Handicap Accessibility in Greek Houses

Handicap parking spaces sit empty in Greek Village off of River Road in Athens, on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Most of the newer houses are handicap accessible, but some of the older Greek houses are less likely to be accommodating to handicapped students. (Photo by Erin O. Smith, eosmit8@uga.edu)

With 35 fraternities and 27 sororities at the University of Georgia, Greek life is a large part of the University community. However, although 26 percent of undergraduate students belong to an organization they would call their second family, not every student can access them.

Many Greek organizations’ houses are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, meaning they are not easily accessible to those with physical disabilities, said Alphonso Daniel, the assistant fire marshal for Athens-Clarke County.

Stan Jackson, the director of student affairs communication and marketing initiatives at UGA, said because most sorority and fraternity houses are privately owned, it is up to the organization to meet ADA standards.

“The majority of Greek houses are privately owned, and in those cases the organizations themselves are responsible for their own ADA compliance,” Jackson said. “Certainly, the University encourages them to do so and supports them to that end.”

The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination and guarantees people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everybody else to participate in mainstream American life.

However, many Greek organizations at UGA must balance accessibility with history.

Daniel said some of the houses were built before the ADA and are protected by the Historic Preservation Commission. He said they have to get as close as they can to ADA compliance without going against what the HPC will allow them to do.

This is a similar problem to what the leaders in the Equal Access to the Arch petition faced when attempting to get a permanent ramp built at the Arch, said Carden Wyckoff, a senior biological science major from Marietta.

But Wyckoff, who has muscular dystrophy, said although she loves being a member of the sorority Zeta Tau Alpha, sometimes she has to turn down invitations to Greek parties and events because a house isn’t ADA compliant.

“Being a Zeta has been an amazing experience,” Wyckoff said. “But it’s when we have those socials that are at other sorority houses or other fraternity houses when they have meals on the lawn, and that’s when sometimes I just have to turn it down because I physically cannot get into the house because it’s not accessible or there’s not a hand rail going up the stairs.”

Wyckoff said Zeta Tau Alpha is accessible because of a ramp at the back of the house and the first floor is handicap accessible.

Although older Greek houses do not have to be accessible, Daniel said any houses built or remodeled after the ADA have to comply by the law’s regulations. Jackson said all of the houses on campus are ADA compliant.

“The Greek Park properties are new construction,” Jackson said. “They were built, I believe, in 2009, and so they are fully ADA compliant and they’re up to code. And then the other four [houses] are either compliant or they have bedrooms on the first floor and these types of things that, in the cases where accommodations should be made for students with disabilities, they can be easily modified to do so.”

Accessibility problems for students with mobility impairments go beyond simply living in a house, though.

Panhellenic recruitment week involves potential new members walking from house to house, which is something Wyckoff said she had trouble with.

“With rush, when I went through it, the whole thing about distance and walking from house to house was a big issue for me,” Wyckoff said. “And they had the van service, which I was really grateful for. They picked me up and took me to the houses and dropped me off in front of them.”

UGA Campus Transit and the Disability Resource Center have a Handi-Van service for members of the UGA community with mobility impairments.

Claudia Shamp, director of the UGA Greek Life Office, said the DRC would work with her office to make rush week accessible by providing temporary ramps, planning routes that would be manageable for someone with a mobility impairment and working with the individual organizations on how to best accommodate someone in a wheelchair or on crutches.

“We would work and have worked with the Disability Resource Center and their staff to come out and evaluate all of the houses and help determine a route that was safe for a student in a wheelchair to get to the room where all of the activities for that day were taking place,” Shamp said.

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