A closer look at accessibility on campus

TU needs to do more to support those with disabilities on campus.
While accessibility is not a concern for the majority of people, it holds significant importance for many individuals, creating serious impacts on their lives. The most common types of accessibility examples are handicapped parking spaces and wheelchair ramps; however, there is a wide variety of accessibility features such as braille signage and digital accessibility.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, addresses these needs and provides guidelines for meeting the accessibility needs of those interacting with public spaces. Although The University of Tulsa is a private institution, this does not exempt the university from meeting these guidelines on new construction or updating older buildings to be compliant within reason.

However, TU falls short of meeting these basic accessibility needs throughout campus. One of the worst examples is Harwell Hall, the home of the anthropology and sociology departments. Although Harwell does have wheelchair access to the main floor of the building, it lacks any accessibility to the second floor, where many of the key laboratories and offices for the department are located. The accessible entryway is also only available by using key card access, and the key card reader often malfunctions and will not allow access into the building. Another example of this is the bathrooms in this building do not offer accessible stalls.

Other buildings on campus also do not have adequate accessibility options beyond the main floor as well. Many key offices in Fisher do not have accessibility beyond stairways, which impacts both students and faculty. Buildings such as Oliphant Hall have elevators, but they are difficult to navigate due to their size and location. Beyond the obvious accessibility issues, there is also a lack of braille signage in many of the buildings on campus, as well as doors that can be opened by assistive technology.

Although it is oftentimes overlooked, accessible parking for those with a need for it can also be a challenge on campus. As a person with an invisible disability, this is an issue I have experienced many times on campus. While there are handicapped parking spaces available, most parking lots only have one or two. While they are usually occupied by those with placards, the spaces can sometimes be blocked or occupied by those without placards. The handicapped spaces behind Harwell Hall have been blocked for several days by a dumpster, which has substantially increased the demand for the handicapped spaces between Oliphant Hall and the Physical Plant and the few spaces available in the Mabee parking lot. While there are many issues around campus, TU’s digital presence does offer more accessibility options for those who need them. For example, Harvey offers a variety of accessible options when downloading course materials including spoken and braille versions of needed materials.

While some upgrades around campus would be costly and time-consuming, like the much needed changes to Harwell Hall, other improvements, such as signage and assistive doors, would be very reasonable and provide much-needed changes.

While this may make it sound as though TU does not care for those with disabilities, the university’s Office of Student Access is wonderful and does its best to meet the accommodation needs of faculty and students alike by offering many types of accommodations to help those who need them succeed.

Post Author: Patty Williams