Students struggle with campus wheelchair accessibility

By Sylvia O’Hara, Lana Groves

With a campus spanning more than 1,100 acres and built on a mountainside, navigating around it can be frustrating, especially for students in wheelchairs.

Joseph Taggart, a senior in political science and international studies, gets around campus in his motorized wheelchair. He carries a campus map that details the accessible pathways and entryways on campus for reference when he travels across campus.

“Most of my classes are in OSH building, and when the international studies adviser’s office was in Carlson Hall, I would have to go clear down to Presidents’ Circle and cut over because there were stairs everywhere between (the two buildings),” Taggart said.

He said for the most part, his worries about campus are similar to all students with parking problems on campus. He works with the Disabilities Services Center to remedy some of the obstacles relating to wheelchair accessibility.

The center moves classes to accessible buildings that are close to each other so students can avoid going from one side of campus to the other between classes.

Taggart avoids classes at the Madsen Building and the Social and Behavioral Science Building, and makes special arrangements when meeting advisers in Carlson Hall. The elevator doesn’t move from floor to floor if the manual door isn’t shut by the last person to use it.

Nonetheless, Taggart said he gets around campus with a little extra effort.

Bryan Romney, a building code official at the U, said the university tries to go beyond legal requirements for accessibility.

“Any time there is construction on campus, there are building codes, American Disabilities Act, Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards and ADAG requirements,” Romney said.

To ensure accessibility, the U abides by the most stringent standard, he said.

Lena Schoemaker, an undecided sophomore, said that getting around campus in a wheelchair is “doable,” but sometimes takes some effort.

“There are situations in certain buildings where it is pretty difficult though,” Schoemaker said. “There’s a math building where you have to take an elevator down to the basement, then go through some doors to go into another building to get to class.”

She said campus is mostly accessible but expects some of the older buildings to be devoid of elevators and ramps.

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act didn’t debut until 1990, all structures built before this time don’t need to follow code until they are renovated. At that time the U is required to bring the renovated portion of a building up to standards as well as other building regulations.

Romney said the grandfather clause protects anything designed or built before the act was passed.

Because of this clause, the U is not completely wheelchair accessible. There are a number of buildings around campus without elevators for every floor, including the Union. The third floor in the Union is not accessible. Taggart said the Union elevators are also really old and the buttons can be difficult to reach because they are so high up.

Hilly terrain and snowy winters can pose uncontrollable variables for those in wheelchairs, leaving the regularly accessible pathways inaccessible.

Sid Davis, assistant director of the Disabilities Center, acknowledged the campus has uncontrollable variables, but said the center does its best to provide remedies for any difficulties that arise.

“If we’re aware of these situations, we’ll step up and do the very best we can with the resources we have and the conditions we can control,” Davis said. “We have a responsibility to provide reasonable and appropriate accommodations for the students.”

Schoemaker said last year she planned how long it would take to get to each class, but this year she decided to use the shuttle Disability Services provides.

“They have designated shuttles that will pick us up and drop us off,” she said. “Disability Services is good at working with you.”

Still, Schoemaker wishes she could get around without relying on the shuttle.

“The weather can make you later or the buses don’t work, which happens to everyone,” she said. “But for me it would be ideal if I could get from class to class relying on myself.”

Members of the Access Committee said they could make further arrangements if they knew of problems.

“One of our biggest problems is that we’re unaware while students are suffering in silence,” said Thomas Loveridge, access committee chair and director of the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office.

The Access Committee has a $50,000 annual budget, which is used for improvements including internal and external door openers, curb cuts, ramps and accessible rest rooms, he said.

If a project exceeds the budget, the Access Committee must seek additional funding from top administrators or the Utah State legislature, Loveridge said.

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