Opinion: Accessibility should be a priority for Western, including in safety plans
Despite Western’s continual emphasis on inclusivity, the university falls short of addressing accessibility issues on campus for those with disabilities, which violates this ideal. Accessibility needs to be a central priority in campus planning and safety, not just an afterthought.
Slippery bricks, lack of ramps and elevators within older buildings, door knobs that are difficult to grip and flawed points of entry are just a few of the university’s prominent accessibility issues.
By not offering equal opportunities for people with disabilities to access all of campus, Western sends the message that their ability to access the same resources as everyone else is not a priority. As a marginalized group on campus, people with disabilities often don’t receive the same representation as others. Like any other Western student, students with disabilities pay fees that may go toward resources they can’t even access, such as the Wade King Student Recreation Center and programming that doesn’t have disability accommodations.
The Western Front know that universal accessibility can be difficult. For example, our staff struggles to make our website fully accessible, which we are hoping to continue to improve on, especially when we undergo a website redesign.
While we know necessary funding and processes can take time, we hope to see Western recognize the full scope of the accessibility issues on campus so they can be addressed transparently and with the community.
Even if Western meets ADA requirements, simply proving the university has checked all the boxes does not do nearly enough to acknowledge the significant amount left to be done to enhance accessibility standards. The whole campus, and not just portions, need to be accessible to all. When certain dorms and classrooms aren’t accessible, this poses a huge problem for students wishing to utilize their services.
The Ridgeway dorms don’t even have elevators, and in some of the older dorms such as Nash or Edens North, elevators are prone to breakdowns. The Fine Arts building does not have elevator access to the basement or the third floor, and Wilson Library’s main entrance lacks a ramp. Accessibility is an equity issue, which deserves the attention of faculty at Western.
Especially in new construction, Western should be conscious of those with mobility impairments. Sam Carver Gymnasium and the rec center missed an opportunity to enhance accessibility, being that students with disabilities and advocates say both buildings struggle with automatic door accessibility issues.
The legislature needs to give Western adequate funding to improve its existing infrastructure. With Western only receiving roughly half of what is requested from the state, this sum of money is not nearly enough to work with, beyond some elevator enhancements.
Although the Board of Trustees did recently approve funding a relocation for the disAbility Resources center to Wilson Library, this is just one step in acknowledging the importance of updating campus to match the needs of people with disabilities.
Western needs to consider accessibility in all aspects of campus planning, including security. For example, in the case of an active shooter, the options of a person with physical disabilities may be limited. The classic “run” or “fight” options may be possible for an able-bodied person, but the “hide” option may be the only option for some students with physical disabilities.
However, Western’s situation has shown a gaping security breach which the university has been reluctant to address. The doors, many of which have no locks and do not lend themselves to being barricaded since they open outwards, definitely do not allow for the “hide” option in an active shooter situation and would be unsafe for those who are unable to run away or fight back against a shooter.
The university must prepare immediately by creating a safety plan which includes the needs of people beyond the able-bodied portion of its student body and faculty. And this is for all planning, including for buildings and for emergencies, not just in the case of an active shooter.
These issues of accessibility and inclusivity may not be able to be addressed overnight, but they do deserve immediate attention and dedication. That accessibility on campus is unequal for people with disabilities is undeniable, and Western needs to make accessibility more central in all of its planning.
The Western Front Editorial Board is composed of Kira Erickson, Asia Fields and Melissa McCarthy.