The newly completed Disability Study Space is set to open in the third week of September, bringing neurodiverse students a room with everything from sound-proofed walls to standing desks.
The study space, located in the basement of the John D. Rockefeller Library, is structured to be accessible to students with a range of disabilities, including mobility limitations, but is uniquely designed for those with sensory differences, according to Leah VanWey, associate provost for academic space. The project had a budget of $50,000 and was funded by Provost Richard Locke’s office.
VanWey gave credit to Disability Justice at Brown and the Undergraduate Council of Students for bringing this issue to her attention. “The UCS and the students involved in DJAB made a strong case for the isolating effect of the lack of study space for neurodiverse students,” VanWey wrote in an email to The Herald. “They argued that no existing study spaces were adequately meeting the needs of this population, and that the result was students isolated in their dorm rooms to study.”
“Right now, as a disabled student, I have never once studied in a library,” said Silver Mckie ’22, the community coordinator of DJAB. “A lot of spaces in the libraries have ambient noise and fluorescent lighting and things that aren’t accommodating for students with sensory issues.”
Although the space was renovated this summer, DJAB is in the process of conducting a soft opening to gather feedback before the official launch, according to Sumera Subzwari ’21, the lead coordinator of DJAB. The space will technically be available to all students but will require talking to the librarian for access; it will also have a key code on the door to prevent people from taking items, Mckie added.
Mckie and Subzwari were part of a focus group to advise interior designers on how to make the space more accessible. The group met in May and looked over floor plans, furniture samples and carpet swatches to give feedback before the space underwent construction over the summer. “We decided on a combination of blue and tan for the color scheme that wouldn’t be too distracting,” Subzwari said. “We also split up the room in two sections — so one section would be geared more toward group work and the other toward independent work.”
The space also has a combination of chalkboards and whiteboards as well as noise-cancelling headphones to account for sensory sensitivities. Standing desks and chairs that accommodate all body sizes are meant to ensure physical accessibility.
DJAB is also pushing to create a Disability Justice Cultural Center in Arnold Lounge, which members of the group previously proposed to UCS in April, The Herald previously reported. “What the disabled community really needs right now are spaces where we can meet with other disabled folks and talk about our lived experience,” Mckie said.
“The cultural center has a community focus, while the study space has an academic focus,” said Victor Padilla GS, a member of the Disability Study Space Focus Group.
On top of the DJCC, Padilla is hoping to expand accessible spaces for graduate students with disabilities, who he says have access to even fewer resources than undergraduates. He hopes to see the new study space serve as a prototype for improving accessibility on different parts of campus, including beyond College Hill.
Clarification: A previous version of this article stated that Silver Mckie '22 served as a former community coordinator of DJAB. In fact, Mckie still holds the position of community coordinator of DJAB.