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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Construction exacerbates access issues for disabled

Published: October 12, 2007
Section: News

Despite actions being taken by the University, the campus is far from easily accessible for those who are operating wheelchairs, say students. With several construction projects underway, wheelchair users say they are struggling to navigate campus with growing numbers of pot holes on the main road and moving detours.

Ashley Glicken '09, who is one of four students using wheelchairs full-time, commented that Brandeis is one huge hill. Glicken, who had toured the campus and chose to apply to the school early decision, said she knew the campus would not be the most accessible but said, I have a right to go wherever I want. If I simply allow myself to be pushed around I wouldnt be living the life I wish to live. She had never before used a motorized wheelchair, but she knew that she would need to learn if she were going to attend Brandeis.

In a motorized wheelchair, traveling from Shapiro Campus Center to a class atop Rabb steps takes about 15 minutes. If attempted in a manual wheelchair, it could take an hour or more up the steep hill. Glicken added that while the path to Rabb is a significant obstacle in good weather, it is an insurmountable one in snow and sleet.

The Office of Admissions tells students with mobile disabilities that they will work with them so that they can access the Brandeis

campus. We worked hard to create accessible living space in the sophomore residence halls for a student with a disability, and this was successful. This involved installation of some automatic doors, a ramp, and some minimal construction work, stated Director of Disabilities Services and Support Beth Rodgers-Kay. Still, housing, academic, and extracurricular options remain limited for students with mobile disabilities.

The campus still is far from easily accessible for its wheelchair using students, faculty, and visitors. Because the Americans with Disability Act, the civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on disability, was only passed in 1990, the law did not impact Brandeis construction projects until after four decades. Thus, campuses like Brandeis and many of the Ivy League schools are not as accessible as newly-constructed campuses. Rodgers-Kay explained that many of our buildings pre-date ADA regulationswe are living with a number of buildings around campus that cannot be accessed by wheelchair. Currently, there is no comprehensive guide rating accessible college campuses to which individuals with mobile disabilities can refer.

Wheelchair-using students are also unable to visit many of their friends on campus. A student in a wheelchair cannot visit any of the sophomore dorms because there are no elevators. Although classroom locations may be changed up to several weeks prior to the beginning of a semester to accommodate a wheelchair, it is not always possible, Rodgers-Kay said.

Events on campus also may not be accessible to wheelchair users. When event planners know that a student wants to attend or participate in a program, they relocate, explained Rodgers-Kay, but if a student decides the day of an event to attend, not much can be done.

A reality that is important for all us to be aware of is that many students make private decisions about whether or not they can attend a program or event, based on whether or not the location is accessible and we do not always know that, stated Rodgers-Kay.

Shopping classes is not a realistic option for students who are wheelchair-bound on campus. Astronomy, a popular course that fulfills quantitative reasoning requirements, is not a possibility for those students because they cannot access the observatory.

Aside from the four students who are full-time wheelchair users, three more use a wheelchair, scooter, or electric bike some of the time. There is also a faculty member and researcher who use wheelchairs, in addition to many students who are temporarily unable to get around without the assistance of crutches due to an injury.

Students with disabilities have different levels of mobility. Glicken, although she primarily uses wheelchair, is able to walk a little. When I try to think of a day without that ability I cant even imagine it, stated Glicken. When necessary, she is able to get out of her wheelchair and move an object or press a button.

Accessing Usdan is one of the greatest challenges for wheelchair users. They can only enter through an elevator at the back kitchen and objects sometimes block wheelchairs from moving forward through the kitchen.

The Brandeis administration has tried to improve conditions on campus during the past two years for students in wheelchairs. In July, the administration purchased a second van that can transport three persons with wheelchairs. The two accessible vans can be called for transport until 2 a.m. Before this change in policy, after 5 p.m. an Escort ride could be provided by prearrangement, but if a student made a spontaneous plan to attend an event or stay on campus, he or she risked not having a ride to or from the campus event. Now, they are guaranteed either to be picked up by the shuttle van or Escort, wrote Rogers-Kay in an email to The Hoot.

Glicken often depended on her older friends to drive her to and from events on campus during her years at Brandeis. She now has a car and lives off-campus.

A student committee overseen by the Student Union focuses on mental and physical disability issues on campus. The committee, chaired by Leila Alciere 09, monitors disability policies on campus, advocates for user-friendly accessibility in new building projects, and for necessary accommodations for students with documented disabilities;

however involvement from students with mobile disabilities is minimal.

Glicken explained that students with disabilities do not want to be lumped together. Were all different. Theres a fear that if you band together you get shoved together, and not all disabilities are the same.

The administration works in partnership with students with mobile disabilities on campus, but as Glicken explained, Its exhausting to be pro-active. Im a college studentI have enough on my plate.