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Architecture student wins essay contest

Crista Mapes, an architecture senior, was awarded a $500 scholarship by 1800Wheelchair.com for her essay raising awareness about disability inclusiveness in architectural design.

1800Wheelchair.com is a Brooklyn-based company that sells mobility equipment. Its essay contest focuses on getting students to think about mobility and inclusiveness, and Mapes was the spring/summer scholarship winner. The contest objective is to get students to think critically about making campus and the world a more inclusive place for those with disabilities.

Mapes’ essay spotlighted the discrepancy between architectural education and actual construction, saying, “architects also have the ability to create buildings that are inclusive to both user groups as a way to bring them together and create a community rather than clusters of people cohabitating. I believe in order to make my campus and campuses across the world more inclusive, it is a crucial step to educate young architects in the area of universal design.”

The UA campus has made strides toward creating a campus that is inclusive for all students, Mapes said. “My understanding is we have a very disabled-friendly campus.”

The UA’s accessibility efforts include the reconstruction of the Student Union Memorial Center, residence hall options for those with disabilities, accessibility maps and a variety of transportation options.

Joseph Piekarski, president of 1800Wheelchair.com, said the overriding idea of the company is to do well by doing good things for the community.  

“Yes, we have a business,” he said. “We’re also in a unique position of being able to help foster a discussion about mobility, either on campus or in the larger world.”

Both 1800Wheelchair.com and Crista Mapes stressed the importance of creating a world that is accessible and inclusive to everyone through education and practice. “I think it could be more inclusive, and more of a focus on it,” she said. “Everything is pretty conceptual as far as designing and experience, but understanding who the people are who use the buildings is important.”

Mapes had previous experience regarding architecture and disabilities. Due to her involvement with Freedom By Design, an organization that utilizes the abilities of architecture students to create solutions for problems within the architectural world, she was able to tour Washington, D.C., and the UA campus blindfolded and in a wheelchair. After experiencing the difficulty that mobility-impaired people deal with every day, she was able to provide a view into how the importance of teaching inclusiveness in architectural design.

“There is definitely a difference between architectural education and architecture practice, and that’s the biggest thing,” Mapes said.

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