OPINION: Rethinking campus improvement priorities: Accessibility for the physically disabled

264

Susie Schmank is a sophomore 
English writing major from St. Louis.
SAM CARAVANA / THE DEPAUW

Over the course of my two years at DePauw, the university has continually catered improvements towards student needs. From refining student fitness via the establishment of the Welch Fitness Center and Reavis Stadium to adhering to Title IX through the implementation of new rules for flower-ins, the university has been forthcoming in acknowledging issues before they severely impair the campus in its entirety. Along the way, however, the university has continued to overlook a pressing issue that can affect any student, faculty or staff member at any point: the lack of accessibility to those with physical limitations. Although DePauw continues to develop, neglecting this vital right to the university’s community members could serve as an initially unnoticed setback.

Through the Campaign for DePauw, the university has received several millions of dollars in donations toward advancing “…academic programs, financial aid efforts, student preparation programs and an array of campus improvements.” While the Campaign for DePauw lists many campus improvement goals, such as the renovation of Roy O. West Library, the completion of Hoover Hall (a central dining space) and the restoration of outdoor spaces around East College, this list of goals fails to recognize the desperate need for renovation or mere enhancements to buildings that do not provide proper accessibility for the physically disabled. If the Campaign for DePauw is truly an approach to transform the university in order to accommodate and create opportunities for students, improvements to buildings like Asbury Hall need to become a priority.

Because certain buildings are inaccessible to disabled students and faculty members, the studies and opportunities offered in these buildings are not fairly provided to everyone at the university. Professor Susan Hahn, a faculty member of the English Department as well the W Center Director, has a deteriorating knee and will eventually need a knee replacement. As a professor who teaches in Asbury, her access is limited:

“I love teaching in Asbury, and I love the location of the ARC, but over the years, including this year (for myself—after recent knee surgery) I have had to request to have my classes moved to the first floor.”

Professor Hahn has been a faculty member of DePauw for almost 20 years, and believes it incredibly frustrating that Asbury does not meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, as it does not have an elevator or wheel chair accessible doors. As an academic building, there should not be any question to whether it should be properly accessible to students, faculty, and staff of all abilities.

“I have repeatedly raised this issue to the administration. I have raised these issues at faculty meetings and I sat on the Master Planning Committee where I brought up these concerns at virtually every meeting…While the administration has told us on numerous occasions that according to some technicality Asbury can remain inaccessible, I don’t think these explanations are sufficient,” Professor Hahn added.

The need for accessibility should topple any “technicality” if the university is sincerely dedicated to campus improvements in favor of providing opportunities to students. If spending money on the improvements of DePauw’s campus is a “matter of priorities,” like Professor Hahn has been told, then having resources dedicated to accessibility should be at the very top of the list.

Although DePauw provides Student Disability Services, which determines reasonable accommodations for students with a wide range of disabilities, the most reasonable accommodation would be to enhance campus buildings to serve these students. When asking sophomore Emily Bell if she had considered Student Disability Services prior to coming to DePauw, she claimed it was an aspect of the university that she had disregarded until she was faced with an injury of her own:

“After injuring myself the first night of move-in, my eyes were opened and forever changed regarding handicap accessibility for students, faculty and staff on DePauw’s campus.”

Because accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis, it can be a challenge for a student to receive these services, but the greater challenge for a student with a physical injury is the burdening feeling when other students and faculty members have to make adjustments in order to accommodate the injured student.

“I know that classes can be moved from Asbury for handicapped students and when injuries arise, but I know with me, I did not want to be the reason my class was moved. So I opted to climb the stairs—dangerously, I might add—in my crutches up and down Asbury three times a week. With it being the first week of classes, I did not want to upset or cause inconvenience for any students or professors,” Bell added.

The lack of accessibility is not only a physical hassle but also an issue of making all feel welcome. Seeing as DePauw prioritizes the comfort, security and academic improvement of students, the university should come up with an immediate plan to address these accessibility issues.