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We could be doing more to promote accessibility

| Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Many colleges struggle with providing proper amenities for disabled students. While Notre Dame has succeeded in creating an accessible campus in some ways, there are several aspects that can be improved. In failing to meet certain standards for accessibility, the daily lives of disabled students are made more difficult. How can we claim to be an inclusive environment when we let this happen?

One thing that Notre Dame has done well is providing resources for disabled students. Sara Bea Accessibility Services offers various methods of support, including testing and housing accommodations as well as academic adjustments like deadline extensions. Student-led organizations, such as Access-ABLE, advocate for disabled students and contribute to a strong community of disabled students and allies. Both the administrative and student-led efforts to promote accessibility are helpful.

However, despite these efforts, there are still many obstacles that prevent our campus from being completely accessible. Regarding these issues, Joshua King, president of Access-ABLE, said, “The biggest problem if we’re talking about accessibility is certainly mobility-related … There are several dorms and buildings on this campus that are just logistically, literally not accessible to those in wheelchairs — Lyons Hall, Bond Hall — a lot of these older buildings.”

These buildings are not up to the modern standards established under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA,) which is only about 30 years old. These standards ensure buildings are safe and manageable for those with visual, hearing and physical impairments to navigate. Failure to meet these standards manifests in a number of ways, most prominently through a lack of elevators and ramps.

New and recently renovated buildings that comply with these regulations are a sign of progress. Take Duncan Student Center, for example — wide walkways and several elevators stationed throughout the building are just some of the ways in which it meets modern standards. However, there are still some problems with newer designs, especially with regards to renovated buildings, that have yet to be addressed.

“Even in some buildings that have been renovated, accessible entrances are in inconvenient locations, pushed off to the side, so, there are a lot of areas we can pinpoint for mobility that can be improved, but it is nice to see that new buildings have these features,” King said.

No one should feel isolated because of administrative failures to make every campus building completely accessible, but it’s even worse that this shortcoming is present in the dorms, given how critical dorm life is to the undergraduate experience. We’re all very attached to our dorms — so much so that my first impression of living here was that I was finally going to experience a cult. Spending time in each others’ dorms is a favorite activity of my friends and me because each dorm feels completely different, and people are always incredibly excited to show off their living spaces. It’s unacceptable that not everyone can easily have this experience when dorm culture is so heavily emphasized.

To remedy this, there are several changes we could be making, and most do not require nearly as much work as renovating a building.

“The renovations to the dorms are obviously a positive sign, but it can even just be something like installing ramps,” King said. “I understand these buildings are old, maybe the technology just wasn’t there when they were built, and you start having to balance tradition, history, things like that. But I certainly do think there are several points around campus that can be improved.”

While some dorms, especially those that do not have elevators, would require more work to be completely accessible, adding ramps would be a significant improvement to the current state of several dorms.

There are also some simple improvements that could be made concerning campus dining, especially when ordering through Grubhub. For people with visual impairments, it can be difficult to discern which order is theirs when it is placed among several similar items. For example, at Starbucks, there’s typically an insane amount of similar drinks laid out on the table. It’s easy to accidentally take the wrong drink.

“A very simple fix is just having the worker, if possible, say the name, call it out and hand it to you. That’s what Chick-fil-A is doing … [These are] very simple and subtle changes,” King said.

Notre Dame is not the only institution that struggles with this issue. Other universities, especially older ones, face similar problems with updating inaccessible buildings. Beyond college campuses, there are large companies that are failing to meet standards for accessibility. Disney, for example, has faced multiple ADA lawsuits concerning their Disney Parks Disability Access Service, which according to the plaintiffs does not properly account for autistic guests. These struggles in the world beyond Notre Dame may be difficult for us to assist with. However, if we work together as a community, we can at the very least make a positive impact by creating a more accessible campus.

Caitlin Brannigan is a first-year from New Jersey studying psychology and pre-health studies. She will forever defend her favorite young adult novels and is overjoyed to have a platform to rant. She can be reached for comment at [email protected] or @CaitlinBrannig on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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