The Warch elevator has been out of commission for much of this year. Photo by Alana Melvin
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This winter, my roommate had an accident that left them with an injured knee and crutches. The experience was horrible – besides their pain and discomfort, their immobility due to relying on crutches meant life was made incredibly hard. There was only one accessible shower with handles on our floor, and if someone was using it that morning they would just have to be late to class. We had to call campus safety every morning to take them to their classes because they couldn’t hobble across a snowy, icy campus on crutches. Trying to get to classes was a nightmare because many times there would be only stairs. If there was a ramp, it was too icy to use safely. Getting food from the commons was impossible, so I became their personal DoorDash. Injuries like this could happen to any of us at any time, and it’s frustrating when doing daily activities becomes twice as hard not only from the injury itself but also from having to live on an inaccessible campus. For many students at Lawrence, especially those living with a long long-term disability, it can be daunting to just exist on campus when it seems to be built to work against us. The real question is – what does Lawrence actually do to support people with accessibility needs, and how can we do better?
The first type of accommodation that Lawrence offers to students is academic accommodation. This process is not a simple one, and students often report that these meetings feel like interviews or interrogations rather than a collaborative process. According to Lawrence’s website, in order to get academic accommodations, a student has to fill out an eligibility request form, have documentation for their disability, and meet with an accessibility specialist who is supposed to meet with the student and come up with arrangements for academic accommodations. Sophomore Triona OBrion said, “In my opinion, the way these interviews are conducted are not really accessibility centered. The whole process was really aggravating even though I did get the accommodations I needed. I was being asked questions that would make sense to be asked of my doctor, not me. Many of my peers struggled with the process as well and did not get the accommodations they needed.”
Another important type of accommodation at Lawrence is housing accommodations, which is a similar process requiring documented medical needs. Lawrence offers several different kinds of accommodations including single rooms, private bathrooms and service animals. Unfortunately, many of the buildings both academic and dormitory, are inaccessible. Even though some buildings, like Main Hall, Ormsby and the Conservatory, have some accessibility features like automatic doors and ramps, many of them are not actually up to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. Ramps at Lawrence are too steep or have too tight of turns, and in winter months are often left unplowed and unsalted. Senior Morgan Donahue said, “My wheelchair is currently damaged because of ramps being non-compliant. The rise is often too steep and they don’t all have enough room to turn. There are ramps for most buildings on campus but many are actually unusable for people who need them.” In addition, aspects of Lawrence’s infrastructure like sidewalks and elevators, most notably the main elevator in the Warch campus center, go months without repair, leaving all students to fend for themselves. This makes going to classes, getting food, and just simply existing in these buildings difficult for students with disabilities, which is not at all the “equal access and opportunity to the educational programs of the university” that Lawrence promises in its statement on accessibility featured on the accessibility page of their website.
The biggest problem with this neglect is that the Lawrence administration is completely aware of these issues, and yet will not allocate any funds to fix them despite their claims of “commitment to working with students to provide access to spaces and activities on campus and to the academic programs of the university,” as stated on the accommodations page of the Lawrence website. In 2019, Lawrence had an ADA assessment of all 23 buildings on campus, and the findings were less than desirable with low scores across the board. With the recent investment from the Board of Trustees, one would hope that at least a portion of those funds would go to fixing some of these issues. If students with disabilities can’t do the same things that able-bodied students do on a daily basis because of the way that our campus is structured, then claims of commitment to accessibility are not being upheld.
Lawrence is meant to be a place of mutual respect and community, and I believe that Lawrence administration’s neglect for students with disabilities does not uphold that. With all these problems regarding accessibility and accommodations considered, I now offer some ways that Lawrence as a community can improve. Administration must make accessibility one of their top priorities as soon as possible and allocate funds to improve the conditions in academic and dorm buildings. Perhaps rather than repairing the bridge between Ormsby and Colman, consider redoing the ramps to Main Hall and the conservatory so that students with mobility issues can actually go to their classes. Professors should have their students’ accessibility needs at the forefront of their mind and make the necessary adjustments to allow for every student to have equal opportunities for success.
Donahue also said, “I think that it would be really helpful if disability accommodations took the mindset that they are working for the students and helping them meet their needs rather than working for the university. In addition, Lawrence needs to start putting money from their budget into accessibility because there are people who need it.”
OBrion offered her suggestions for improvement as well, saying “I think that some of the accommodations that are needed by some students could benefit all students. Flexibility in classrooms like being able to move to a quiet space while testing or being able to take small breaks and more time during tests are good practices and can help more than just students with disabilities. It’s also really isolating for people with disabilities to not be able to go into buildings or events that aren’t accessible for them. I would also love to see a disabilities studies class or more speakers with a disability focus.”
I know that the majority of Lawrence students may not think about access needs on a day-to-day basis, and the thought of ramps and automatic doors seems like just a convenience. I think it’s important that we all care about accessibility on our campus, not only because an injury or illness could strike any of us anytime, but also out of compassion for those among us for whom inaccessibility is more than an inconvenience. Accessibility benefits every single person and should be the top consideration for the administration.