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How simple outdoor seating is transforming the trip across our campus, one accessible rest stop at a time

The new benches on campus — 32 of them — are more than just picturesque study spots. They’re part of a universal design. 

Positioned at approximately 200-foot intervals along three key pathways of campus —  the art walk, the main campus walk, and the residence walk — their purpose is two-fold: to identify paths leading to performance venues and to provide convenient and accessible resting places between destinations.

“For people with different challenges — everything from having five children to mobility issues — it’s often too far to go from our parking lots to the different performance venues,” says Susan O’Connor, assistant director of audience services at TCNJ’s Center for the Arts.

So with a TCNJ Strategic Initiatives grant supporting accessibility on campus, O’Connor set about making a change.

The installation of these accessible rest stops is part of the college’s commitment to build a safe and inclusive campus that aligns with statewide efforts to incorporate universal design principles in public venues. The universal design approach is simple: to design products, buildings, and exterior spaces that can be used by — and benefit — everyone, regardless of their level of ability or disability.

Many of the benches are accompanied by extended concrete pads for wheelchair or stroller accessibility. 

And O’Connor says the benches are only one step in TCNJ’s journey to universal accessibility.  “It’s important to realize how dynamic this issue is. Language changes, people’s needs change. It’s not a one-and-done effort to be inclusive. It is an everyday awareness, and it’s understanding that we don’t all wear our needs on our outsides,” she says.

Sarah Voorhees ’20