Oct. 16, 2006
59, Number 7
Oct. 16, 2006
Emory commits $5 million to
improve accessibility on campus
BY Kim Urquhart
Keaston White will always remember Sept. 11, 2001, but for a different reason than most: It was the day a spinal injury at football practice rendered him a quadriplegic. For the Emory sophomore, who navigates campus in a power wheelchair, the University’s plan to remove barriers and improve accessibility for the disabled on campus is welcome news.
“I think that any and every building should be accessible to anybody,” said White, who factored Emory’s accessibility into his decision to enroll here.
Over the past two years, the University has updated its barrier removal plan and, among other projects, has dedicated about $600,000–$700,000 to fix issues such as angles, slopes and grades that have inhibited the accessibility of the Clairmont Campus, where White lives.
Emory has formally committed $5 million over the next five years to the plan, according to Mike Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration, and funding will likely continue after that time.
With the financial resources secured, the University has been in implementation mode. Emory is in the process of removing barriers in existing buildings, facilities and pathways to enable faculty, staff, students and visitors with disabilities to experience campus life side by side with the campus community. Policies and procedures are also in place to ensure that new buildings, facilities and pathways are designed in accordance with accessibility guidelines.
Spearheading this effort is Manager of Accessibility Design and Construction Linda Sheldon, brought on board to assess areas that need improvement under guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Emory has established priorities for long-range goals and short-term objectives. The first phase of the project targets buildings on Emory’s core campus “that have the highest use and greatest demand for both academic and public functions,” Sheldon said.
Glenn Memorial Church is among the first buildings slated for upgrades, set to begin this summer. The alterations to Glenn will allow for better access, Sheldon said, adding that specifics are still under review.
Two other buildings on campus are currently in feasibility studies for upgrades during this fiscal year as well.
Sheldon, who previously served on the transition planning team at Georgia Tech, has reviewed about 120 buildings for Phase I upgrades. Another 60 to 70 are set for the second phase, which will include the Oxford College campus and some off-campus buildings.
Sheldon acknowledged that Emory is in a “constant state of flux” as it is being transformed into a pedestrian-oriented campus under the Campus Master Plan. Sheldon sits on the review committees that oversee these plans to ensure they meet all standards.
“There are very few really difficult challenges here as far as making the campus completely accessible. The primary challenge is just that we live in a topography that is hilly,” Sheldon said, “so how we negotiate accessible routes will be one of our biggest challenges.”
Plans are in the works to update Emory’s Web site to include a map of the most accessible campus routes. And Sheldon said that Campus Services “has a built-in system now as far as procedures for drawing reviews and project reviews that includes addressing accessibility.”
While the ADA serves as the foundation for codified civil rights of the disabled in the United States, Emory is also focused on compliance with other legislation intended to benefit the disabled, including the regulations contained within the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act and the Georgia Accessibility Code.
“Emory is committed not only to meeting its compliance obligations with disability laws, but when possible, to go beyond its legal obligations to remove impediments so that persons with disabilities can take full advantage of all that Emory has to offer,” Mandl said.
White is one of about 300 students who work with the Office of Disability Services (ODS) to obtain needed
services, and ensure that equal access, reasonable accommodation and compliance are addressed.
The ODS and the Disability and Resources Committee, formed by Provost Earl Lewis to study a broad range of disability issues, were among the organizations that provided feedback on the barrier removal project.
Wendy Newby, co-chair of the committee, said that Emory’s student body has become “more diverse and more aware of their needs.”
To “set the scene for a more comprehensive view for how Emory needs to plan for this kind of diversity,” the task force has drawn up a list of action items, said Newby, assistant dean for undergraduate education and director of faculty resources for disability. “Mobility diversity is just one of the aspects of this, and is a very important one.”
As for White, he has found Emory’s campus to be “pretty accessible,” though he does have his own wish list of improvements. “What I like is that Emory seems to be willing to make any accommodations as needed,” he said.