October 9, 2007

Provost’s report details campus accessibility plans

The Office of the Provost announced last week that a draft of its new Physical Access Plan, the document that will dictate a series of updates and improvements to campus buildings in order to comply with federal regulations for handicapped accessibility, is ready for review by the University community.

The plan, posted on the provost’s website, seeks first to improve accessibility for the disabled in nearly every building on campus, with its extensive list of building improvements targeting restrooms, drinking fountains, building entrances, dining hall seating and servery accessibility, and signs, among other things.

The University additionally plans to update graduate and undergraduate dormitories and apartments to reach compliance with the regulations.

The construction projects will affect a substantial number of buildings on campus, but since most are relatively minor, the provost’s office anticipates minimal disruption. Current estimates show that most alterations should be completed in the next two years, with only a few exceptions for projects in newer buildings.

In addition to building alterations, the plan calls for new or improved pathways between campus buildings.

“These improvements include amelioration of cross slopes; repair of uneven, spalling, or cracked concrete; and modification of curb cuts,” reads the report, which includes maps of the proposed repair sites.

The plan also calls for a new approach to maintaining “accessible features,” giving first priority to repairing or caring for accessibility equipment-—items as diverse as automatic door operators and hearing aids. Administrators will further place an emphasis on monitoring demand for such resources as parking spots.

Along with construction updates to campus buildings and resources, the University’s plan calls for increased communication with disabled students.

“Administrative meetings [will be] scheduled with individual new students with disabilities to ensure they are personally given detailed information that is relevant to them and their needs and to brief them on how to report an access problem they encounter,” the plan says.

According to one physically disabled student who asked to remain anonymous, the proposed changes are a welcome change from years past.

“The University has gotten a lot better since I came here in 2004,” she said. “When I first got here, it was a sort of ‘come at your own risk’ arrangement.”

The student said that until this year, disabled students had had to create their own personal evacuation plans, without any help from the University.

Now, those who wish to identify themselves as requiring assistance during an emergency can fill out a survey detailing the type of aid required, and then “OSEA [Occupational Safety and Environmental Association] will work with the individual, his or her supervisor, Assistant Director of Housing, and the relevant building manager(s) to develop a Personal Emergency Plan for assisting that individual in evacuating or sheltering-in-place in case of an emergency,” according to the the University’s disabilities web site.

The Office of the Provost’s website welcomes comments and queries about its draft of the Physical Access Plan until October 22.