On July 24, 2023, construction began between Bond and Miller halls. This project was completed on Sept. 26, 2023, and resulted in the replacement of stairs with a new ramp for improved safety and accessibility.
The redesign was carried out through the work of many Western Washington University entities, including Minor Works Preservation, Interwest Construction, Wilson Engineering and Western’s Facilities Development and Operations.
This project had been on the university’s list for at least six months prior to construction and had been evaluated as a high priority due to its lack of fitting Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, said Lisa Brennan, communications and marketing coordinator for planning and development. The 60-year-old staircase had become warped and dangerous, and the adjacent ramp was useless to many.
“I know some people in manual chairs could get up it, but they had to hold themselves up using the handrails,” said Angela Romeo, president of Western’s Adaptive Sports Club.
Romeo and Sebastian Smith, two wheelchair users and Western students, said the old ramp had a lip that made it inaccessible.
“It kind of had a steep curve to it, and I almost tipped over on that one a couple of times,” Smith said.
Smith is a part of the Disability Outreach Center’s community building team, which “connects students with community resources, raises awareness and advocates for disabled students’ human and civil rights,” according to its website.
Western was founded in 1893, and many of its buildings were constructed before ADA requirements were considered, making it a challenge to rebuild.
“It’s a historical campus, there are a lot of buildings that are challenging in different ways,” Brennan said.
Much of our world was built without considering the accessibility needs of people with disabilities. This can be seen on older campuses like Western, said Katie Warden, director of the Northwest ADA Center.
Romeo feels that there is another reason: a lack of listening by the university. As president of the Adaptive Sports Club, co-president of the Institute of Critical Disability Studies’ Student Advisory Committee and part of the consulting group to the assistant vice president, she is very involved in advocating for disabled students' rights to access campus.
“People who listen don’t have the power, and the people who have the power don’t listen,” she said.
Romeo also shared that she attended a meeting with Western President Sabah Randhawa, Melynda Huskey, the vice president for enrollment and student services, Jon McGough, the former head of the Disability Access Center, and several others in winter 2018. In this meeting, they seemingly promised to push accessibility projects to the top of the priority list, but Romeo said she never heard back.
“People with disabilities are creative problem solvers. I’d encourage any entities, like an older university, to consult with the disability community,” said Warden.
Western often does consult with the DOC and DAC on projects to determine what renovations need to be made, Brennan said.
“Western is working toward a fully accessible campus where all community members can access facilities equitably and share the same journey through campus," Brennan said. "Removing barriers helps to make the campus welcoming and inclusive for everyone and supports diversity in the community.”
Although there is still progress to be made in making Western completely accessible, the recent ramp project is a small start.
Several other projects are on the budget list for 2024. Modernizing elevators and increasing ADA requirements are currently in the budget.
Romeo and Smith said they avoided Red Square before the ramp was built.
“I just didn’t go through Red Square unless I had to go to one of those buildings,” Smith said.
This project has created a more direct path and increased the visibility of disabled students on campus. Romeo said this makes disabled people more a part of the student body rather than adjacent, a feeling previously held when having to go all the way around the square.
“We just want to be able to navigate campus,” Romeo said.
Accessibility improves the lives of everyone on campus, so it’s important for able-bodied people to advocate for change.
“We often find that when we make spaces accessible, we not only include people with disabilities, but we also improve spaces for all kinds of people,” said Warden.
Olivia Marty (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front. She is a sophomore majoring in public relations journalism. In her spare time, Olivia loves going thrifting, watching documentaries, and crafting. She can be reached at email@example.com.