Inaccessibility on campus causes challenges for many students with disabilities

By Grace Hogsten

Elm Staff Writer

Washington College’s historic buildings and pathways are beautiful. They are depicted on every pamphlet and described on every tour. However, the school has overlooked accessibility on campus in favor of aesthetic.

The brick paths that weave between academic, administrative, and residential buildings are old and have fallen into disrepair. Some bricks are cracked, worn, or crumbling, while others stick out of the ground.

Many students can recall tripping and falling on the way to class, and the paths pose an even greater risk for disabled students.

“Every single walking path made of brick is uneven and a major safety hazard for abled people, let alone those with accessibility issues,” sophomore Mirranda Forney said.

Many disabled students must devote extra time and effort to safely make their way to class.

“I’ve memorized which bricks I need to watch out for. Nobody else has to do that…I leave my dorm 30 minutes before class just in case I trip on a brick and fall,” sophomore Kimi Adolfsen said.

Although many students, including members of WC’s Student Government Association (SGA), have alerted the school that the brick pathway poses a hazard to students, the paths are still in disrepair.

“When I was a senator last year…we were told they would talk to Building and Grounds. Nothing has ever been fixed or changed, yet the entire campus just got new landscaping for the inauguration,” Forney said.

Even students who drive to class may find the academic buildings inaccessible due to a lack of parking spots.

“I have to park close to the school buildings on days that it’s really cold or rainy, or when they have decided to cut the grass . . . [When there are no available parking spots], I have to park in [the faculty] parking lot which results in me getting ticketed,” senior Emily Turfitt said.

In order to have the ticket excused, Turfitt had to visit multiple offices on campus and obtain more substantial proof of her disability than what she had already provided. WC clearly was not prepared to address the lack of accessible parking spaces; a problem which they could have avoided by giving students with disabilities the opportunity to reserve spots in front of academic buildings.

There are accessibility issues all over campus. The automatic doors at Hodson Hall are unreliable, and the residential buildings do not have automatic doors or push buttons at all. The elevator in Sassafras Hall has been out of order for days, and the elevator in the library has been out of order for weeks; however, they were working to fix it. Fixing the elevator proves that the school has the ability to solve accessibility problems on campus.

WC is inaccessible in many ways, but it doesn’t have to be. The student body is intelligent and responsible – students aren’t afraid to take action and address the problems they face.

Members of SGA have approached the problem by introducing a new position: ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Chair, focusing on making the campus more accessible. However, students should not be doing all the heavy lifting; WC needs to acknowledge the problem and allocate resources to these issues.

Fortunately, some students have gained accommodations on campus. For senior Ruby Baxley, she was able to contact the school and find a solution after falling on the walkways near her dorm many times.

“I sent in an evaluation of [the] campus, and I noted the uneven, dangerous bricks. They eventually ripped up part of that sidewalk, but not all of it. I mentioned to the Disability Access Specialist that I feel like it is not fair for me to fall every day, and living with a physical disability on this campus is extremely difficult. As a result, I got approval to live off campus,” Baxley said.

This is a great example of how WC can improve its accessibility: by providing accommodations for individual students and also making renovations that will benefit the student body as a whole. Unfortunately, the College has not taken this approach with many of the other inaccessibility issues.

“[WC has] made little to no changes in regards to disability. It’s heartbreaking to see a campus that values diversity but seemingly refuses to acknowledge the disabled community as part of that diversity,” Turfitt said.

The College’s motto is “Do You. Do it All. Do it Here.” WC values its students and encourages them to seek out the experiences and opportunities that will best foster their learning and growth.

However, students cannot receive the full benefit of the education and opportunities that the college offers if they already face daily, preventable obstacles on the way to class. WC must take action to better accommodate its disabled students.

Photo by Katie Tack.

Photo Caption: Accessibility on campus is a major issue, with many students with disabilities finding it difficult to walk around campus due to the uneven brick pathways and the lack of automatic door buttons.

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