Campus Accessibility Improving, But Still Poses Problems
By Phoebe Doscher, Staff Writer
Gettysburg College students are often seen around campus in wheelchairs, crutches, and other devices to aid their accessibility due to physical ailments. Students with mobility restrictions can range from athletes who are injured on the sports field to those nursing longtime injuries or conditions.
Regardless of the length or severity of the student’s disability, the Gettysburg community consistently works to improve campus accessibility options and provide them with necessary accommodations.
However, some feel the college still has room for improvement when it comes to easy accessibility for those physically immobilized.
The campus has a decentralized approach to providing students with accommodations meaning the campus lacks a sector of staff dedicated solely to disability services, but individual areas of the school including Academic Advising, Residential Life, and Human Resources, will individually accommodate to students’ needs in their personal areas of expertise.
Dean Julie Ramsey commented on Gettysburg’s “unique” decentralized approach to disabilities on campus: “There’s not just one place where– this– is the Disability Office, so you know you’re supposed to go there. [Students] have to think: OK, I’m having an issue with my housing so I need to go talk to Residence Life. Or I’m having an issue with my classes so I need to go talk to Academic Advising. I’m having issues with my recovery, I need to go to the Health Center.”
According to Jamie Yates, Executive Director of Communications and Marketing on campus, “Academic Advising arranges academic accommodations to students upon request. This includes relocating classes, providing alternative seating in classrooms and labs, and various accommodations for students with learning disabilities. This office works closely with the Office of Residential and First Year Programs to implement housing accommodations when needed as well.” Without a center devoted to disabilities, however, some problems may arise for students who are unaware of whom to refer to with their accessibility issues, or whether or not they can be solved.
Michelle O’Malley ‘21, for instance, has been on crutches on campus due to an injury. She thinks that “there are definitely some instances where the college could make things a little easier for the handicapped or people with temporary injuries.” In addition, O’Malley was unaware that she could move her class to the first floor, an accommodation provided by Academic Advising, until “a professor noticed [her] crunching up the stairs in McKnight and told [her].”
Beyond this decentralized approach to disabilities, there are also grievances regarding the lack of elevators and overall non-updated buildings on campus. O’Malley, whose dorm room and two classes are on upper floors of buildings without elevators, also mentioned that the lack of elevators poses a hardship for her and other handicapped students: “It [is] a bit difficult to get up the stairs with crutches. I think the installation of elevators in more buildings would definitely make a difference for students here and the college should definitely consider it because by making it more accessible to both handicapped students and visitors, the school would benefit as a whole.”
Many of the residence halls on campus, O’Malley’s included, do not have elevators. Stine Hall and Huber Hall, in fact, are two of the first year residence halls that are accessible for those with physical mobility restrictions. Even so, Huber is more accessible than Stine, since it has an elevator and is fully accessible on multiple floors to those handicapped. College admissions is able to bring tours through these buildings if someone in the group has a physical disability.
According to Gail Sweezey, Dean of Admissions, the tour guides on campus are given rigorous training, including the rundown of a personal tour for a disabled prospective student. The tour route is crafted around every student’s personal interests and needs– and in Sweezey’s opinion, students with physical disabilities are not restricted from a full college experience, nor do their ailments impact the admissions process as a whole.
The college has an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Committee, chaired by Jane North, Executive Vice President in the President’s Office, which consists of college staff in various offices, including Chief Diversity Officer Jeanne Arnold. The roadblocks students face while maneuvering campus on crutches or in a wheelchair continue to be overcome as the school is updated and renovated.
For instance, the ramp at Musselman Library was updated to be compliant with ADA. Further, residence halls including Constitution, Apple, Huber, Musselman, and Haaland recently underwent similar construction in order to comply with ADA standards. Additional construction projects include the College Union Building, Dining Hall, and, Admissions. Renovations have also been made to the Office for Multicultural Engagement and Center for Religious and Spiritual Life.
Overall, Sweezey is optimistic about the constant changes and improvements to the campus that will overtime comply with more ADA standards and create an easier experience for those with disabilities. She thinks the college “has made really great strides” when it comes to renovations and updates that would accommodate for those who are disabled.
Regardless of the future renovations, the current state of the campus still poses problems for students with disabilities, even beyond buildings themselves.
Megan Reimer ‘22 has been physically disabled this semester; she injured her ankle and has had to use crutches and later a scooter to help get around campus.
She commented on the state of the sidewalks: “I noticed that some of the sidewalks on campus especially around east quad and Servo were very difficult to traverse. They are uneven and I felt like I was going to fall.”
Reimer, whose classes and dorm room, like O’Malley, had to be switched to the first floor echoed O’Malley’s difficulties with access to buildings on campus: “While I was able to work it out, it was quite the hassle. Most of the buildings on campus are either first floor accessible or fully accessible. McKnight is neither. I also would urge the college to make more of the dorms at least first floor accessible.”
The college, although dedicated to inclusion and providing accommodations to those disabled on campus, has accessibility problems yet to be completely resolved in order to provide ease and access to all floors of all buildings on campus.