Emory Report
August 3, 2009
Volume 61, Number 36


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August 3, 2009
Removing barriers to accessibility

By margie fishman

After injuring her ankle during a ballet class and undergoing surgery, Nadine Kaslow, professor in Emory’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and chief psychologist at Grady Health System, gained a small window into what it’s like to navigate the Emory campus with a disability.

She learned how to schedule a paratransit van, negotiate bathroom stalls in a wheelchair and locate the nearest elevator. One time, she was late for a meeting and had to ask a colleague to push her from Woodruff Library all the way up hill to Tufts House. “He was sweating up a storm,” she remembers.

The experience sensitized Kaslow to the challenges confronted by people with disabilities every day.
“People with disabilities appreciate people who provide them with assistance — even subtle — when desired,” she says. “But they don’t want to be infantilized or treated as different. This often is a fine line.”

Teaming up with the Office of Disability Services (ODS) and Transportation and Parking Services, Kaslow suggested publishing a comprehensive ride guide for disabled users to learn how to schedule paratransit van stops, access Cliff shuttle routes and apply for appropriate parking permits. The guide is slated to be published in print and online in accessible formats this fall.

In the upcoming academic year, ODS will begin hosting information sessions around campus to inform the community about the range of resources available to those with temporary or chronic medical conditions and disabilities. ODS serves undergraduate and graduate students on the Emory and Oxford campuses, along with faculty and staff at the University and Emory Healthcare, as well as visitors.

People requesting accommodations voluntarily self-identify with ODS and provide medical documentation. The office creates a tailored plan for eligible individuals.

Accommodations for students vary but may include note-taking, carrying a cafeteria tray or pulling books from the library stacks, or providing adaptive technology. One student was so severely allergic to latex that ODS worked to find alternative chemicals and gloves for the custodial staff maintaining her residence hall. A staff liaison in the Health, Physical Education & Dance Department helps ODS adapt courses for eligible students.
“There is not a department on campus that we don’t interact with at some point in order to facilitate accommodation,” notes ODS Student Coordinator Jessalyn Smiley.

Many disabled students learned coping techniques before coming to Emory, says Smiley. As a result, they may not register with ODS because they think they can handle the situation on their own.

ODS is continuing to explore new avenues to offer reasonable access to people with disabilities.

This fall, a new paratransit van with three wheelchair stations will be in service. The van will be able to navigate nooks and crannies on campus that are not easily accessible by the Cliff shuttle. Emory also maintains hundreds of designated accessible parking spots for the disabled around campus.

The University is in the process of improving accessibility in 120 campus buildings under a $6 million barrier removal plan that includes upgrading bathrooms, ramps and public spaces by 2012. Spearheading the effort is Manager of Accessible Design and Construction Linda Sheldon, who also provides advice to campus planners to ensure their building projects meet state and federal guidelines protecting people with disabilities.

“Most people won’t even notice, but Emory will be an even more accessible environment when we’re finished,” says Sheldon. “Our goal is to make it seamless.”

Commencement success stories

Two hours before Freshman Convocation, Maria Town realized that trying to balance herself along with a 16-pound mace could spell disaster.

Town, then president of the Student Government Association (SGA) who suffers from cerebral palsy, entrusted a friend to bear the University symbol. She vowed to carry it on her own terms for Commencement.

“It was absolutely imperative that I present the mace myself,” Town says. “I had worked for this honor and I should be able to engage in it just like everyone else had.”

Traditionally, the bedel, the immediate past president of the SGA, escorts the mace in advance of the University president during an academic procession.

Town, who has trouble walking, considered carrying the mace from a wheelchair, with President Jim Wagner pushing her down the aisle. But she didn’t want her classmates, who had seen her without a wheelchair for four years, to worry. Wagner suggested that she consider a modified walker for the ceremony.

With assistance from ODS and Linda Sheldon in Campus Services, the walker became a reality. The campus carpentry shop outfitted it with a metal box (in Emory blue, of course), adorned with the Emory shield. The mace rested in a groove at the top, allowing Town to brake her “chariot” with her free hand. She used newly purchased ramps on stage to place the mace in its cradle.

Also new to Commencement this year was real-time captioning. ODS coordinated with Charles Minahan, a University Technology Services business analyst who is hearing impaired, to utilize existing technology to stream captioning to monitors around the Quad, the live online video feed and even to cell phones using the wireless network.