Eric Tisdale, the director of IT for the College of Health and Human Sciences, demonstrates the universal design podium in Alder Hall. Photo by Avery Martin/CSU
The podium inside Colorado State University’s Alder Hall classroom 123 might look simple at first glance, but it will make a world of difference to those who use it.
“It’s not rocket science, and that’s why I want to talk about it,” said Eric Tisdale, the director of IT for the College of Health and Human Sciences.
Tisdale spearheaded the podium project, which is the culmination of a year of work involving multiple groups on campus. It is optimized to ensure that people with special needs have the same access to important teaching tools as everyone else.
Instructors who use wheelchairs are able to raise and lower the podium, which also comes with a moveable AV system with a touch screen that anyone can operate as long as they have a laptop. The podium will also benefit those who have recently been injured or have acquired a physical condition that requires extra accommodation.
“It will be nice to have something available so I can independently teach in the classroom,” said James Peth, an assistant professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, who uses a wheelchair.
He said he has previously had to bring in his own equipment to ensure that he’s able to teach his classes, and was tapped to provide feedback in order to ensure that the new podium design would actually be functional.
A cross-campus collaboration
The need for the podium first came to the attention of the Assistive Technology Resource Center in the Department of Occupational Therapy in January 2021. It was later prioritized by the Inclusive Physical and Virtual Campus Committee, and pitched to the Classroom Review Board, of which Tisdale is a member.
Tisdale started looking for solutions and reached out to Facilities Management for their input on what an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant podium should look like.
Classroom Support Services has experimented with adjustable heights podiums in the past, but has not found a “universally good solution,” according to Allen Sneesby, an IT technician with classroom support services.
“When we met with Facilities and the College of Health and Human Sciences, I knew that this build was going to be different,” he said.
Project Manager Drew Douglas worked with architectural intern Kyle Presnell on a design.
“The old podiums weren’t really universal, they were oversized, they were too tall, and they looked like they were from the 1990s – they were just big and bulky,” Presnell said. “I was thinking about coming up with a design for a sit-stand desk that can be placed in any of the classrooms across campus.”
This included ensuring the new podium was ADA accessible and had a document camera that was available to everyone. Presnell was able to build a 3D model of the podium over the course of a weekend, and the final version was ultimately constructed in CSU’s own carpentry shop.
“We wanted it to be universal, we wanted it to be cost effective, we wanted it to be timeless,” Presnell said.
Since it was built in house at a cost not significantly more than the average classroom revamp, Douglas said he’s hopeful the podium’s design becomes more common.
“It’s kind of gained momentum around campus, and hopefully we will see this design in a lot more classrooms and hopefully get more feedback from it,” Douglas said.
“We hope to do more in the future, since the reviews have been good so far,” Sneesby said.
A universal design
A look at the AV capabilities of the accessible podium in Alder Hall. Photo by Avery Martin/CSU
One of the true benefits of the adjustable height podium is the fact that it can benefit everyone, not just those who use wheelchairs.
“The podium is really an example of universal design because if you’re really tall or really short, you have the ability to make it work for you,” said Marla Roll, the director of the ATRC and member of IPVCC . “It meets the needs ergonomically; it meets the needs of people in wheelchairs.”
The podium is an example of a successful collaboration between the College of Health and Human Sciences, the ATRC, the IPVCC, Facilities Management and instructors who use wheelchairs and were able to guide the design process.
“I know there are only a few of us teaching from wheelchairs right now, but maybe having podiums like this available will increase the likelihood that faculty with disabilities would want to come here,” Peth said.
The IPVCC would like to see these podiums become a campus standard, similar to other standards the group has helped to create.
“Even though it’s a small thing, it conveys a lot, like we’ve thought about all kinds of people who come into these classroom spaces,” Roll said.
To request a podium like the one in Alder Hall, visit col.st/DWCah