Accommodating but not accessible

Published by Annabelle Chipps, Date: December 5, 2022
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Slippery Rock’s campus is not physically accessible to every student, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Though the Office of Disabilities is accommodating inside the classroom, students with impairments still struggle to navigate outside of the classroom. 

Physical obstacles on this campus affect students who struggle with sight, mobility and other inhibitors.  

“Braille signs aren’t correct in the residence halls and in some of the buildings,” visually impaired sophomore Emma Papariella said. “A lot of them are either picked off or don’t even say the proper name or room number… It’s a big concern of mine.”  

“Everyone has the right to travel independently, and if they can’t get to the correct room because the Braille signage isn’t right, that’s not okay,” she said.  

Papariella, who has little to no depth perception, says that one of the biggest struggles for her around campus is stairs that vary in size.  

“All of the steps are uneven and are different heights,” she said. “I know we can’t completely fix that, but something they could do is paint a strip on the edge of each step. It’s better contrast, so it’s easier for me to see.”  

“There are stairs with missing chunks or missing steps altogether,” said another sophomore with impaired sight, Stephanie McLafferty. “It can be very dangerous going down the steps on campus, especially for people who may use a cane and cannot tell that the stairways are damaged.”   

Another visual tool that is not up to date at SRU is the truncated dome, which has bumps to alert a visually impaired person that they are either entering or exiting the road. McLafferty describes them as “vital” for people who have trouble with vision.  

“The domes are supposed to be at every slant down from the curb to the road,” McLafferty said. “A lot of the sidewalks on campus either don’t have them, or they are so worn down that they are basically flat.”  

Another concern of McLafferty’s is the sidewalks and their lack of upkeep in the winter.  

“A person with full sight can’t even see black ice, right?” she said. “But we can’t even see the shininess or see how deep the snow is… I can’t tell you how many times last semester that the hills were still covered in ice because they weren’t touched with salt the night before… This is especially dangerous for someone with a visual impairment.”  

Papariella agreed, stating that the ramps are also extra dangerous during winter.  

“The ramps in general are not ADA compliant,” she said. 

Papariella then described an assignment she did in class where everyone had to travel around campus in a wheelchair.  

“For even just 15 minutes, we were struggling so much,” she said.  

“Last year I broke my foot and was in a boot,” McLafferty said. “It was very difficult to get around because of those hills and ramps.”  

Another student who broke their foot, Harley Fravel, experienced similar barriers when trying to get from place to place on campus.  

“The Weisenfluh hill is not easy,” Fravel said. “There were several times I had to ask complete strangers to help me carry my art supplies to class and I felt terrible for bothering people.” 

Freshman Miranda Malicki, who suffers from several conditions that hinder her mobility, shared her perspective as someone who used to primarily use a wheelchair.  

“I can’t imagine getting around our campus in a wheelchair,” Malicki said. “The ramps are very narrow and very steep. Those two things alone are very challenging when you’re in a wheelchair.” 

She believes there are several solutions to some of the ADA non-compliant issues on campus.  

“There is room on the sidewalks that we could use to elongate the ramps so that the incline is less severe,” she said. 

She also discussed how things like adding signs that point to accessible entrances, creating safe routes to ramps and instating van-accessible parking would help the school more closely abide by ADA guidelines.  

Papariella and McLafferty believe another way the school could improve the lives of its students with disabilities is by having large print menus available in campus dining spaces.  

“Even just keeping the menus consistently and accurately updated online would be better,” McLafferty said.  

Scott Albert, associate vice president of facilities, environmental safety and sustainability, welcomes such input from students. 

“We can always do better,” Albert said. 

He added that despite the issues that prevail, the school has done a lot of work in striving for accessibility. 

“15 years ago, there were at least four projects that the university did with state funding to put in more ramps and make buildings more accessible,” he said. “In a perfect world, our campus would be completely flat and we wouldn’t have any stairs outside the buildings anywhere. Students could easily get between point A and point B… Unfortunately, the geography that we have here makes that a much bigger challenge, so we must come up with creative ways to get around this.

“We continue to strive to make this place the best that we can for everybody who comes to campus,” Albert concluded.  

Papariella, while thankful for the effort of Albert and others, recognized that there may still be a long way to go before this is possible.  

“The campus is very inaccessible, overall. It makes me sad because we have such a great Office of Disability Services and Slippery Rock wants to pride themself on inclusivity… Academically, they’re great, but there is a lot of room for improvement with the campus itself,” she said.  

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