Construction illuminates accessibility issues on campus

October 23, 2014

Though construction work on the north side of campus is an inconvenience for Hoyas who have to travel through the area, unclaimed posters appeared last weekend reminding everyone that these areas are even harder to traverse for disabled students.

“Most people might feel mildly inconvenienced, frustrated or confused by the frequent and ever-shifting campus construction,” said GUSA Undersecretary for Disability Affairs Lydia Brown (COL ’15). “But they aren’t aware of the severe barriers to accessibility faced by people with disabilities without being told explicitly.”

While Brown does not know who is hanging the posters, she is in support of their message. “I think that the number one thing these posters are doing is raising greater public consciousness of the lack of physical accessibility on campus,” she said.

Margot Keale (NHS ‘16), however, believes the university is very cognizant of these barriers to accessibility. “As someone who uses a wheelchair, I know that part of the construction plan includes making sure that concrete is level, ramp slopes are to code, entries are wide enough, and push buttons are operable and appropriately placed,” Keale wrote in an email to the Voice.

According to Keale, students might be frustrated is “because they don’t know who to turn to, but the help really is there.”

Robin Morey, vice president for planning and facilities management, says the university is doing everything it can to respond to student concerns. “Our team has thoughtfully considered the impact of construction on accessibility issues by designing and constructing safe and appropriate pedestrian pathways, curb cuts and ensuring ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act-approved] access to facilities,” he wrote in an email to the Voice.

The issue of accessibility on campus is not limited to areas affected by construction. Keale, for instance, is frustrated by the inaccessibility of the majority of apartments and dorms. “Housing has been incredibly thoughtful and accommodating in providing me with a totally safe and accessible living area, which I am so appreciative of, but more often than not, I cannot get into my friends’ places, and that has been somewhat disappointing,” she wrote.

Morey says he and his team are working to make all of campus more accessible. “We will continue to engage with our stakeholders on this matter and make reasonable accessibility improvements on our construction sites and campus wide.”

Brown believes that these efforts are not enough. “We must go beyond mere compliance. We have to go beyond making things minimally accessible,” she said. “If we truly value a campus of diversity and inclusion, which is welcoming of all kinds of people, then we have to reconsider what our priorities are when we say the only reason we’re building a ramp is so that we don’t get sued.”

Brown ultimately hopes that the university is conscientious of disabled students when it makes decisions. “Instead of acting reactively all the time, we have to start being proactive. If compliance is the only goal, diversity and inclusion do not fit into that picture.”

Photo by Andrew Sullivan

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