(Photographed by Staff Photographer Lilly Lafleur)
Volunteer Writer: Emma Bowser
Campus accessibility has always been a pressing issue for post-secondary education, and as a result, many disabled individuals have been unable to attend college and earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.
According to the Annual Report on People with Disabilities in America: 2023, the amount of disabled individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2021 falls roughly between 17% and 22%.
Furthermore, the National Center for Education Statistics states that 19.4% of undergraduate students have a documented disability, meaning that in a class of 30 students, around 5.82 students will be disabled, and the CDC says that the most common disability type is mobility, which impacts one in every seven adults in the USA.
This, and Dr. Elisabeth Buck’s recent injury due to the deterioration of stairs on campus, are the two main reasons why faculty and student concern about campus accessibility is growing.
Dr. Buck was walking to the Grove from Liberal Arts with a friend when her heel hit a damaged portion of the stairs, causing her to fall forward and hit the left side of her body on the ground. Her right ankle was sprained, and her left shin and palm obtained abrasions.
Immediately after the accident happened, her friend took her to receive medical attention.
Dr. Buck was encouraged to report the incident as soon as possible, and after she received medical attention, she returned to campus to report the incident to Human Resources and the faculty union.
Dr. Buck stated that she has been very satisfied with the response from Human Resources and said that they were prompt and empathetic. She was determined to report what happened because some people may be afraid to report accidents on campus, but her tenure has given her job security, so she wants to “speak for those who may not feel comfortable doing so themselves.”
The union is planning to “bring this to the attention of the upper administration at the university to forefront the danger of the aging campus facilities,” according to Dr. Buck.
Union leader Grant O’Reilly told Dr. Buck that she is “not the first person to report an injury resulting from the lack of maintenance on the campus– particularly the crumbling masonry.”
According to Dr. Buck, the stairs are also an issue for people with visual impairments because it is difficult for them to see where one step begins and another ends, which makes it easier for them to trip and fall, resulting in injury.
Dr. Buck also stated that she is aware of several students who have been injured in accidents involving stairs on campus. One student broke their leg, and there have been other serious injuries as well. She also recounted a story about a freshman who fell on the first floor of the Liberal Arts building when they were coming inside because the floor was wet from the rain, making the surface slick and easy to trip on.
Dr. Buck says that the stairwell between the Liberal Arts building and the Auditorium building that leads to the third floor often has puddles of water on it when it is raining.
This is most likely due to a leak in the roof, but the source has yet to be found and fixed.
“I’m sympathetic to the administration,” she said, “it’s not easy to get the funds to repair a campus that is aging because of it, but it’s critical that everyone feels safe living here and working here and there are a number of things that require immediate attention in order to promote safety.”
(Photos Courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Buck)
Nickola Getchevski agrees with Dr. Buck about the current state of the university campus. Getchevski is a student who recently suffered an injury that requires him to wear a medical walking boot until the injury is healed.
Accessibility has proven to be difficult for him since he needs the added help of crutches in addition to the boot in order to get around independently. In his experience, it is easy enough to walk around campus with crutches outside, but wheelchairs are a different story.
Liberal Arts and CVPA have a lot of stairs, and with the way that the floors are laid out, it takes a lot more time to travel from one classroom to another while avoiding the stairs.
Getchevski says that “the stairs are abysmal for any abled person or handicapped person,” and he now has to account for more time to use the elevator because the stairs inside the buildings are too difficult for him to use safely while he needs crutches.
Furthermore, he says that walking around campus outside is risky because the weather has deteriorated the concrete stairs so much. This has caused pieces of concrete to be missing from steps and the exposure of rusty metal in some locations.
He suggested replacing the stairs with a more durable material that wouldn’t be affected by the weather as severely as the concrete, such as hard granite.
Dr. Buck and Getchevski are two of many people who are concerned about the current state of the campus.
Both have expressed that they feel sympathy for disabled individuals now that they’ve experienced mobility impairments personally and have learned how debilitating it is to have physical restrictions surrounding daily tasks. They hope that the situation will quickly improve and that the campus will become more accessible to both disabled and abled people.
The university currently has a policy and process in place for filing complaints, grievances, and appeals for disability accommodations and special services that are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
The Americans with Disabilities Act also has a process for filing complaints against state or local governments and private businesses.
If a student believes that their rights under these pieces of legislation have been violated, it is important to follow the correct procedure so that the situation can be remedied as soon as possible.