Winter weather raises concerns for students with disabilities

For Kent State students with physical disabilities, the severe weather of the winter season can make life more difficult and dangerous.

“For me, a lot of the challenge is the cold weather,” senior paralegal studies major Joy Frangos said. “It gets to the point where my legs hurt because of the cold.”

Frangos was born with a condition called spina bifida and is unable to walk. She uses her electric wheelchair for mobility.

According to the Spina Bifida Association, spina bifida occurs when the spinal column does not close fully before birth, and eight babies are born with spina bifida or a similar condition every day in the United States.

Frangos said the sidewalks are not always cleared and the salt put down to melt the ice gets caught in her wheels, causing a mess. Frangos said the wheelchair lift in her residence hall breaks down sometimes, forcing her to wheel around the building in the cold for access to the Twin Towers common area. However, the majority of her experiences getting around campus during the winter have been good.

Jacqueline Gee is the University Accessibility Liaison for Kent State University. Gee said her job is to solve problems on campus that a student with a disability may face.

“We want to make sure everything is accessible to everyone,” Gee said.

Growing up, Gee had multiple family members with physical disabilities and said that as a family, they do what works best for everyone in the family collectively.

Gee said during the winter, one of the biggest problems a student with a disability is easy access to sidewalks and buildings. She works with Residence Services and the Buildings, Grounds and Maintenance departments to make sure the sidewalks and pathways are clear of ice and snow.

“We look at where our students are in terms of housing, and we also look at the buildings where they are having classes and those have top priority,” Gee said.

Grounds Supervisor Frank Mulenix said the university has four trucks it uses to plow in the winter. The fleet includes two large trucks for roads and two smaller trucks for more confined areas. The 35-member grounds crew put down over 1,200 tons of salt last winter.

“The grounds department knows what buildings need attention first,” Gee said.

He also said if someone reports a concern to her, she will go look at the problem area and then contact university facilities management to resolve the problem.

“They get right on it, right away,” Gee said. “They treat this very seriously.”

Heather White, grounds manager, said their department will do whatever it takes to make sure the campus is safe and clear so students with disabilities can get around safely.

“We reach out to SAS every year,” White said. “We really want to make sure we know where our student population that needs some assistance is living so we can make a point of making sure everything around there is clear.”

Gee said safety issues do not have to be weather related for them to be considered top priority. Concerns relating to residence halls or other buildings are also considered top priority.

“We want to be responsible,” Gee said. “If there is an issue, we want to hear about it.”

Gee said that if anyone notices something on campus that could be hazardous for someone with a disability, they can contact her office by phone at 330-672-8667 or by email at [email protected] to report the problem.

Contact Nathan Havenner at [email protected].