A recently installed wheelchair ramp at the Harvard Astronomy Lab and Clay Telescope moves the lab a bit closer to its goal of ensuring the study of the cosmos is an option for all.
“Astronomy is a science that excites and inspires people, and no one should be denied that due to accessibility,” said Allyson Bieryla, who manages the lab and the telescope. “The ramp is a huge step in the right direction in terms of making that space more accessible.”
The wheelchair ramp at the Science Center was put in late last year, but owing to the pandemic went largely unused and unnoticed until recent months. The ramp connects the lab on the eighth floor of the Science Center to the outdoor deck and solar observatory, where the lab and clubs that are based there often host activities, classes, daytime observations, and events such as nighttime stargazing. A high step formerly made it difficult for those in wheelchairs or with walking impairments to move between the two areas.
“We held an open house, for example, earlier this semester where we set up a bunch of telescopes on the Science Center astronomy deck,” said Kidus Negesse ’22, student president of the Student Astronomers at Harvard-Radcliffe (STAHR). “We had a student reach out to us and … say, ‘I’m in a wheelchair, and I’d love to attend.’ We were able to bring this person through the ramp onto the deck and that was previously not possible.”
The ramp also makes it easier to wheel out equipment.
“One of the key things I think about accessibility is it doesn’t just benefit those who absolutely need it. It benefits everyone,” Bieryla said. “There’s a celestial navigation course that uses the deck about two times a week, and they have a ton of equipment. Now they can just roll up a cart over the ramp.”