Accessibility is an important issue here at Western - especially because Western’s geography continually proves to be a challenge. Western strives to ensure the success of all students including those with disabilities.
Yet with a hilly terrain, millions of bricks and buildings dating back to its opening how accessible is Western today?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, it’s illegal to discriminate an individual based on disability, this includes inhibiting the success of a student with a disability.
Under this law, Western is legally required to provide accommodations for qualified students with disabilities to guarantee that everyone has an equal opportunity for success.
In order to be successful, a student with a disability must be given the means to function just as any other student - this includes being able to access any building on campus, having proper accommodations in and out of the classroom and feeling welcomed and included in a safe community.
Western provides many different services to ensure the success of students with disabilities, such as the Equal Opportunity Office, the disAbility Resources for Students Center, Associated Students Disability Outreach Center and more.
Each office is dedicated to providing accommodations, awareness and support for students with disabilities and the larger campus community. Although Western is dedicated to ensuring equal opportunity for all students, there’s still a long way to go until it’s a fully accessible campus.
The Equal Opportunity Office, located in Old Main 345, is an office that’s sole responsibility is guaranteeing equality for all students. Dr. Sue Guenter-Schlesinger, Vice Provost of the Equal Opportunity Office and Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator, is one of the many individuals who is paving the way towards Western’s full accessibility.
As ADA Coordinator, she sits at the head of the Disability Advisory Committee which is made up of faculty, staff and students who are dedicated to addressing problems that arise with accessibility on campus.
“One of the things that we have done in this office, under the ADA Coordinator’s job, and is that we have conducted architectural accessibility studies of the campus,” Guenter-Schlesinger said.
“When I came in to the office in 2005, we hadn’t done an update. We asked for the services of an organization, which provides free education and training to universities and other companies and institutions, called Disability Business Technical Assistance Center [now known as Northwest ADA Center].
“They trained us over a whole week period how to conduct architectural access studies of the campus. It was great, we went out with slope measures, we went out with pull weights on doors, we went out with a protocol of how far the hand rails should be when you go into a bathroom stall and we compiled a huge list that we then got on a spreadsheet, so we could say these are the things that need to be addressed and here is the priority.
"Just this past year, 2013, we updated that list - here’s what’s already been done, here are buildings that still need work on and so on,” she said.
One of those buildings on that list was Fraser Hall. Before its renovation, which was completed in 2013, the building didn’t meet ADA requirements though it housed the largest lecture halls on campus, these halls weren’t accessible to students with disabilities. Now Fraser Hall, along with its neighbor Miller hall, is fully accessible for all people with ranging ability.
The next building on the agenda is the Carver Academic Facilities. To add to the many problems with Carver [see AS Legislative Agenda*], this building isn’t in compliance with ADA standards.
Western is currently waiting on budget approval from the Washington State Legislature, but with huge support from the community, hopes to make the changes necessary for Carver to be full accessible.
However, in addition to having a fully accessible campus, one must be able to navigate it.
“Previous to the access assessments, our campus signs had never - and what I mean by campus signs is when you go around campus, you’re going to notice that there are big, steel, physical signs that have a picture of the campus on it. Previous to these accessibility studies, for anyone who had any type of mobility impairment it was not useful to them,” Guenter-Schlesinger said.
“So we did a lot of research, we got some good models and for the very first time we created a new map that allows students, faculty and staff to see indicators that show usable routes and accessible routes."
Student Program Coordinator in the EOO, Michael Rivera, is responsible for putting this improved campus map online making it accessible to everyone. The map not only provides routes for students, but allows them to see where fully accessible restrooms and push pads are located in buildings.
The Equal Opportunity Office ensures that campus gradually becomes fully accessible for all students with disabilities, while the disAbility Resources for Students Center, located in Old Main 120, supplies accommodations for students in and outside of the classroom.
“We try to help guide students through the things that we see year after year with new students getting acclimated to campus. We try to be a support for them. But [what the DRS offers] is broad and it’s all the challenges that every student faces: getting used to being at college, making friends, being away from home,” said Anna Blick, assistant director of DRS.
Blick, along with Director David Brunnemer and four other staff members, ensure that students with disabilities get the accommodations needed to be successful. DRS provides students with academic adjustments in the classroom, specific housing accommodations, note-taking services and much more. In addition, the AS Disability Outreach Center seeks to raise awareness and create an inclusive community for students with disabilities.
“We are an office with the Research and Outreach Programs, so we provide a lot of services, like guiding students in the direction they need when they come in for advice or if they need resources. We have a resource library where there’s a bunch of literature, films and all types of resources. We also offer a safe space where students can talk about personal issues or vent. It’s a safe space for them,” said DOC Coordinator Cristina Rodriguez.
The DOC puts on events to raise awareness about disabilities, such as fall quarter’s Disability Etiquette event which allowed students to have an open discussion about ways to be inclusive of students with disabilities and ranges of ability.
Upcoming DOC events include a Campus Accessibility Forum co-sponsored with the AS Legal Information Center, on May 7 from 6-8 p.m. in Academic West 304, as well as activities during Disability Awareness Week which will take place May 12-16.
“Something that’s interesting, is that over the years there have been improvements, so it’s not always negative,” Rodriguez said. “We switched offices, so it’s a wider door frame and the door is lighter.”
The DOC was previously wedged into a narrow hallway on the fifth floor of the Viking Union, which made it difficult for people with some disabilities to access the office. Before winter quarter began, the AS Business Office traded offices with the DOC so students are able to get to the DOC easier.
“We have enough space for a chair to do a full 360 turn. The VU has automatic doors, which it didn’t before. They re-bricked the area in front of Old Main where the big tree is. When there’s issues and we raise awareness and let the administration know, something can happen,” Rodriguez said.
Though Western is making changes to become a more accessible campus, the most important step is awareness of the issue. Students with disabilities deserve the same opportunity to succeed as any other student and Western is determined to make that happen.
“Disability is an extremely important issue here at Western. Making sure that we have an accessible campus and that we respond to accommodating both students and employees with disabilities is absolutely essential - first of all, it’s a matter of law but it’s also within the spirit of us having an inclusive community here at Western,” Guenter-Schlesinger said.
*Editor’s note: Approved by the AS Board of Directors in December, the AS Legislative Agenda includes three proposals to the Washington State Legislature, one of them being renovations to Carver Academic Facility.
Carver currently suffers from poor ventilation, has a history of raw sewage seepage and is vulnerable for catastrophic collapse in the event of seismic activity. The agenda asks for five million dollars to begin renovations this summer which include driving pilings into the bedrock underneath the building.