Someone in the Engineering Ethics course created a post titled “The Perils of Campus Parking” where they pondered the ethical use of accessible parking spaces. I provided a lengthy comment in reply. I should mention that this post is not a retaliation or a personal commentary against the original author, but is a response to a broader issue of ethics, universal design, and accessible spaces.
So much of the reasoning for parking in accessible spaces seems to rely on the idea that it’s “just for a minute.” It’s only a temporary measure, because the person parking illegal will be done in “just a minute.” Just popping in and out. It will be quick! It’s raining. No one else is using it.
This, however, is exactly the sort of attitudinal barrier* that is faced by people within the disability community. For those who need those spaces for access, we are told that those parking spaces are more of a consideration of convenience for other users. When we notice accessible doors (typically those marked with a “Stanley” push button) are inoperable, this can mean that we are denied access into a building.
Side note: if you are on Virginia Tech’s campus and notice something like a door button not working, please notify VT by filling out the Physical Access Barrier form using the bitly or the tinyurl links.
Access almost always requires more time, energy, and effort; there’s always an extra button to push in order to get where you are going. The need for universally designed, accessible places in both physical and digital environments is something that is rarely included in the discussion of design. We make assumptions about how people access spaces and materials all the time; we also make assumptions about what disability is and how it appears.
I posit that access should be part of our discussion of ethics as engineers, especially those in an American or Western context (as there are specific legal issues to contend with, as well as ethical ones). This is why I have chosen to focus on the ethics of accessibility and universal design for my final project topic, specifically looking at these concepts as they relate to Virginia Tech’s main campus. Stay tuned for updates.
*There are actual multiple different types of barriers that the disabled community encounter while living their everyday existence. Attitudinal barriers are the pervasive and typically negative perceptions and stigmas that create barriers. These are different from, for example, structural barriers that arise in a physical environment that is not accessible.
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