Max Lewis used to wait, and wait — freezing in the dead of winter for someone to finally open a door so he could slide his wheelchair inside. Now, he pushes a button or waves his arm in front of a laser, and he’s in, hassle-free.
“Disability is one of the last major civil rights that has come out to the public at large,” said Lewis, a former MU student. Lewis, who is partially paralyzed, has been in Columbia since 1986 and graduated from MU’s law school last spring. He was in town before the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1991 and has been around to see the changes. He makes clear that even before ADA was enacted, MU had a national reputation for being accessible to people with disabilities.
Lewis said ADA brought with it projects that made a huge difference in his life and the lives of others with disabilities. Between 1993 and 1995, more than 900 MU projects were completed, at a cost of $8 million — including the installation of nine new elevators. MU also replaced four elevators and upgraded 60 others.
In addition, 7,100 curbs were cut to make them accessible to wheelchairs, 50 wheelchair ramps were built, 261 bathrooms were modified, 130 doors were widened, 30 automatic doors were installed and 11,000 Braille and tactile room signs were put up.
Since the first round of projects to comply with ADA, the university has worked to satisfy needs case by case, said Phil Shocklee, associate director of campus facilities at MU. When a problem is called to attention, “MU will always step up,” Lewis said.
New campus facilities, as well as repairs and renovations, are subject to ADA compliance, Shocklee said. That means a range of adjustments have been made, such as limiting the slope of ramps and walkways and making sure that drinking fountains are reachable.
About 10 years ago, state Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, brought a lawsuit against MU, saying the football stadium and basketball arena didn’t meet ADA rules. The suit was settled out of court because MU committed itself to improvements.
Wheelchair seating has been added all the way around Faurot Field, expanded from a limited space under the scoreboard. Restrooms there have also been renovated. The Hearnes Center has expanded its wheelchair seating as well.
Jim DeJong, who oversees administration of ADA in several midwestern states including Missouri, said access provides a more welcoming environment for everyone.
Lewis said that some campus buildings still need work and that the country and MU still need to do more in accepting people with disabilities and meeting their needs.
“The university is running to a point where they’ve done everything they know they’re capable of doing and don’t really know what to do next,” he said.