Burton Blatt Institute Makes Dineen Hall Its New Home
As of July 2019, there were a few storage boxes to be unpacked, final construction and “punch list” items to complete, and office branding pending, but the staff of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) have moved into their new headquarters on the fourth floor of Dineen Hall. College of Law students and BBI research fellows are working in the open plan research bays, staff members are settling into their “universally designed” offices, and on the west side of the suite, BBI Chairman and University Professor Peter Blanck continues at the helm of the Institute.
Universal Design & Model for the University
When asked what the relocation from Crouse-Hinds Hall to the College of Law means for the Institute, Blanck first points to how the renovated office space itself dovetails with the Institute’s mission, which is to advance the civic, economic, and social participation of persons with disabilities. “The suite of offices has been ‘universally designed,’” says Blanck, who is also Chairman of the Global Universal Design Commission (GUDC), a sister non-profit organization.
Universal Design, or “UD,” he explains, goes beyond the concept of accessibility for persons with disabilities to create built environments that may be accessed, understood, and used by everyone to the maximum extent possible, regardless age, size, or ability. Overseen by the University’s Office of Campus Planning, Design, and Construction and CPDC Associate Director Bruce Molino, the construction of the BBI headquarters has re-configured existing spaces to include wide and technologically advanced doors, soft lighting, long and open corridors, and intuitive automation.
However, the BBI suite isn’t the first space in Dineen Hall to include UD principles. The BBI team has long had a hand in making Dineen Hall a welcoming space for all. For instance, stairs originally had been proposed for the rise between Stadium and Irving streets on the north side of the building, Blanck says, but BBI was part of an advisory team who suggested a sweeping ramp instead, accompanied by gardens and trees, which would be accessible and enjoyable for all users.
A University & Global Leader
Endowed and named for the former Dean of the Syracuse School of Education Burton Blatt—a disability rights pioneer—BBI was conceived as a transdisciplinary teaching, research, law and policy, and outreach initiative “to infuse disability into all aspects of the University and be embedded in the College of Law,” says Blanck.
Blanck’s scholarly background is in disability law and policy. Before coming to Syracuse, he was Kierscht Professor of Law and Director of the Law, Health Policy, and Disability Center at the University of Iowa. Befitting the transdisciplinary nature of BBI, in addition to being a University Professor, Blanck has concurrent appointments in the College of Arts and Sciences, Falk College, the School of Education, the Maxwell School, and the College of Law.
Given Blanck’s grounding in law, the Institute’s roots, and Dineen Hall’s cutting-edge design, 950 Irving Avenue was the natural choice for BBI’s new home. “Dean Boise’s vision was to enhance BBI as an asset to the College of Law and tie it more closely to the scores of law students who study and are employed at the Institute,” explains Blanck.
“Known nationally and throughout the world for its positive and leading-edge impacts on the lives and independence of persons with disabilities, BBI is a premier research and public policy institute for creating strong partnerships and developing programs that thrive,” says Dean Boise. “Given that its work is grounded in American civil rights laws—such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—which is emulated around the globe, it is wholly appropriate that BBI should make its new HQ in the College of Law. The intellectual synergies among BBI, law faculty, and students already are sparking new opportunities for research and training.”
A Unique Asset for the College of Law
Currently, says Blanck, about 20 students and 30 staff are working on more than 25 projects at BBI. These projects include the Southeast ADA Center in Atlanta, GA, which provides information, training, and guidance on the ADA and disability access, and research endeavors such as using “supported decision-making” to positively impact community living for people with disabilities, sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. Another BBI initiative—sponsored by the American Bar Association’s national study on lawyers with disabilities and who identify as LGBT+—dovetails with the College’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
And there are more programs and expansion to come. “We are developing and growing our expertise and amazing staff and student leaders,” says Blanck, citing BBI’s growing satellite offices in Atlanta, New York City, Lexington, KY, Washington, DC, and—soon—Los Angeles. “Because of our broad and deep expertise, BBI is fortunate to be one of the largest sponsored research institutes of our kind in the nation, and likely the number one such research institute associated with a top law school.”
As BBI expands its portfolio, it is exploring new areas of education, research, and outreach in law and disability studies. “For example, along with our university partners at the Maxwell School, we are looking into emerging autonomous systems and artificial intelligence as affecting the lives of persons with disabilities,” explains Blanck. In May, Blanck took part in a one-day University symposium that introduced the Autonomous Systems Policy Institute (ASPI), a new program—housed in the Maxwell School—to investigate the technology, policy, legal, and wider social implications of autonomous systems.
New collaborations such as ASPI are helping BBI to expand its portfolio of educational, research, and community engagement opportunities for law and all SU students. Blanck says that once fully settled into Dineen Hall, one of the Institute’s primary goals will be “to further develop experiential and online learning opportunities for law students, as well as for outreach to the disability and legal communities.” Ultimately, says Blanck, “We want to be an important and go-to resource for the College, our students, and all lawyers of the 21st century.”
For more information about BBI, visit bbi.syr.edu