Most Georgetown students are not at the mercy of broken elevators, sullied ramps, unmarked paths or complex directions when going to classes, dorms or the cafeteria. Physically disabled students shouldn’t be either, but the University’s record of providing adequate accessibility for mobility impaired students is mixed, if not dismal.
Although Georgetown cannot lawfully discourage students with disabilities from applying or attending the school, a visiting student who is physically disabled would quickly take a hint. Visitor’s Center staff are not trained to provide disability-friendly directions, callous bike riders abuse the rules regarding ramp usage and some elevators have repeatedly broken down this semester. Beer cans obstruct access to wheelchair ramps and GUTS bus lifts malfunction on a regular basis.
Though Georgetown is a private institution, it must comply with Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act by having fully physically diabled-accessible buildings, except for those built or renovated prior to 1992. The campus is fairly compact and its buildings are compliant with ADA standards, but persistent complacency on the part of both Facilities Management and the student body reflects poorly on the University.
Just because minimum standards for physical access to buildings are met does not mean there is no room for improvement. As a service-oriented institution, Georgetown not only has the duty to abide by the minimal standards set by the ADA, but also should abide by the spirit of the law by making campus as convenient and comfortable as possible for physically disabled students. They have not. How can physically disabled students feel a sense of community when they are relegated to isolated rooms in Village A and Henle? How can we expect them to be able to fully participate in campus activities when inadequate signage and difficult, roundabout paths discourage them from trekking around campus?
To its credit, Disability Support Services has been a great resource for physically disabled students and has continuously informed Facilities Management of breakdowns in equipment and barriers to access ramps. The task of providing safe and unencumbered access for physically disabled students falls upon Facilities Management, and their response has been shaky at best.
Some access problems are recognized to be beyond the University’s control. Elevators, for example, are repaired by non-affiliated workers. Nevertheless, all access failures must be dealt with in a timely and consistent manner. It is not only the proper, legal thing to do?it is the only way that the University will be able to attract a diverse student body and take into account the needs of physically disabled students.