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ADA anniversary exhibition goes digital

| Gary Johnson

Like so many activities disrupted by COVID-19, an exhibition to honor the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act has transitioned to a digital format.

ADA30: Accessibility in the Chippewa Valley” was originally intended to be a physical exhibit in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s McIntyre Library to highlight progress made since the act went into effect three decades ago prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

But when McIntyre Library closed in March because of coronavirus public health restrictions, the project — developed and curated by Dr. Katherine Schneider, a psychologist emerita at UW-Eau Claire, public history graduate student Adam Azzalino and Greg Kocken, special collections librarian and archivist at UW-Eau Claire — moved online to potentially a much wider audience.

“I think we actually have an opportunity to have a bigger impact with a digital exhibit,” Kocken says. “This is one of those moments where you are forced to change your plans, but that change of plans turns out to be better than your original thought.”

Azzalino was impressed by how quickly the project moved to a digital format and sees potential for wide viewership.

“I think it transitioning online means the history of the ADA here in the area has a larger reach,” Azzalino says. “My hope is that it can be shared in classrooms to start conversations about the history of the disability rights movement.”

The exhibition examines the ADA from multiple angles and shows how changes have positively impacted Chippewa Valley residents. Topics touched on in the exhibition include public services, government services, employment, public transportation and communication.

Schneider, who has been blind since birth, says the biggest change since the ADA was approved 30 years ago may be in the awareness about those with disabilities.

“People have realized that people with disabilities can participate fully in society, loving, working, praying and playing if barriers to participation are removed,” Schneider says.

Photos in the online exhibition range from the accessible boat launch at Braun’s Bay in Carson Park to accessible equipment at Putnam Heights Neighborhood Playground. Each photograph in the exhibit has a caption that describes it so that blind users of the website know what is being shown.

Included in the exhibition are features that many people may not notice in everyday life, such as truncated domes, the bright yellow raised dots that appear on street curb ramps that warn pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired.

“Often we don’t realize how much goes into universal design and making the world around us more accessible for everyone,” Kocken says.

Schneider was appreciative UW-Eau Claire devoted university resources and Kocken’s time to the community service.

“By educating people about the ADA, what it is and what it isn’t, and celebrating the changes that have been made, I hope that it will encourage people to look around and figure out what to do next,” Schneider says.

Schneider sees potential for the exhibition website to be used in courses in a variety of fields, including social work, psychology, business, nursing, communication disorders and computer science.

“Students grew up with the ADA in place so they expect accommodations and are surprised when they realize that although much has been done, much remains to be done and they will be the ones who get to advocate for it, design the webpages to be accessible, etc.,” Schneider says.

The exhibition will remain online through December 2020.

For more information, contact Greg Kocken at kockeng@uwec.edu.

Photo caption: This image, part of McIntyre Library’s "ADA30: Accessibility in the Chippewa Valley" online exhibit, depicts the Braun's Bay accessible boat launch into Half Moon Lake in Eau Claire.