Handicap access examined
Joseph McMahon and Sarah Mervosh | Friday, March 19, 2010
When Mary and Rick Hurd traveled to campus for Junior Parents Weekend (JPW), they were looking forward to getting to know their daughter’s friends and their respective families.
But during the weekend’s mass, Rick Hurd was separated from his daughter’s friends because he uses a wheelchair and needed handicap seating.
“They didn’t anticipate that you might want to sit with a large group of friends and that seemed kind of odd because I thought the whole purpose of JPW was so you could meet your student’s friends and their parents,” Mary Hurd said.
“[My daughter] cried and said, ‘this isn’t right,'” Mary Hurd said. “We were at a Mass and the homily and the priest were talking about Jesus would do.
“I looked around and saw these handicapped people in these sections far away from the altar, and it was like you were kept at an arms’ length,” she said. “I’m not sure that is what Jesus would do.”
Though Mary Hurd said her family’s experience with Notre Dame’s handicap accessibility has generally been satisfactory, JPW exposed glitches in the campus’ architecture and accommodations.
Mary Hurd said the Basilica’s handicap seating could also be improved.
“We have come to the Basilica. I think it was Easter we were there,” she said. “We couldn’t sit together because there wasn’t enough handicap seating.”
With many buildings on campus built around 100 years ago, some architecture does not lend itself to handicap accessibility. With newer dorms, however, the accommodations are much easier for those with physical disabilities.
“The bookstore, the dining hall — we’ve been ale to eat with my daughter and her friends,” Mary Hurd said. “The football stadium access has been wonderful. The ushers are very accommodating.”
Program Coordinator for the Office for Students with Disabilities Scott Howland said the University has worked to include handicap accessibility into plans for renovations and new buildings.
“The University has begun to have a formal plan that will be implanted across the next few years,” Howland said. “Since I’ve been here since 1995, there has always been an attempt made by the University when they are doing renovations or projects to include accessibility issues in that.”
Howland said his office does not focus on accessibility issues, but will sometimes receive calls and redirect them to the appropriate departments.
Specifically, Howland deals with students who have learning disabilities and provides them with services to assist them in learning.
“My responsibility and my job in the office is to work with students directly for primarily academic accommodations. I think we do a pretty good job of meeting those needs,” he said. “[With] a need for a residence hall accommodations or adaptations, I work with housing to do that so I think that’s something that’s addressed and needs are met.”
Howland said he works with around 225 students with learning disabilities, who seem to be satisfied with their services, according to surveys his office has conducted.
Sophomore Katelyn Kelliher, a student with dyslexia, said she has been pleased with the services the University offers to accommodate her disability.
“When I came here they offered me more services than I could ever imagine. I’d get extra times on my exams, which is great. I get my books on tape which helps a lot,” she said.
Someone also takes notes for Kelliher in all of her classes, which allows her to focus on the information being presented, she said.
“I am really good with auditory learning,” she said. “I sit in class and I absorb info. I can almost repeat back to you the entire class.”
Kelliher said Howland helped arrange her class schedule to accommodate her disability.
“I’m not really good at languages. You learn through reading and writing [in foreign language classes] and that’s my weakness area,” she said. “He worked with me to get into a sign language class to substitute for my language classes.
“There are so many opportunities that Notre Dame offers so I try to take advantage of all of them.”
Kelliher said she knows other students with both learning and physical disabilities, and has noticed a few accessibility issues on campus.
“Sometimes the handicap access doors don’t work on certain buildings or the access doors are not the most convenient doors or the doors most used,” she said.
“I’m in Breen Phillips Hall and I broke my ankle last year. I was only on crutches for a while [but] there are steps everywhere,” Kelliher said. “I don’t think that’s the fault of Notre Dame. They are old buildings. The newer buildings can accommodate people.”
Mary Hurd said she was satisfied with accessibility in her daughter’s dorm.
“I can’t say we’ve had any access issues when [my daughter] was in Pangborn. Pangborn has an elevator,” she said.
Overall, Kelliher said she feels people are pleased with the University’s accommodations for physical and learning disabilities.
“In the general sense when it comes up, most people seem satisfied,” she said.