The Cavalier Daily
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Accessibility issues affect students on Grounds

Some students with disabilities report difficulties with traveling to classes, finding parking

<p>Buildings without a ramp or elevator can be a challenge for some students to access&nbsp;</p>

Buildings without a ramp or elevator can be a challenge for some students to access 

Despite the University’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, there are many students with disabilities or chronic illnesses who feel as if accessibility issues hinder their movement across Grounds and prevents them from getting equal access to education.

“There’s always those little things that can make a really big difference in someone with a disability’s life but would be a pretty easy oversight for someone who wasn’t really engaged with the disabled community to miss,” fourth-year College student Taylor Marrow said.

Issues with Accessibility

For students with injuries or illnesses that limit their mobility, it can be a challenge just to get to class.

”These buildings were built a long time ago when handicap accessibility wasn’t such a concern,” said fourth-year Engineering student Eric McDonald, who has a recurring knee injury that requires him to use crutches. “Getting around Rice Hall is 100 times easier than getting around Olson Hall or the [Mechanical Engineering] building.”

“The Chemistry building is the worst building on Grounds to try to go through when you’re on crutches,” McDonald continued. “It’s hellish. And when I had a class there, and pretty much the whole semester the elevators – which were absolutely ancient – were broken and I had to crutch up all those stairs. I actually fell and hurt myself one time.”

An additional barrier is that many buildings on Grounds are classified as World Heritage Sites or National Historic Landmarks, which have to balance accessibility options with the historic significance of the architecture. For some older buildings this means there are areas where students unable to take stairs can’t access.

Even navigating between classes can be a challenge for some students with the way the University itself is designed.

“To get from the bookstore to Ruffner the other day I had to take an elevator down, cross the street, go up a ramp, take an elevator and then get into Ruffner — instead of just going across the footbridge like everyone else, because the footbridge doesn’t have a ramp,” said Lucy Trieshmann, a fourth-year College student who uses a mobility aid to get around Grounds due to her illness. “It ends up taking a lot longer to get places, and trying to cross the street, sometimes there aren’t curb cutouts — so I can’t get my mobility aid up on the curb.”

Getting to Grounds can be one of the biggest challenges for students with disabilities. If a student can’t walk to Grounds and doesn’t have a car, their options are limited to the bus system or the Demand and Response Transportation free taxi service.

Many of the buses come equipped with a hydraulic lift system to aid students boarding the bus, but there are older buses still in service lacking this feature.

“It’s kind of hard to get on and pretty time consuming, especially when there are a lot of people getting on and off the bus,” McDonald said.

The DART system is helpful to many students, but it is far from a perfect solution.

“Under the law they do have an hour window to pick us up. I could miss all or most of my class and they would still be following the regulations that are set for them,” Trieshmann said. “That doesn’t mean I’m getting equal access to classes if I’m missing my class due to transportation issues.”

Barbara Zunder, director of the Student Disability Access Center, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily that the University is working to solve the issues students have reported with DART.

“We certainly are working with different partners arounds Grounds, such as Parking & Transportation, Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights (EOCR) and Yellow Cab to address some concerns brought forth by some students,” Zunder said.

The fight for parking

Even for students who do have a car, driving to Grounds is not always a reliable option for students with disabilities.

To begin with, it is not free for students with disabilities to park on Grounds. While the handicap pass itself is free, students must still pay around $200 for a student parking pass. Even once the pass is paid for, there’s no guarantee a student will be able to find an open handicap parking spot near their class.

“Parking is one particular thing that’s been an issue lately. There’s the ADA required number of parking spots, but there are more students who need to use the disabled parking spots than the number of spots,” Trieshmann said. “There are students who always end up missing class or getting parking tickets because they can’t park close enough to their building.”

Recently a group of students have been trying to work with the University Parking and Transportation Department in order to fix this issue, but it has not been going the way they have hoped.

“[Parking and Transportation] said that they would take count of the handicap spots in their lots, but that process will be finished by the summertime,” Marrow said. “In the meantime, we’re getting ticketed and ticketed and ticketed.”

Parking and Transportation also reduced the total number of spots available for students with handicap parking passes by no longer allowing them to park in the service vehicles spots.

“I think this has to do more with a parking policy that has been this way for a very long time. The policy can make sense on paper, but only if they had enough spots for handicapped people in general,” Marrow said. “If you can’t provide enough spots for the amount of permits you have, you’re directly profiting off your disabled students.”

Despite these issues, there are numerous efforts on Grounds aiming to improve accessibility.

“I have witnessed so many wonderful strides in the area of accessibility at U.Va.: Grounds improvement, training and digital accessibility efforts, just to name a few,” Zunder said in an email statement. “We are so lucky that at U.Va. we have a lot of good people who want to do the right thing.”

In addition to academic support, Zunder said SDAC’s mission is to “foster an inclusive learning environment for students with disabilities.” The center has partnered with Housing & Residence Life, Dining Services, Parking & Transportation and the Provost’s office to ensure students have access various accommodations as needed.

The University also launched the online “Report a Barrier” tool last spring for students to report accessibility issues they encounter.

Cavaliers Inspiring Support and Hope

A relatively new group on Grounds is providing a community for students with disabilities and advocating for solutions to issues members face.

Cavaliers Inspiring Support and Hope — previously known as Chronically Ill Cavs — was formed almost two years ago and is currently working towards CIO status.

CISH’s mission is to “promote support, hope, fellowship, outreach and education to the community of disabled and chronically ill individuals,” said Ashe Allende, a third-year Engineering student and CISH vice president.

“All of us have issues with keeping up with courses, fatigue, not getting enough sleep [and] trying to keep up with extracurricular activities,” Allende said. “Regardless of what disability you have, whether it’s physical, mental, or in terms of a chronic physical illness, there are certain common problems that everyone faces and sometimes it's nice just to hear it from other people, sometimes it’s nice to vent, sometimes it’s nice to ask questions to other people who have been in a similar situation and get their advice.”

By creating a community where previously there was none, CISH helps to show students with disabilities that they’re not alone.

“The group serves as a very unique outlet at the University,” said Scott Miller, a third-year College student and CISH president. “We have a lot of resources down here but I don’t think there’s any student-led group quite like this that caters to those people who don’t really have any other outlet.”

“Our central goal is just to continue to serve as an outlet and a place that a student can come and talk,” Miller continued. “They might not have the solution to a problem, but the biggest thing is knowing that there are others within the group that share the struggles.” 

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