Progress Is Slow on Disability Access
Published: Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 02:11
Students may complain about the inconvenience of the university’s hills and stairs, but for Whitney Weldon (COL ’15), getting around campus is a daily challenge.
Weldon navigates campus in a motorized wheelchair, which she says prevents her from reaching some dorms and facilities.
“I feel like it’s not really fair that people like me can’t visit their friends or just hang out with their friends in Henle or Village B,” Weldon added. “It’s not like you can control or choose to not be disabled, and the school should make a better effort to accommodate us.”
For Weldon and a number of other students with physical disabilities, the Georgetown campus can be difficult to traverse, even with the addition of elevators and ramps. Henle Village and Alumni Square do not have elevators, and in older buildings such as the Edmund A. Walsh Building and Lauinger Library, many accessibility features are in need of an update.
“I feel that some of the older elevators on campus are particularly difficult or scary to use,” Cody Williams (SFS ’15), who has cerebral palsy and uses crutches, said. “For instance, I’m slower in getting into the elevator because of my condition, but the elevators in the Walsh Building and Lau, they don’t have sensors. I’ve had situations where I’ve had to have people hold the door open with their own strength just so I can get in the door.”
Weldon agreed, pointing to the Leavey Center elevator. She said that the elevator platform often does not align with the floor, making it impossible for her to use it.
“I need to go back down and through the parking center to take the elevator to right outside Starbucks,” Weldon said. “It’s really a hassle sometimes.”
Evan Monod (COL ’14), who also has cerebral palsy, joked about the lack of working elevators on campus.
“Some people, when they graduate and are successful, donate scholarships to the university,” he said. “I’m going to donate elevators.”
According to Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh, Georgetown makes a concerted effort to accommodate disabled students and improve disability access around campus, and Weldon acknowledged that the university has made some strides since her freshman year.
Chief among these is the implementation of public door access clickers. Every student who needs one can receive a handheld clicker device that opens doors on campus through a radio signal. Formerly, these clickers only opened the doors to a student’s residence hall and dorm room. This year, they were upgraded to open doors to main campus buildings, such as Lauinger Library and Leavey Center.
Weldon said she had a hard time getting into buildings her freshman year because she can’t reach buttons for the automatic doors.
“It’s better now with the clickers that we have to be able to open almost all of the doors on campus in addition to my hall and my dorm room,” she said.
But this project was spearheaded by Weldon’s father, who had to pay for all students to receive the clickers in order to get the university to make the public doors clicker accessible.
“I’m not sure how much it was in total, but it was very expensive,” Weldon said. “I’m just very lucky that my father was able to foot the bill.”
For Williams, the advancements in newer buildings such as Regents Hall have shown a movement toward a more disability-conscious campus.
“On the more modern and newer buildings, the university has done a good job,” Williams said. “These recent innovations let me know that they’re working on accommodating our situation and innovating the way we conceptualize the campus and that the university really puts us as a priority.”
However, problems still remain. Both Williams and Weldon said that ramps and walkways intended for those with wheelchairs or trouble with stairs are sometimes blocked by other traffic, preventing those who actually need the route from using it.
“Sometimes, people misuse things that are supposed to make accessibility easier,” Williams said. “In particular, bicyclists make it hard for me to use the ramp out of Red Square to Leavey.”
According to Williams, the Academic Resource Center has helped him navigate campus.
“When I first got to campus, I got an accessibility map that the university had drawn up for disabled people,” Williams said. “It showed me what elevators to take, which buildings connected to which ones, where the ramps were and where to avoid. It’s really just about using your resources and developing an intuition about the problem spots.”
Monod agreed that the ARC is a valuable resource but lamented a lack of greater university support. For some students, trial and error is the most effective way of figuring out how to get around campus.
“It’s sad that at a school like this, we only have three or four people working in the disability office,” Monod said.
Weldon stressed, however, that disabled student life on campus is what students make of it.
“It’s about having the confidence to ask for help when you need it,” she said. “I let myself do whatever I really want. If it involves asking someone to help, such as asking someone to help carry me up a flight of stairs, I ask.”