During the semester Lenny Howard, Assistant Vice President for Academic Services, freqently takes a walk on campus to assess the accessibility of campus for individuals with disabilities, an issue that at first glance only seems to affect a limited number of students on campus but in reality is of major importance.
The ramps, handicap buttons, lips from roads to sidewalks, and lifts are all visible to anyone on campus, but despite these features there are still problems with entering buildings, using doors or going to class.
Howard said part of his job was, “trying to make sure everything is accessible.”
He travels around campus with students of all abilities to make sure that students can get around campus as well as to raise awareness of problems with accessibility at St. Mary’s.
For example, there are obvious issues, such as when there are no handicap buttons for doors, there are not elevators in buildings (such as Calvert Hall) or handicap buttons do not function.
There are other issues that many people do not even realize are problems because they are not glaring deficiencies.
One of these issues are the lips from roads to sidewalks for individuals in wheelchairs. These lips are located near handicap parking spots.
The issue here is that the lips usually lead directly into the handicap parking spots; if a car a parked in the handicap parking spot, then an individual in a wheelchair is unable to use the lip to get to or from the road or sidewalk.
Similarly, the gravel in parking lots around campus and especially in Public Safety’s parking lot make it very difficult for any person in a manual (not motorized) wheelchair to get through those areas.
In Montgomery Hall and other buildings around campus, doorways for classrooms and bathrooms are too narrow or the doors open in a way that make it difficult for people with disabilities to use them without help from someone else, or at all.
Emergency exits and wheelchair lifts are also issues on campus. Howard pointed out that emergency exits in the Michael P. O’Brien Athletics and Recreation Center exit onto grass which could be problematic if it is raining.
Wheelchair lifts, like the lift in Montgomery Hall, are operated by a key and there are directions for how to use the lift once the key is present.
However, neither the location of the key nor who has possession of the key is listed anywhere.
Howard said, “I think we could do a better job of being aware of physical handicaps.”
Dr. Laraine Glidden, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, also teaches the First-Year Seminar “Ability and Disability,” in which students explore the same topics of campus accessibility that Howard does.
Glidden said that accessibility on campus has improved in recent years.
She gave the example of the construction of LEED-certified Goodpaster Hall, which “was built way after the Americans with Disabilities Act was implemented…it should be totally in compliance with it.”
In a paper written by first-year Travers O’Leary for the first-year seminar he wrote, “the buildings are compilable with the Americans with Disabilities Act, but they really are not accessible nor are they accommodating….some problems around campus are simply due to negligence.”
O’Leary pointed out similar issues of narrow hallways, non-functioning elevators and handicap buttons, flowerpots and benches in front of buttons and sinks in the bathrooms with handles that are difficult to turn.
Glidden said, “Sometimes the changes one has to make are simple and cost nothing, it simply is being aware.”
“People need to get the sense that this is everybody’s responsibility as members of a community.”
Howard said that for the majority of the campus population, there are “so many things we take for granted” in regards to how people can get around on College grounds every day.
Much work has been done and is continually being done to improve the campus to make it more accessible.
Howard has a list of projects that are reported to him by students with disabilities who face difficulties, as well as other aware individuals.
Howard works closely with the Physical Plant to repair problems that he finds and that are reported to him.
Buttons have been fixed or moved and there have been many retro-fittings of ramps, lifts, elevators, and lips.
His office also helped improve the accessibility of the Health and Counseling Center.
Students who have any concerns or notice possible accessibility issues should contact Howard to see if they can be improved.
Glidden said that these issues are often overlooked by students who don’t worry as much about accessibiity, but “one group [affected by accessibility on campus] are the temporarily disabled, it could be any one of us…crutches make us much more aware.”
“We all need to take responsibility for making the community as welcoming and accessible as possible,” said Glidden.