Staring down Puget Sound: Is this campus accessible?
By Keely Coxwell
The accessibility of our campus is constantly improving, but is not yet fully accessible to everyone.
The Director of Student Accessibility and Accommodations (SAA), Peggy Perno said, “[SAA’s] mission is to remove obstacles…by providing support and accommodations to
otherwise qualified students with both visible and invisible disabilities. We are also committed to promoting a universal design to improve the environment for all citizens and to decrease the need to ask for special accommodations.”
Perno said that 20% of the student body goes through her office at some point, seeking some form of accommodation. Someone might go to the student accessibility and accommodation office for a number of reasons, such as a temporary injury, permanent physical impairment or learning disability.
“[SAA] talked to housing after I described my situation to them and said they would get me a ground floor room…in a building with an elevator,” said a sophomore IPE major, who had recently had surgery on his leg. They chose to remain anonymous when speaking to the Trail due to the sensitivity of the interview. “They also told me about a couple of different services I could use like getting rides [from security] to my classes.”
These systems, though, are not always perfect.
“There isn’t much SAA can do for physically disabled people because the fundamental structure of our campus is inaccessible,” the same source said. “Jones’ elevator doesn’t go to the third floor and you have to call for rides half an hour in advance.”
Perno did emphasize certain things students can ask for, such as moving “a class to an accessible floor if a student has a mobility issue,” she said. Perno mentioned she has never been told no when requesting accommodation for students.
“If a problem is identified, facilities is very quick in fixing it,” Perno said, referencing a ramp facilities placed into a building in just a few days.
While SAA works hard to accommodate for student needs, the University understands the campus is not perfectly accessible.
“We have some buildings that have been here a long time and so there are a lot of challenges with making the campus what I would call 100% accessible. But we have been making progress,” Dean of Students Mike Segawa said. “For instance we put an elevator in Howarth, which isn’t easy.”
Associate Dean of Students & Director of Student Union & Programs Sarah Comstock is the chair of the Accessibility Work Group. She understands the difficulties our campus faces when it comes to physical accommodation.
“When we go through a major renovation, such as putting in an elevator, there are building codes that you may have to update, so it’s a long process,” Comstock said.
According to the 2012 Access Guide, which is the most recent guide on the University website, there are 17 fully accessible buildings, three of which are dorm buildings. Including suite-style living, the University has ten residence halls. According to the ADA website for a building to be fully accessible it needs to have features such as an elevator if the building has three or more occupiable floors, accessible entrances,accessible bathrooms and braille designating permanent rooms and spaces.
“I actually think what we do really well is responding to individual needs,” Segawa said. “As an example, in our residence halls we have students who have specific needs for accommodation, we will work with them on that.”
Perno emphasized the necessity of working with an individual in regards to accommodation and accessibility. She mentioned that since each circumstance is different, it is better to specialize help for the individual.
Comstock believes that, in a lot of ways one of the biggest hurdles with accessibility is being educated in both visible and invisible disabilities. “When we first started the Accessibility Work Group, eight years ago, we had some pretty serious issues for anyone who was a wheelchair user. We thought we were doing really well, but there are some things that, if you’re not a wheelchair user, you don’t notice,” Comstock said. “So really educating ourselves and helping to educate the rest of campus is something that I think we have done incredibly well.”
Although the campus is not completely accessible, “we are constantly improving and working on making our campus more accessible,” Segawa said.
“One of the next bigger projects will be to make accessible the walkway between Schneebeck [Concert Hall] and Wyatt,” Segawa said. “You can’t get from Schneebeck to Wyatt easily if you are a wheelchair user.”
The University has also opened a new, state-of-the-art testing center in Howarth Hall. The room is equipped with many areas the minimize distractions for test takers, such as movement and noise.
“On a campus as old as ours there are some parts that we are always going to struggle with,” Comstock said. “And there are some societal viewpoints they we are going to struggle with, but we are going to keep moving and educate ourselves.”