BURKE: The University should provide an ADA accessible Lawn room

The University needs to continue to make the Academical Village an inclusive space by creating an ADA accessible Lawn room

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For individuals with physical disabilities, tours are made difficult by the significant physical barriers that exist on the Lawn. 

Danny Bass | Cavalier Daily

When people think of the University, they most likely picture the iconic Lawn and Rotunda. Living on the Lawn is one of the highest honors a student can receive, as it is located at the very center of our University community and has been so integral to our school’s history. However, since the Lawn and Rotunda are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these spaces are not legally required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. As such, no Lawn rooms are currently ADA accessible, which creates a significant obstacle in the University’s desire for equity and inclusion. 

Constructing wheelchair ramps between the terraces of the Lawn was a huge step towards inclusivity on the Lawn. For the first time in the University’s history, it is now possible for individuals with disabilities to travel from tier to tier without exiting the Lawn. Prior to the construction of the Lawn ramps, in order for an individual with disabilities to travel from the Rotunda down to Old Cabell Hall, they were forced to exit the Lawn altogether. Not only does this add extra time to their trip, but it also takes away a significant aspect of a typical University experience. In particular, whenever prospective students, their parents or other curious individuals come to tour the University, a visit to the Lawn and the Rotunda is undoubtedly a highlight of their experience. For individuals with physical disabilities, however, tours are made difficult by the significant physical barriers that exist on the Lawn, meaning they cannot fully experience the most beautiful parts of the University. 

Although the recent addition of Lawn ramps has opened a new window for a more inclusive University, we must demand an ADA accessible Lawn room so that our community can truly be considered an accessible space for all. Jefferson’s intent for the Lawn was a space for living, learning, exploration and democracy. While it is important to recognize and appreciate the historic beauty of the Lawn, it is also extremely important to honor his intent. The Lawn is not simply a museum — it is a space for all students and faculty to engage with the spirit of academia and community. If we want it to be a space where the entire University feels welcome, we need to continue to strive towards a more inclusive infrastructure.

All around Grounds, positive steps towards inclusivity are taking place. The newly renovated dorms have gender inclusive bathrooms, exemplify another stride towards inclusive infrastructure on Grounds. Additionally, President Jim Ryan recently announced the Universities transition to pay all full time employees a living wage of $15 dollars an hour. We as a community must press on and continue making the University more inclusive by showing overwhelming student and faculty support for an ADA accessible Lawn room. 

Recently, the Student Council Representative Body passed a resolution in support of the Lawn ramps and continued accessibility of the Lawn. This expression in support of the University's efforts to make the Academical Village more accessible shows that the student body overwhelmingly supports accessibility of the Lawn. Students want an accessible Lawn, and the University should work to implement their goals.

The Student Council Buildings and Grounds Committee has been working this year to create a feasibility study to determine the potential to adapt a few of the Lawn rooms to be ADA compliant. Through collaboration with Facilities Management, the Office of the Architect, the Student Disability Access Center, Disability Advocacy and Action Committee and Housing and Residence Life, the Buildings and Grounds Committee has begun the process of developing a feasibility study. 

Having this concrete plan of action for adaptation will allow for future Lawn residents, regardless of their physical ability, to enjoy the honor of living in a Lawn room. In addition, it will also demonstrate that all types of bodies are welcomed and encouraged to experience and live on the Lawn.

Olivia Burke is a second-year student in the Curry School and a member of the Student Council Building and Grounds Committee. 

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