Students with disabilities can face many issues with accessibility, especially when it comes to on-campus housing and facilities maintenance.
To help remedy these problems, facilities services and housing offer a lot of accommodations to students and have been working to further increase accessibility on campus.
Accessibility in Facilities Services
Mark Ferguson, associate vice chancellor of campus planning and facilities management, discussed how the Facilities Services Department accommodates students with disabilities and the efforts they are making to either fix or prevent common accessibility issues.
One of their efforts involves an elevator modernization project, which aims to address issues with the elevators being out of order or requiring maintenance in the coming years.
The goal of the project is to ensure the resource is available for students as much as possible. “We want to make sure that those are fully functional, operational and well-maintained,” Ferguson said.
As several facilities only have one elevator, studies have been conducted to determine the plausibility of either installing a second elevator or adding a stairlift. Depending on the stairlift, it may need a person may need to transfer into the chair or have to clip their wheelchair into the motorized track directly.
“Just in case we have an issue with the elevator, we want to make sure that that we’re able to get folks up and down in those facilities in a good way,” Ferguson said.
Facilities services recently purchased three new motorized chairs that they plan to install in high-traffic buildings, such as Columbine, this semester. The department is working to add video phones into the elevators on campus to meet ADA requirements. Ferguson also said there will be additional elevator modernizations with these phones.
Facilities services also has a preventive maintenance program that attempts to mitigate issues students may have with getting around campus. This program includes monthly tests that ensure buttons for automatic doors are operational.
Signage is also kept up-to-date and accessible. This involves ensuring things are clearly marked and braille is included on signs.
The department also ensures that walkways are properly paved for students through a team that examines them. They identify slip and trip hazards, such as lips and cracks in the pavement, and these hazards are then fixed in the summer.
The department’s current project is fixing the uneven pavement at the west entrance to and on the south side of the El Pomar Center. They will begin repaving the upper plaza between Centennial and the University Center this summer.
Future projects will focus on making older buildings such as Osborne, Columbine and Engineering and Applied Science more accessible.
Ferguson specifically spoke on plans for Osborne. “It has some things that are there since it was built. The main stairwell doesn’t lend itself to folks that are visually impaired. We’re looking to move that, and then we’re looking to add a second elevator. All these things are in design right now, but I’m really excited to get that renovated and all those brought up to the current accessibility codes,” Ferguson said.
If you experience an issue with accessibility or encounter something broken on campus, the quickest way to get it fixed is by putting in a work order.
Accessibility in Housing
Director of Housing Operations Ralph Giese discussed how housing works to accommodate students.
He noted that housing wants all students to have an opportunity to live on campus, explaining that the department works with the campus architects to ensure the needs of all students are met.
“It’s important to us that we have an accessible campus that is inclusive. That creates an environment where they [students] can feel comfortable in their home,” he said.
Housing has room accommodations available to suit the needs of students with a variety of disabilities. The application for housing accommodations goes through disability services, which approves applications and works with housing to ensure students get what they need.
There are accessible suites with more space available for students with mobility issues, which lets them move safely around the room with a mobility aid. These rooms also have larger bathrooms and shower chairs. A Hoyer Lift can also be installed to help students transfer.
Housing can also provide accommodations such as bed shakers or strobes that alerts a student who is deaf or hard-of-hearing in case of an emergency or an alarm.
In the future, Giese would like to ensure neurodivergent students are applying for any accommodations they may need. “Not all disabilities can be seen — they’re not all visible. We as a community need to be sensitive to that and to be open,” Giese said.
Giese also emphasized the importance of self-advocacy. “The students who have those needs, also need to tell us what they need. Because if we’re not being told what they need, and we can’t see what they need; it’s hard to accommodate that. So it really becomes a partnership.”
Accessibility door button on campus. Photo by Megan Moen.