Lack of wheelchair accessibility on campus sparks concern for students

Rachel Karas

On average, it takes a student 15 minutes to get to class, but for people who use wheelchairs, it can take up to half an hour or more.

Brandon Lewis, a freshman journalism major, must give himself extra time no matter where he goes around campus, especially when it comes to going up Summit Street because of the construction.

With construction limiting mobility for students who use wheelchairs, some wonder if they should leave Kent State for other universities with better wheelchair accessibility.

Lewis said his teachers and physical therapist questioned why he wanted to go to Kent State when other schools could cater more to his needs.

“When I decided to come here people were asking me ‘Why Kent State?’” Lewis said. “You guys (his teachers and physical therapist) are really looking at this like I need to pick a school because of my disability. Are you serious? I want to go to Kent because I want to be broadcast journalist. Why do I have to pick a school because I need access for my chair?”

Lewis has cerebral palsy, a disorder that can affect a person’s ability to control their muscles. Because of this disorder he has lived with a mobility impairment since birth, making accessibility a constant question.

Michael Bruder, the executive director for the Office of University Architect (OUA), ensures the safety of all students was considered when preparing for the construction.

“We put in some safety fencing to make sure that students cross at the appropriate areas because they were walking through the construction site,” Bruder said. “All campus projects we are very cognisant of all the pedestrian traffic around the perimeter.”

Even with new roads and pathways being put in, Bruder said that the OUA staff makes sure they are attentive. One of their projects includes working to update some of the older buildings on campus so that they are more accessible to those with mobile impairments. 

“We still have some restrooms on campus from the 1960s era that don’t have the level of accessibility that we would want so we want to correct those,” Bruder said. “We have a couple of areas that we would like to improve elevators that are aging or don’t connect all parts of an academic building.”

The OUA works with the Student Accessibility Services office (SAS) to help ensure that all projects done meet the needs of students with disabilities.

“We have some folks from the Architects office on the Accessibility committee so (staff members of OUA) are actively thinking about accessibility and mobility needs of our students,” said director of the SAS office, Amanda Weyant.

Weyant also said that the OUA works closely with contractors to ensure that all construction and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that passed in 1990.

The ADA ensures people with disabilities cannot be discriminated against in many forms including public accommodations.  

Even with the work the OUA and SAS have done, and the changes that have been made because of the Disabilities Act, holes still exist that students with disabilities experience.

“Once [the elevator] is broken, they don’t have anyone to fix it on call. You just have to wait,” Lewis said. “I have a class on the fourth floor (of Franklin Hall), what if I come in and the elevator isn’t working? What am I supposed to do, not go to class?”

Being a freshman and with many years left at Kent, Lewis hopes to see some modifications to help with accessibility around campus, such as a second elevator in all of the main buildings.

“I would suggest building a second elevator,” Lewis said. “Finding space would definitely be an issue, but having a backup plan or having a built in lift next to the stairs, like a mini lift to help take you up, that could be an option instead of a second elevator.”

Although these changes cannot be made overnight, Lewis wants people with disabilities to have a voice on campus.

“You know your body, you know what you need. Fight for your rights,” he said.

Rachel Karas is the Diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected].