Kent State advancing accessibility across campus

Carley Hull

Figuring out the best way to access a stadium-style classroom, finding a family bathroom or simply crossing the street are tasks the average Kent State student completes daily without a second thought. However, for those living with disabilities, these tasks can become obstacles.

To help those students, Kent State has a series of committees, positions and services that make the university an accessible environment for all.

On average, 1,000 to 1,200 students use Student Accessibility Services to help with their disability needs, said Amy Quillin, director of SAS.

A breakdown of Kent State’s University Accessibility Committee

  • Created to enure the university follows and exceeds requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and makes Kent State an accessible environment.
  • Comprised of a wide representation from various offices around the university.
  • There are around 20 members.
  • Comprised of three subcommittees:
    1. Structural and Physical Committee looks at how structurally accessible the university is.
    2. Curricular and Instructional Committee looks at accessibility of curriculum. Online learning and Blackboard accessibility is also a concern, especially for those with visual or hearing impairment.
    3. Attitudinal and Cultural Committee looks at how the university as a whole is welcoming and inclusive to people with disabilities.

    Source: Amy Quillin, director of Student Accessibility Services

“Our office provides basically academic accommodations to students with documented disabilities,” Quillin said. “We sometimes can provide housing accommodations if a student’s disability requires some kind of housing modifications or accommodations for their room.”

Modifications could include wheelchair-accessible showers and strobe fire alarms for the hearing impaired. For academic support, SAS can help students send an accommodation letter outlining their needs to professors, Quillin said.

“The vast majority of the students that are registered with our office — a good 80 to 85 percent — have what we call hidden disabilities,” Quillin said. “So hidden disabilities would be things like learning disabilities, ADD or ADHD, medical and psychological disabilities.”

But she said at Kent State, accessibility goes beyond the students.

Last spring, the University Accessibility Committee created a position called the University Accessibility Liaison, hiring Jacqueline Gee to further accessibility support at the university.

The position is “not only new but cutting edge,” Gee said. “This is something if you were to look up to see what other universities had, is truly a unique service that we are offering.”

The position is unique in the wide array of services Gee provides.

“It looks at all aspects of our community,” Gee said. “I support academics, faculty, staff and the community. So anyone can reach me, and I’ll respond to (his or her) request. It doesn’t have to be something pertaining to the classroom.”

Two months ago, Gee worked on a project with the Office of the University Architect and the University Facilities Management’s lock shop to create a plan to make Smith Hall’s planetarium accessible to a student in a wheelchair, Gee said.

While they were at it, Gee noticed a bathroom was absent, so they installed a family bathroom to benefit not just those with disabilities but also transgender students. The barriers between the Science Research Building and Smith Hall were eliminated, fire magnetic door holders were installed and a door to provide easier access off the Esplanade was also installed.

“How do we ask a building that was built in the 1960 to preform and be accessible?” Gee said. “It’s not whether or not we can or can’t, it’s how, and that’s the attitude I am working with.”

The University Accessibility Committee and Gee are continuing to look at Kent State buildings to see ares that could be improved beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The great part about this is it’s not about the law and meeting the requirements to satisfy the law,” Gee said. “It’s the spirit behind the law. What do we need to do to make the university accessible — period. What was the intent? The things that aren’t in writing. What’s the right thing to do.”

Contact Carley Hull at [email protected].