Accessibility on Springfield College’s Campus: Is it Enough?

Andrew Gutman
Editor in Chief
Additional Research by Jackie Imondi

 

 

 

 

The Student File Photo
The Student File Photo

When choosing a school every student has his or her own criteria. Academics, recreational facilities, and certainly food services are at the top of the list, but for some individuals a special criterion rises to the top – accessibility.

This year Springfield welcomed three new students to campus who have a need for accessibility. Garrett Haydon is a COSJ major, who has dived right into radio. Evan Tansil, an eloquent young man, studies communications disorders, and you can often find him in the Union listening to music and talking to friends. Last, but certainly not least, is Luie Gomes who has high hopes of becoming a coach to continue to prove that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.

Gomes was born with Cerebral Palsy (CP). While Gomes can walk, a major feat among those with CP that he accomplished with years of physical therapy, he often times uses a scooter to get around.

Gomes has to be aware of things most don’t, like ramp placement, special living arrangements, and access to buildings.

“When I looked at schools I talked to the director of student services,” Gomes said. “We brought that (accessibility) up a lot right off the bat with admissions. Other than that it was really just going around and seeing for myself what it was like to navigate the campus.”

It was in the late 1990s when Springfield College, under the leadership of Richard B. Flynn, started to drastically change the college’s aesthetics. Many new buildings were built; the Union, the Field House, and the Wellness Center, most notably. Parallel to this was the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) a few years earlier in 1990. Springfield College began to take accessibility on its campus far more seriously.

According to the ADA “The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.”

Colleges are required to make their programs accessible if they receive federal dollars. “It must insure that the programs it offers, including extracurricular activities, are accessible to students with disabilities,” the ADA states.

There are many aspects of accessibility that are taken into consideration; routes to classes, building dimensions, rest rooms, door handles, etc. While some of these may seem to be obvious, much of what is considered to be up to ADA standard could easily go over the head of someone who doesn’t have a disability. For someone who takes his/her basic ability to function without a disability for granted, like many do, these are not things that get a lot of attention.

“Whenever you are going to revamp, if you can… the preference from a disability advocacy point of view is for people [with disabilities] to use the same doors as everybody else,” says Professor Thomas Ruscio, who teaches in the rehabilitation and health services department on campus and has been at Springfield for 47 years. “The concept is integrative accessibility. You want a building where everyone goes through the same entrance.”

There are many ways to meet ADA code, and Springfield has made huge strides in the past decade of doing so. These include a wheelchair  lift to the administration building, curb cuts to accommodate wheelchairs, automatic door openers, and even a ramp to the radio station.

Yet, according to Ruscio, meeting code and making thus accommodations integrative are two different things.

“Are we not following the ADA law? Are we not in compliance with the ADA? Well no,” says Ruscio. “What it says is if you can make your service accessible, and a student who cannot get there has a need then you have to go to them.”

IMG_6771According to a study done by Jaclyn Imondi, a student in the rehabilitation and health sciences department, there are a few problems on the campus that have gone unattended. In Hickory Hall there is a circular ramp that takes one to the second floor, but at the top of the ramp are three stairs. The doors inside of Hickory also go without automatic doors. While this may be the most extreme examples found, there are other cases of Springfield not meeting the ADA code to its fullest. One of those examples is the lack of accessibility to the newspaper room, located downstairs in the basement of the radio station. For a COSJ student like Garrett, this poses a unique challenge.

Many universities struggle with the same problem. Renovations are not cheap, and while they are important, many times colleges wait until a building needs major reconstruction before they update it to code.

“If you’re going to renovate or do major construction, you have to make it accessible, but if you’re not, accessibility has to be available,” adds Ruscio.

“I think we have done a remarkable job over the last 15 years in turning Springfield College into a pretty accessible campus,” said Vice President of Financial Affairs, John Mailhot. “I’m not going to say every inch of it is accessible, but given where we were 15 years ago, which was a lot of our buildings was not accessible, I don’t think we have many buildings that have significant issues that we need to address.”

“We have some students that we knew who were coming in with special needs we did some renovations,” commented Mailhot. “We knew which buildings they were going to have classes in so we did some accommodations in there. We also accommodated the resident halls they were going to be in.

In addition to the renovations made for the three incoming freshmen, Springfield put about $51,000, money which was received through donation, into East Campus. The improvements included new walkways, better door accessibility, and wheelchair accessibility for the rope course.

“When I came up to visit it was really, really, accessible compared to other schools that I looked at. The fact that the sidewalks are nice and paved, and there is plenty of accessibility to get around,” Gomes said. “With anything, there are always improvements [to be made]. If we were to look at things in general we can always find things to improve, but the accessibility already up to this point is phenomenal.”

“We have a list of resident halls that still require renovations. The renovations are never ending. Many of our buildings are 40 or 45 years old, even 50 years old,” Mailhot added. “We would like to get it all done immediately, but it’s not at an insignificant cost.”
Wheelchair lifts can cost thousands of dollars, and while the school does its best to accommodate those with disabilities it is not cheap, as Mailhot previously stated.

In short, “Reasonable Accommodation” implies that someone with a disability must be accommodated in most circumstances, but they must be fair. If a student wanted to live on the fourth floor of a dorm, but there was no elevator well, installing an elevator for that one student isn’t reasonable accommodation… especially if that student is the only student who may use it for years to come.
Springfield should be commended for the work they have done in recent years to update their campus, but there is always work to be done. Ruscio says the campus union is the most integrative accessible building on campus. Springfield should strive to continue working on all buildings, and not just making them accessible, but making sure all students who come to Springfield know that they’re welcome to a place that they will call home for the next four years.

 

 

 

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