Accessibility: A continuing battle
Students with disabilities fight for equal access on campus
Alison Carville has no problem speaking her mind.
The senior communications major is on a first-name basis with staffers in Adaptive Services and the Physical Plant because of her persistent, proactive personality. So when she realized the mobile barbershop in the student plaza was inaccessible to her, Carville spoke up. Why was Carville excluded? She couldn’t get up the steps.
Carville has spina bifida — a birth defect that has paralyzed her below the waist. Because of this, Carville uses a power chair for mobility.
Student Government President Juan Cubillo used SG’s Activity & Services funds, which come from student fees, to pay Campus Reservation for the barbershop’s bi-weekly visits to campus and to help subsidize haircuts for students. Because A&S fees were used to fund the barbershop, students such as Carville who were unable to access the service still paid to have it on campus.
Although the barbershop is no longer at Florida Gulf Coast University, disabled students still face similar challenges of inaccessibility with vehicles such as the mobile blood bank on campus, which is not funded through student fees. Carville says many obstacles disabled students face are often overlooked.
“I very much appreciate, as someone with a physical disability, that I have the factor of visibility, so if I have an issue, (people) make the connection right away,” Carville said. “But at the same time, they might not think about (accessibility) because they don’t go through it every day.” The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 Because FGCU is a public university, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects those with disabilities, either physical or mental, from discrimination.
Cori Bright-Kerrigan, FGCU’s local ADA expert and director of Adaptive Services, explained that the school legally cannot ask these outside entities that come on campus to adapt, but instead, the university must find ways to accommodate disabled students who want the same services.
“The main thing with the ADA is because the University gets federal funds, anything that the University provides has to be accessible,” Bright-Kerrigan said. “We can’t tell you that you have to have a ramp so that a huge wheelchair can get into it. We have to provide the access in the most reasonable way possible. So, if that meant we needed to find another location for (Carville) to get her hair cut in, then we could do that.”
When a student feels that he or she is unable to access a service at FGCU, in many cases, the student has to advocate on his or her own behalf to make that service available. “Unfortunately, in some cases that’s how it’s going to be,” Bright-Kerrigan said. “… Depending on what it is and the circumstances … it might be a situation where they need to request (accessibility), and most commonly they come to us, and then we would work with the University to give them the access to whatever it is.”
Both Bright-Kerrigan and Carville say that FGCU does a good job in making sure the school is accessible to all students.
Transportation troubles for disabled students
FGCU stopped funding its 50 percent portion of LeeTran’s route 60 — a route that not only stops at FGCU, but also is used as a paratransit for disabled people — when the state funding that helped pay for it was cut last September.
Lee County conducted a ridership study to determine which of its routes were being used the least. That study showed route 60 was extremely under-utilized and was designated for removal, according to University spokeswoman Susan Evans.
For the students who would be unable to get to school without the paratransit, the news was a devastating blow. The students of FGCU rallied to keep the route in service. After Lee County commissioners held a special public hearing regarding route 60, they voted unanimously that the county would step in to pick up the University’s contribution and the route would stay.
“What would you do if your car broke down? If the bus didn’t show up at my place, I wouldn’t have an easy way to get to school to be educated,” Carville said.
Royal Floridian runs buses from Gulf Coast Town Center to FGCU that are not handicapped-accessible. The service is provided by Gulf Coast Town Center, which as a private business is not required to offer transportation to disabled people.
But Maya Isaac, an FGCU junior who once had to use a wheelchair, says she thinks the inability to access the buses is a form of discrimination. “Just because these students are in a wheelchair doesn’t mean they can’t go where they need to go to get the things they need to get,” Isaac said. “It’s not fair at all.”
Entry can be a problem
Carville says another annoyance, is when automatic doors on campus have not been activated.
“As far as the buildings, they’re fine as long as the push buttons work,” Carville said. “Sometimes the little lever on top of the automatic doors isn’t always turned on, and I’ve found out that you can go to the Physical Plant and say, ‘Hey, I have this issue,’ and cause a big stink about it.” Both Carville and Bright-Kerrigan agree that one of the major reasons accessibility problems go unnoticed is a lack of awareness of the daily challenges experienced by disabled students.
“I think there still needs to be a lot more thinking about disability when (students) are doing things,” Bright- Kerrigan said. “Even student clubs and organizations, they don’t take those things into consideration, and so there needs to be a lot more involvement in that way.”