Accessibility on college campuses has always been a point of concern for students with disabilities. When looking at the accessibility of Ashland University’s campus in particular, there has been an increase in conversation surrounding the accessibility, or lack thereof, for students.
One of the major issues seen on AU’s campus is the lack of accessibility for students with physical disabilities into buildings, such as the dorms and academic buildings.
According to Silvia Henriss, the director of the Student Accessibility Center, a few of the major areas of concern for students and faculty with physical disabilities are with the stairs on campus.
“There are a lot of stairs on our campus outside and inside, and the way to go around them typically takes a little bit longer,” said Henriss. “If you use a wheelchair, you’d have to go all the way around specific buildings just to stay on the sidewalk where you don’t run into any stairs, you can get everywhere, it’s just not easy or convenient.”
Along with the stairs on campus, there are also issues when it comes to using elevators in order to access parts of the dorms and academic buildings. While some of the dorms do have elevators, others such as Myers Hall do not, despite being a multi-level building.
For students such as Lila Wolfe, a junior music education major, the lack of accessibility has not just become an inconvenience, but has overall interpreted her education.
After her diagnosis of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), a condition that affects one’s heart rate and can cause dizziness, Wolfe regularly relies on a wheelchair or crutches in order to move around campus to her classes.
It was soon after her diagnosis in September of 2021, that Wolfe began to find just how difficult it is for someone with a physical disability to move about AU’s campus.
“When I tried to get into [Clark Hall], there was no handicap accessible entrance. Like the bottom side door, where it doesn’t have steps immediately, it had too big of a gap in the concrete,” Wolfe said. “I could not get my wheelchair up by myself.”
Wolfe went to AU’s Residence Life to ask what could be done. A representative from ResLife took Wolfe around to the different residence halls in order to find one that was accessible, however the efforts proved to be unsuccessful.
A ramp was later installed in the side entrance of Clark Hall, in order to allow for Wolfe to be able to enter and exit her dorm. A month later, the ramp was removed for unknown reasons.
“I felt like I was being held hostage in Clark,” she said. “And when I called ResLife and maintenance, they told me that a student must have taken it out, and that it wasn’t their fault because the student took my wheelchair ramp.”
Because of this, Wolfe ended up having to move home and complete her classes through Zoom for the remainder of the year.
She is now commuting to campus, however she is still experiencing difficulties with access into buildings, such as the Center for the Arts, where the only available elevator is a freight elevator, which as explained by Henriss, is only meant to be used to move furniture and large artworks.
“It’s not a legal thing to do. So the freight elevator regulations specifically state that the only time that humans should be using that elevator is if they’re moving freight up and down it, we shouldn’t be using it as a people elevator,” Henriss said.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into effect in 1990, buildings must adhere to specific regulations to ensure that all individuals with disabilities are able to have access into all areas of a building, and surrounding areas. This law, along with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, protected the rights of individuals with disabilities, making it illegal to not have convenient access into buildings.
With building codes in place to ensure equal access, according to Henriss, buildings that were built prior to the ADA going into effect are still lagging behind, leaving individuals with disabilities stuck with trying to find different ways to access places that any other individual is able to access.
While it is known that AU’s Facilities and Maintenance departments are aware of the situation, it is unknown as to how long it will take in order to resolve these issues.