Housing and Dining Programs recently needed to prop open the second set of doors in the Letts Hall lobby after a complaint pointed out accessibility issues for students with physical disabilities who live there.
During winter break, Housing and Dining installed a double barrier system in Letts Hall that was similar to the system used in Nebraska Hall, The Eagle previously reported. Students would first scan their AU identification cards at the front door of the building and show their ID to the desk receptionist, as in all residence halls. The second barrier would involve students swiping their ID again to get into the residential section of the building. Housing and Dining Programs Executive Director Chris Moody previously told The Eagle he planned to install the double barrier system in all of the other residence halls on campus in coming years.
However, a complaint filed by Carter Gibson, the Residence Hall Association’s facility committee chairman, brought up the fact that a few students with physical disabilities were not able to get through the second barrier to the attention of Disability Support Services Director Joanne Benica.
“It’s unfortunate that handicap accessibility wasn’t considered in the implementation of the double swipe system,” Gibson said in an e-mail.
Since some of the students cannot physically swipe their ID cards, they must wait at the second set of doors until another student could scan them in, which could mean waiting several minutes during times when there is not much traffic in the dorm lobby, he said.
“It’s a pretty big problem,” Gibson said in the e-mail.
Moody said he told his staff to prop open the second set of doors in Letts and turn off the scan function as soon as he heard there were physical access issues.
“One door on each side [the north and south ends of Letts] is coded so that when it swipes, the doors will automatically open,” he said. “The thing that was overlooked in that planning process was ‘can all students swipe?’”
In the meantime, the doors will remain propped open until a new proximity reader system is installed.
The proximity reader will work much like the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s SmarTrip card or the scanners found at grocery stores, according to Moody. Students who need to use the proximity reader would put their ID about an inch away from the reader instead of swiping and the doors would swing open.
The proximity reader add-on is easy to install, will not decrease security and will mean Housing and Dining will not have to replace the second card swipe reader that is already in place, he said.
The issue in Letts is not discrimination, Benica said.
“Discrimination based on disability is when you purposefully exclude people with disabilities, and this was not a purposeful thing,” she said.
Benica said she did not think there was a lack of communication between Housing and Dining and Disability Support Services during the planning process for the new security measure, but the system just did not work properly.
Nevertheless, the double barrier system is completely accessible to students with physical disabilities when it is fully working, she said.
As of press time, the lock shop was working with the proximity reader’s third party vendor to consolidate the remotes needed to use the device from two to one, Moody said.
Housing and Dining will install the proximity reader in the other residence halls as they install the double barrier system in the coming years, according to Moody.
In its entirety, AU’s campus is between 80 and 90 percent barrier-free and handicap-accessible, which means that there is either a ramp or easy access to each space, according to Benica. Some buildings, such as the McKinley Building and Hurst Hall, only have handicap access on the first floor since they were built before elevators were widely used. The only buildings that are completely non-accessible to individuals with physical disabilities are the School of International Service building, the Hamilton Building and the President’s Building, according to a Disability Support Services-supplied campus map.