Whitworth takes steps to increase campus accessibility

by Meagan Kaloostian | Staff Writer

Stairs, doors and small rooms are obstacles that can inhibit disabled students and faculty members ability to thrive on a college campus. Accessibility is a significant issue on campuses across the nation and it is an issue which Whitworth University is currently addressing with its accessibility map project.

“Accessible” currently is defined as “easily used or accessed by people with disabilities; adapted for use by people with disabilities,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 

This includes access to ramps, elevators, automatic doors, and, in the case of campuses, larger classrooms with larger aisles.

According to Katie McCray, the coordinator of disability and educational support services,  the project began in the summer of 2017 as an effort “to make sure that we’re being intentional about responding to accessibility needs for our students who have disabilities.” 

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that “reasonable accommodations” be made in order to “guarantee equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities.” Therefore, colleges must constantly be mindful of campus accessibility as they strive to fulfill the needs of their students.

The immediate purpose of the accessibility map project was to create a map of campus which highlights buildings that were easily accessible, as well as buildings that were in need of improvement. However, McCray spoke to the anticipated long term effects of the project as well. 

“My hope is for this project to result in any changes we may need to make to buildings,” McCray said. “Nonetheless, it also provides us immediate information of how we can meet student accessibility needs currently. For example, if we know a building does not have access to the second floor via elevator, and we have a student who relies on wheelchair mobility, we can look at changing the classroom location to an accessible floor using the map project.”

Since 2017, the team in charge of creating and utilizing the accessibility map has made progress on the project. Currently there are multiple rough drafts of the map where each building is color-coded according to the accessibility of its floors and entrances. 

For McCray, one difficulty in the project has been getting the word out. 

“Having to relay the information rather than having it be available to students has been difficult,” McCray said. 

Since the project is still in progress, McCray is unsure when the completed map will be released to students and faculty.

“The idea is to make improvements and be mindful when we are updating buildings or building new things,” McCray said.

In the meantime, the Whitworth administration plans to focus on accommodating the needs of disabled individuals.

“Meanwhile, we’re just evaluating the resources and the ways we can already be accommodating,” McCray said.

 Some students, including freshman Hannah Duncan, see accessibility as an issue that can and must be improved on campus.  

“I don’t feel like I could change things alone, but I know that programs like ASWU have avenues you can go through to make your suggestions known. So, I do feel like I can help make change,” Duncan said.

McCray also believes that the student body can make a difference.

 “[The students] can help by raising awareness and expressing the needs that students still have that perhaps aren’t known or being met yet,” she said. 

For more information, visit the Education Support Services page of the Whitworth website at https://www.whitworth.edu/cms/administration/educational-support-services/.