

Acoustics. "If you can't see the space, you're listening to the space," he says. "You're learning it through tactile cues." That makes acoustics and sound quality in a room important—including eliminating unnecessary noise.

Lighting. Of the legally blind population, says Downey, only 6 to 8 percent are totally blind; most have some sight, so lighting is essential. Illumination should be consistent throughout the space, with fixtures that don't have a visible lightbulb, which can create a jarring visual hot spot, he says.

Signage and tactile maps. Generally, signs should be clear and durable, with Braille and embossed, high-contrast lettering. Beyond that, tactile campus maps—which use raised or embossed lines to denote landmarks and routes—can guide students and help them create a mental map.

Major architectural changes—like using textured building materials and breaking undifferentiated spaces (such as long hallways) into more discrete areas—can make campuses welcoming to visually impaired students. For many institutions, that is a big shift—but in the meantime, schools can take this key step, says Downey: Talk with your visually impaired students.

"The best strategy is having a good students with disabilities group and working with your blind community to understand their particular needs," he says.  

Meredith Barnett


Chinese New Year at the National University of SingaporeProsperity Toss at the National University of Singapore

PHOTOs CREDIT: National University of Singapore
Tossing Up Good Fortune
The National University of Singapore ushers in the new year with a tradition rich in symbolism—and flavor

Each February, the National University of Singapore's alumni relations team invites alumni, staff, students, and volunteers to a Chinese New Year appreciation dinner. There, under festive red and gold lanterns, 150 guests listen to live music, watch a slideshow of alumni activities, and take part in lo hei, or the Prosperity Toss, a new year's tradition in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Lo hei is a Cantonese raw fish salad, explains Florence Neo, deputy director of alumni relations at NUS. "The name ‘lo-hei' means, ‘tossing up good fortune,'" she says. "There is a fun ritual of tossing up the fish and vegetables and saying auspicious phrases as the sauces are added into the dish before eating it."

"It's during the festive period when we send one another good wishes for the new lunar year," Neo says. "The dinner is a great opportunity to showcase what our office does. People enjoy reminiscing about past events and it opens up conversations of how we can work with them in the year ahead." MB

For the Prosperity Toss, guests gather around a table and serve the dish together. They say these seven wishes for good luck:


1. Add lime to the dish. "May you have good luck, success, and prosperity!"

2. Add strips of raw fish—salmon, in this case. "Wishing you abundant wealth throughout the year."

3. Pour oil over the fish. "May you experience a multifold increase in profits."

4. Add plum sauce. "May you enjoy sweet and loving relationships."

5. Sprinkle pepper and cinnamon. "May you enjoy great wealth and treasures!"

6. Pour in deep-fried flour crackers. "May you have a great abundance of gold!"

7. Toss julienned vegetables with chopsticks seven times into the air while calling, "Lo hei!"


A Bonnie New Policy
Support for Scotland's female students

At the start of the September 2018 academic year, Scotland became the first country to provide free feminine sanitary products to students at all of its schools, colleges, and universities. "Periods are a part of life," said Susannah Lane, the head of public affairs at Universities Scotland. "They shouldn't be a point of inequality, compromise someone's quality of life, or be a distraction from making the very most of time spent at university."


5.2

millions of pounds invested in the program


26 

percentage of respondents to a Young Scot's survey attending school, college, or university who struggled to access sanitary products


12 

percentage of girls who improvise sanitary wear due to cost issues, according to Plan International U.K.


49

percentage of young women across the U.K. who have missed school because of their period


percentage of a tax on U.K. sanitary products


25

pounds Scottish Member of the British Parliament Danielle Rowley said she spent on sanitary products after explaining that her period was the reason she was late to a June 2018 House of Commons debate

Christen Aragoni

Saint Louis University's Echo Dot

PHOTO CREDIT: SAINT LOUIS UNIVERSITY
Alexa, What's New at SLU?
All student rooms now equipped with smart speakers

Students living on campus at Saint Louis University got a new roommate in fall 2018—a SLU Alexa Skill Amazon Echo Dot device that can answer 130 questions, ranging from "What time does the library close?" to "What channel is ESPN?"

"We did not expect that would be a popular question," says David Hakanson, SLU vice president of information technology and chief information officer. "Not every question was about an academic purpose."

The devices are meant to give students faster access to campus information and get them more engaged in the SLU experience. They draw from existing data sources to answer commonly asked questions about such things as rec center hours, the location of laundry facilities, and events on campus. They can also answer general knowledge questions, play music, act as a timer, give a weather report, or do any of the other things a regular Alexa would.

"The No. 1 interaction with the device in the first month was around music, so probably no surprise there," Hakanson says, noting that the 2,500 devices were paid for out of the institution's IT budget and racked up 58,000 interactions in the first month.

For those worried about privacy, the Alexa for Business platform allows SLU to manage the devices centrally but only track high-level usage trends. The devices are not tied to Amazon accounts, meaning you can't walk into a dorm room and shop on somebody else's dime, although the next iteration might incorporate voice recognition technology for a more personalized experience.

They can be muted, turned off, or used to make a residence hall floor feel a little bit more like home, which is what a group of students did recently when they opened every door on the hallway and asked Alexa to sing happy birthday to a fellow resident.

"We've heard a couple of cute stories like that," Hakanson says. "We're really pleased with the devices."

Julie Bourbon


Match Game: Campus Romance Edition

While in college, students may find themselves studying matters of the heart—and not just in anatomy class. At some campuses, love is in the air year-round with special traditions or legendary romantic spots.

Take, for instance, Miami University's "Miami Mergers." That's what the Oxford, Ohio, institution calls its 14,000-plus alumni couples. For more than 40 years, the university has honored its Miami Mergers (now in 17 countries) by mailing them Valentines, says Michelle Martin Rosecrans, director of alumni engagement.

According to tradition, many of these mergers began at a particular spot on campus: the arch in the red brick Upham Hall at the center of campus. If students kiss there at midnight while the lights are on in the arch, they're destined to marry.

"The tradition of kissing under the Upham Arch is still going strong today among both students and alumni," Rosecrans says. "It's not only a way to show your dedication to your true love but also a way for Miami students and alumni to be a part of a special tradition spanning generations." MB


Explore how other campuses celebrate love by matching the romantic spot on the left with the institution on the right.

  1. Spoofer's Stone: This limestone rock now famous for marriage proposals is where students would leave love notes in the days before male and female students were permitted to mingle.
  2. The Castle: This 900-year-old castle is popular for alumni weddings. Typically, a fellow alumnus or alumna reads a Latin grace during a traditional wedding breakfast.
  3. Passion Puddle: If a couple strolls around this small, tree-lined lake three times, legend has it they'll live happily ever after.
  4. Eternal Flame: Formerly an ever-burning oil lamp, this pillar's modern electric lights flicker. Now, students joke that kissing here dooms a couple to an on-again, off-again bond.
  5. Shoe Tree: Since the 1960s, "sole" mates at this school have hung shoes on this tree. Some alumni return to add a baby shoe when they start a family.

Answer Key (Hover mouse to see answer.)
1.b; 2.e; 3.a; 4.d; 5.c

a. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

b. University of Arkansas

c. Murray State University, Kentucky

d. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

e. Durham University, U.K.

Miami University's Upham Arch

The Spoofer's Stone

The Shoe Tree

LOVE LOCALES: Miami University's Upham Arch (top); the Spoofer's Stone (middle); the Shoe Tree (bottom).