by Chris Jarosch
Due to concerns about campus accessibility, five physically disabled students met with administrators last Friday. Coordinator of Disabled Student Services Jane Holahan documented the discussion between the students and Richard P. Payant, director of University Facilities.
Holahan said she thought the meeting was successful because it gave students a chance to make connections with people in facilities.
Lingering campus problems for mobility-impaired students are the result of a lack of communication rather than a lack of cooperation, Holahan said. For example, facilities has already fixed a hazardous grate between Village A and New South and trimmed a bush obstructing the wheelchair path at the bottom of the Village A elevators after students relayed their concern.
Holahan said that facilitating communication between facilities and students is critical in order for physically disabled students to be independent.
Although many people are willing to help students who have mobility issues, students should be able to move around campus independently, which, for disabled students, often means relying on mechanical devices, Holahan said.
According to Jen Howitt (SFS ‘05), who attended the meeting, students met with the administrators because many had experienced difficulties in getting around campus, including elevator outages and the absence of clearly marked routes for physically disabled students.
According to Howitt, the goal of effective accessibility is independence.
Kim Patterson (CAS ‘04), who also attended the meeting, said that she was stranded in White Gravenor earlier this fall when the elevator malfunctioned.
“I can always find someone to help me or to hold a door for me, but I don’t always like to,” Patterson said. “What some people don’t realize is that when the elevators aren’t working, there’s no way to get to and from class. No one should have to miss class because an elevator isn’t working.”
Patterson said that she has seen little change in on campus accessibility for students in wheelchairs. Although Patterson said the meeting was helpful for communicating concerns directly to the director of facilities, she said that each concern was met by an explanation.
Patterson said that she used to take many of her concerns to University administrators, but has stopped actively reporting complaints because it is a bigger hassle than it’s worth when changes are not made.
“I don’t really know if [disability access] is a priority for the University,” Patterson said.
Both students and administrators agreed that change will be gradual.
“Not everything will be solved over night,” Holahan said.