Although the recently completed School of International Service building was constructed with accessibility in mind, older buildings on AU’s campus, such as Hurst Hall and the East Quad Building, remain inaccessible to students with disabilities.
“Buildings of that era didn’t have to adhere to the same kinds of regulations that those built now do and improving those limitations is something that we have been working on for years,” said Jenny Leland, the recently appointed director of Disability Advocacy in the Student Government’s Diversity Advocacy Department, in an e-mail.
Leland, who is also president of the Disability Alliance, an AU student group, said her goal is to make AU’s disabled community more comfortable on campus. SG President Nate Bronstein said he plans to work with the administration to include changes to currently handicapped-inaccessible buildings in the 2011 Campus Plan.
“The term ‘disability’ has frequently had a taboo connotation on a college campus, and I would love to change that and focus more on the capabilities of disabled people rather than the limitations,” Leland said. “Everyone has unique struggles, and people typically considered disabled just have different ones than most.”
While Leland’s position is not new to the SG, Bronstein said he questions how effective it has been in the past. Disability Advocacy originally fell under the Student Advocacy Center and then became a part of SG’s Diversity Action Team.
It is now a department in the SG’s executive cabinet, and Bronstein is hoping to better integrate the director’s intended responsibilities, such as programming and communication with students, into the University.
“I think this repositioning will allow for greater effectiveness and empower greater change,” Leland said about the move.
Bronstein said he wants to make sure no students are unintentionally cut off from the AU community, which can easily happen when events are held in inaccessible spaces, he said.
“One big thing I want to do is put a ramp in the [East Quad] Building and also make sure there aren’t events held in the SIS lounge,” he said. “We have to be representative of the entire university.”
Disability Support Services encourages groups on campus to put an accessibility statement on their event fliers just in case students have questions about access to the event, according to Joanne Benica, the director of DSS.
Benica said in an e-mail that building a new SIS building was part of the University’s commitment to making campus accessible for all students.
“[DSS] will continue to provide programmatic access to the old SIS building,” she said, meaning that if an event or class is in an inaccessible space, DSS would identify “alternate methods of making the programs in those facilities accessible.”
For example, if a student with a disability has a class in the old SIS building, DSS would move the room assignment before the beginning of the semester, Benica said.
Chris Miller, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, said in an e-mail that although he uses a wheelchair because he has cerebral palsy, he has always found AU facilities accessible and usable, in part because of the services DSS provides.
“While it is true that the [East Quad Building] was inaccessible for most of my years here, this did not adversely affect me because of DSS’s steadfast commitment to ensuring that all of my classes were in accessible buildings,” Miller said.
Benica noted that students report campus accessibility is good overall.
“The DSS office is very excited with the opening of the new SIS building, as it provided increased access to not only the classroom buildings but also the Davenport lounge,” Benica said.
Miller said AU had a greater commitment to accessibility than any other college he visited when deciding which school to attend and said he had virtually no complaints about AU’s accessibility.
However, Bronstein said more needs to be done to make the campus entirely wheelchair accessible.
“We’re planning on building an entire east campus,” he said, referring to the university plan to build more housing on Nebraska Avenue, “and yet we can’t put a ramp in the EQB.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Disability Support Services “will try” to move classes from inaccessible spaces and make accommodations. The article should have stated that DSS “would” move classes from inaccessible spaces and make accommodations. This version has been corrected.