No one sat next to Carden Wyckoff in her biochemistry class last semester.
Wyckoff, who has muscular dystrophy, sat alone because there wasn’t an accessible seat in the Davison Life Sciences Complex lecture hall for her to sit alongside her classmates.
“Sometimes, you wish you could just blend in, but you can’t,” Wyckoff said.
Literally and figuratively divided from the rest of her classmates, the top corners of the auditorium-sized lecture hall were the only locations in the classroom that Wyckoff could access.
And if she wanted to speak with her professor after class, she had to e-mail him asking to meet her at the top of the staircase since she could not walk up and down the stairs.
“It’s basically like an observatory,” Wyckoff said. “I feel so far away. From where I’m sitting, you can barely hear the professor talking.”
But this isn’t the only time a structure at the University of Georgia separated students with disabilities from the rest of their classmates.
Wyckoff, along with her classmates Khaled Alsafadi and Marquise Lane, petitioned UGA for a permanent ramp at the site of the Arch on North Campus so they too can pass underneath the landmark.
Their request was denied.
In a UGA statement, because the Arch is considered “historically significant to both the University and the State of Georgia” and the National Historic Preservation Act requires UGA to consider whether altering the site would “[threaten] the historical significance of the site,” UGA determined “that there is no viable option for further permanent accommodation at the Arch that would not have an adverse effect by diminishing the historical integrity of the site.”
Though UGA wrote “while some students choose not to walk through the Arch until after graduation, the University does not sponsor any program or activity that requires [or] encourages students or alumni to pass through the Arch,” “The Arch” is first on the list of 13 “Traditions of All Time” outlined by the G Book as experiences that have been constant in student life at UGA for more than 100 years.
And the Arch is only one example of places on campus that become problematic for people with disabilities.
“It’s not fair and not right for us to not be able to go through the same traditions that everybody else does when we go through the same coursework,” Alsafadi said.
Stretching the standards
The Americans with Disabilities Act, which the federal government adopted in 1990, requires reasonable accommodations for access to be provided to public facilities for people with disabilities.
But structures have a large amount of freedom to be considered compliant with ADA standards.
The reason the Arch is considered accessible is that “people with disabilities may approach the Arch from the campus side, touch it and have their photo taken beneath it,” according to the UGA statement.
The challenges for students with disabilities on UGA’s campus came to light in 1988, when David Bliss, a student who used a wheelchair, crawled up the stairs of the Hunter-Holmes Academic Building, which housed the Office of Disability Services, since there was no elevator. The office of Karen Kalivoda, then director of the Disability Resource Center was moved to the first floor the next day. Kalivoda still holds the same position.
In the 2012-13 academic year, the DRC served 1,549 students who were considered disabled. The DRC defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Of those 1,549 students, 53 of them had muscular or skeletal disabilities.
“Our campus is large and contains numerous buildings that date back decades or even more than a century in some cases,” Kalivoda wrote in an e-mail to The Red & Black. “The University has made great strides in making many of these buildings accessible and will continue to work toward that end.”
That end continues with the Georgia General Assembly, which approved funding to complete accessibility improvements to Baldwin Hall, which Tom Jackson, vice president for public affairs, said is expected to take place sometime after July 1.
“There’s a full addition going on the back of Baldwin Hall that will be as tall as the existing building and that allows us to put elevators that go to every floor,” Jackson said. “Right now, Baldwin is not accessible at all. This will correct that problem for Baldwin Hall.”
A balancing act
While Jackson said there is still a long way to go, accessibility on campus is much better than it once was when he arrived as a student in 1971.
“The [campus] was just absolutely unmanageable for someone in a wheelchair back then,” Jackson said. “All those ramps in front of Park Hall on Baldwin Street were not there. All of that has been built since then.”
According to the 2010 ADA standards, each facility will be designed and constructed in such a manner that the facility or part of the facility is readily accessible to use by individuals with disabilities, if the construction was commenced after Jan. 26, 1992.
“Balancing historic preservation and accessibility is something the University has a really strong record on,” Jackson said. “We’ve been trying to preserve those buildings while also making them modern and accessible.”
Even though the ADA standards consider some of UGA’s buildings to be in compliance, Lane, who has cerebral palsy, said he still finds many of the buildings difficult to access.
“In my case, a lot of what I deem inaccessible or harder to access is because everything is on a ginormous hill and in my case, if you get rolling down a hill with some momentum, it could be really dangerous,” Lane said. “What might be short for you is like a marathon for me, but if it doesn’t affect you, you don’t really think about it.”
Lane, who is majoring in management information systems, spends most of his time on North Campus, where he runs into the majority of his issues with building accessibility.
While students are able to gain entry into these facilities, access for students with disabilities is often limited to the first floor as is the case with the Cobb-Treanor House, Meigs Hall and Waddel Hall. And the Lumpkin House is still not accessible at all.
“My religion class this semester was in Peabody Hall on the third floor, and there is no elevator in that building, so they had to move it,” Wyckoff said. “But they weren’t able to move it until after the first week, so I missed a whole week of class.”
Wyckoff said even when a building is considered accessible on the first floor that doesn’t necessarily include the accessibility of the bathrooms, which need to be at least 36 inches wide. The Chapel, for example, does not have accessible bathrooms for Wyckoff or other people with disabilities. Instead, she has to move to another building to use the restroom.
Lane has also had similar issues trying to find accessible bathrooms on campus.
“I found out the hard way that the Biological Sciences Building does not have accessible bathrooms on the main entrance level,” Lane said.
While Lane said UGA did its best effort to accommodate him with an ADA compliant room during his freshman year, the residence hall he was assigned was insufficient for his needs.
“Within three months of living at Creswell [Hall], we had like five fire alarms and they only got me out of the building twice because I was on the fourth floor,” Lane said. “The fourth floor was the lowest male floor with an ADA room. I’m not a cat, I don’t have nine lives to play with.”
Against all odds
One of the most popular UGA traditions is watching the Bulldogs tee it up between the hedges, but for those with disabilities, it can be one of the most tedious.
While most students can choose whether to sit in the end zone or next to the band, at the top of the stadium or close to the field, Alsafadi only has the choice of where it is most easily accessible.
“It’s so much of a hassle,” he said. “There’s only a little variability in where we can sit in the end zone. I think that’s kind of messed up. I don’t honestly like the seats we have at all.”
And students aren’t the only ones on campus affected by this.
Louise Hill was diagnosed with idiopathic transverse myelitis, a virus that attacked the myelin sheath of her spinal cord and resulted in paralysis, a little more than three years ago.
Since becoming disabled later in life, Hill, a public service and outreach associate at J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development, has had to adjust to circumstances around her.
“There are limitations as to where the seating options are,” Hill said. “Our athletic facilities do have some challenges. Can I sit in my faculty seat that was on the 16th row on the 30-yard line four years ago? No, I don’t have that option. Can I sit anywhere in the stadium? No, I don’t have that option. There are a lot of things I don’t have the option for as far as what I can do in a whole lot of ways. What I have found I have to do is find the best options that I can have accessibility to and advocate for those.”
The challenges for Hill extend outside of Sanford Stadium as well.
Overall, she said UGA has been accommodating on a one-on-one basis, but it is up to individuals to continue to push for change.
“To make a change in the various issues on campus is going to take continual efforts and continual advocacy to be able to move us to where we need to be,” she said.
Hill understands there are some aspects of the campus that are out of UGA’s hands.
“The reality of it is, we live on a hilly campus and we live on a campus that has old buildings,” Hill said. “We function and work a campus that has had significant budget cuts over the last five years. None of which are excuses, but a reality that we have to learn how to work with and work around.”
Lane and Wyckoff said they were both aware of the size of campus but didn’t want the accessibility of campus to be the factor that determined where they would spend their college years.
“I didn’t want to tell my kids down the road, ‘I could have went to Georgia, but I didn’t because it was too big and there are too many hills or stairs or whatever,’” Lane said. “I don’t think that is a reason to deny yourself the opportunity to do something this big. Thousands of people apply and only a few get in. And if you get in, why not take your shot?”