By MACKENZIE HARD
In 2014, UMW was recognized for its affordability and accessibility by the Social Mobility Index, which took into consideration the tuition costs and the economic diversity of the student body. This year, the University celebrated the renovation project of Heslep Amphitheater, but this renovation did not include a visible, wheelchair accessible entrance from Campus Walk. In order to get to the amphitheater, one would have park in one of two handicap parking spots next to the amphitheater behind Lee Hall, or brave a steep brick walkway leading from the Sunken Road area.
Shortly after, students and other community members voiced their concerns and frustrations with the renovation. This ongoing conversation begs the question whether the campus’ overall accessibility is up to standard.
Currently the Office of Disability Resources works with our university community to increase awareness, eliminate barriers and to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for students with disabilities. However, the current level of accessibility on campus does not reflect a University that prioritizes inclusion. And, according to several students, is a major concern in terms of student mobility.
Students have voiced their concerns with several freshman dorms, a main concern being Virginia Hall. “Virginia Hall only has one ramp on the fountain side, so anyone who needs a ramp to gain access to the building has to enter from the back. Additionally, there is no elevator in the building at all,” said senior psychology major Taylor Mooney.
It’s not just Virginia that lacks an elevator or better ramps. Marshall and Russell Hall have elevators, but lack the appropriate ramps in get into the building. Students with disabilities or mobility-hindering conditions cannot get into these buildings. The only routes to these two residence halls is via the steep, pothole-filled hill or by going down several sets of steps.
How was UMW recognized for its accessibility when some of our buildings lack basic access into and out of them for all of our students?
A majority of the residence halls on campus are ADA compliant, offering ramps and elevators. Students haven’t just been noticing the lack of accessibility within residence halls, but that of the academic buildings on campus.
Monroe Hall does not have a ramp in the front of the building so people that are unable to take the stairs have to walk to the back of the building and take the elevator to gain access.
“I have seen many people struggle with Trinkle,” said Mooney. “The elevator is very old and small which makes it much harder for people to use.”
ODR provides classroom resources and accommodations based on individual disability related needs. Most classroom accommodations include the following: extended times on exams, reduced distraction environment for testing, use of assistive technology in class and during exams, use of Sign Language Interpreting or other third-party services and note taking assistance. Despite the resources offered, students still face obstacles in the classroom.
As reported in the Blue and Gray Press in April of 2016, English major Ashley Riggleson wrote that as one of the student wheelchair-users on campus, she struggled with classrooms that were often too small for her to negotiate with a wheelchair. Bathrooms and classrooms are equally problematic. Classrooms, she said, “are not arranged in such a way as to disenfranchise disabled students.” When Riggleson wrote her article, she was taking a class in Combs Hall room 139, a room that is a tiered lecture with dim lighting.
The way the room was set up, and still is, offered no hindrance to learning for the able-bodied students. But for Riggleson learning was almost impossible. “I would argue that this classroom should not be used for lessons if even one student has a mobility impairment.”
This is if students can even make it to class on time. Accessible, and reasonable, entrances are a common problem that several students on campus have noticed around campus.
“I think that there are certainly some obstacles that affect student mobility on campus, and not just the amphitheater. I’ve personally helped a few students get to their classes because of how steep the ramps are, or just because they had no idea where the accessible entrance was, like to Monroe,” commented junior Communication and Digital Studies major, Grace Winfield.
Senior business administration and accounting major Ripken Smith has noticed issues with Monroe as well. He also noticed that many buildings on campus are only accessible from rear or side entrances.
The steepness of pathways, and even the brickwork around campus pose accessibility issues.
“On the way up to DuPont Hall and Westmoreland Hall there is a really steep hill that is all brick. Due to the brick, the path is uneven and hard to walk on,” said Mooney. “It is sometimes hard for me to get up these hills and I can’t even imagine how hard it would be for someone who was in a wheelchair or on crutches.”
If students are coming from the street entrance near DuPont Hall, there are only two options to get to Campus Walk. One path includes a long, winding, steep ramp leading to the Hurley Convention Center, the other path leads to the end of the tunnel by Vocelli’s, where students must cut through Melchers Hall and head down an even steeper brick walkway, one without railing.
One of the underlying core values of the University of Mary Washington is “a commitment to the responsibility of the entire University community to carry out the institutional values on diversity and inclusion,” per the Disability Resources website.
If our University is so focused on inclusion, we need to make everything on campus more accessible to all our students – better walk ways, up-to-date elevators, larger residence hall rooms and bathrooms, and more visible ramps into our academic buildings. While expanding campus is an idea some students are open to, the school needs to first reevaluate the structure and resources it currently offers.