After seeing a peer come into class one day in a wheelchair, I’ve been thinking more and more about how accessible our campus truly is for those with a physical disability or injury. I decided to investigate how more difficult my day-to-day life would be if I happened to need a wheelchair for whatever reason. After using ramps, elevators, and door-opening buttons exclusively for a week, I was surprised to find that getting around campus proved to be harder than I thought.
As our state’s flagship university, I originally expected—with the mindset that UConn should reflect the quality of Connecticut—nothing to be wrong with any facilities. It’s not hard to see existing accommodations that have been made in and outside of buildings. However, when the quality of such modifications is looked at through the lens of someone who relies on the accommodations, it’s not hard to see they are poor in quality.
Like all journeys, I started at Babbidge. At the entrance next to the Dodd Center, I noticed that the ramp was subpar. A handful of tiles had large chunks of cement missing from them; there was no lighting that would allow one to be able to see anything; and the route of the ramp itself was unnecessarily convoluted. The button that opened the door took a couple of hits to fully open to allow me to enter and in the library itself, I noticed the doors to the North and South areas of each floor didn’t have buttons at all. Not to mention how long the elevators took to get me to my desired floor in the first place.
Unfortunately, my experience at Homer wasn’t an outlier at all. Across campus—most notably in residence halls—things were as, if not more, broken. Elevators break constantly in addition to being remarkably slow. Buttons on doors aren’t properly connected and some don’t even work at all. There isn’t an accessible stall for both bathrooms on most floors. The map for accomodations for those with a physical disability is over ten years old. I’ve been told as well that students block accessible vans, therefore making the student using it—who already accounted for traffic when choosing a pickup time—late for class.
Even if you don’t have a physical disability, it’s clear to see these conditions are frustratingly unacceptable. It’s disheartening that our older facilities aren’t being properly maintained, despite the fact that millions were spent on improving resources on campus so as to attract STEM students. With over 30,000 students on campus, it’s necessary to create an equal and equitable environment for students of all abilities and to take care of those existing accommodations and facilities rather than forgetting about them in favor of seeming more attractive to prospective students.
Besides physical disabilities, UConn also lacks adequate accommodations for other illnesses. Despite the fact that millions in the United States are hard of hearing or deaf, UConn lacks an
outright American Sign Language major or minor. Even though college students are disproportionately affected by mental illnesses, therapy through Counseling and Mental Health Services has a three and-a-half week wait.
A statement from the Office of Institutional Equity says that, in essence, a person with a disability must have the same access as any other student and any existing barriers should be removed and prevented from being erected. As I’ve seen, the University hasn’t kept its promise of addressing barriers—in this case, physical ones—or attempting to fix them, giving the same excuse it has given to every problem: there’s not enough money.
It’s discouraging to have to write this in the first place: to think that a flagship University would be passive towards student issues, especially those concerning accessibility. But hey, at least we have a brand new $105 million residence hall.
Liz Collins is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org.