Bigger challenges for disabled students

Melissa Scagliola

For disabled students in wheelchairs like Emily Pember, everyday tasks like entering the cafeteria, visiting people on the second floor of dorms or taking a lab science class are not always simple. While most students take for granted getting in and out of all areas on campus, for those in wheelchairs architectural barriers prevent accessibility.
According to John Jarvis, coordinator of Learning Services in the Learning Center, Quinnipiac is committed to disability issues and the university is 100 percent accessible. He says that both faculty and students push for mobility and independence for the disabled.
“People with disabilities should come to see me if there is an area not accessible,” said Jarvis.
One path up to the Dean Roberts W. Evans College of Liberal Arts Center is on a hill. Yet, students have complained that the brick path to the buildings also is on a slope making accessibility difficult for anyone in a wheelchair with especially a back problem.
It is issues such as this, which should be brought to Jarvis’s attention so classroom accommodations can be made. Unless he is aware of problems, Jarvis said problems cannot get resolved.
“Joe Rubertone [director of Facilities] and John Twining [chief of Security and Safety] and I collaborate to ensure that the campus is completely accessible,” said Jarvis.
Rubertone said Quinnipiac is in relatively good shape as far as being accessible.
“It’s difficult to put a number on how accessible the campus is [percentage wise], but the university is pretty compliant,” said Rubertone. “The school is still small enough to address individual problems.”
Pember said many small problems with accessibility add up and cause her frustration. She said that when the cafeteria was renovated this summer a door was installed at the entrance to provide access for wheelchairs.
Like with all automatic doors on campus, a clicker was suppose to open the door, but currently it is not working.
“When the door has opened sometimes an alarm sounds and it ends up being embarrassing,” Pember said.
According to Pember, the door was left open the first week, but because people were stealing food it needed to be closed, presenting a barrier for the disabled. The alternate route allows cafeteria entry though the exit area of the cafeteria where the registers are located.
“The cafeteria door is a pretty sophisticated piece of equipment,” said Rubertone.
He said that the door to the cafeteria serves as a fire door, which locks in normal mode, but also serves as an entrance for those with disabilities. The Facilities Department is still investigating why the door is not working.
Other problems in the cafeteria concern Pember also. She still cannot reach the salad bar, food or drinks on high shelves, but she is glad this year she is able to reach the fountain drinks due to the renovations.
“In improving one thing, they neglected everything else,” said Pember.
With the weather getting colder, Pember is concerned that the sidewalks will not be shoveled. Two years ago, she missed three days of classes because there was so much snow she could not get to and from buildings. When the situation was made aware of a path was made for her and she was helped to class, but it does make her wonder if the situation will arise again.
“Most would agree the grounds crew does a good job clearing paths at the end of a storm,” said Rubertone.
Rubertone said this may not be cleared in the middle of a storm, but when a storm has ended paths are clear and accessible.
“I am not the type of person to ask for help all the time because I want to do things myself,” Pember said. “They don’t make it something I can do. I have every right as others to be independent.”
The university does fully comply to laws set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA says that buildings built after 1992 should be accessible to people with disabilities and that renovations to older buildings should make “reasonable accommodations”.
“Quinnipiac is a private university governed by Title III of the ADA and is required to make ‘reasonable accommodation’ in policies, practices, and programs,” said Kathy Livingston, associate professor of Sociology. “But who defines ‘reasonable’?”
In Livingston’s Illness and Disability class, students do field work around campus, looking at the environment and architecture to see what barriers exist which prevent people with disabilities total access and from interacting with others.
“The ADA tells us we must remove architectural barriers but only if their removal is ‘readily achievable’ and without ‘undue financial burden,” said Livingston. “Who defines ‘readily achievable’ or ‘financial burden’? This vague language in the ADA means that not all architectural barriers that could be removed must be removed.”
Pember thinks more of campus should be accessible, not only accommodating, to provide her the same independence others have.