Tour tests campus accessibility

Several buildings at MU are not wheelchair-friendly.
Wednesday, May 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:41 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

It was an uphill battle behind Pickard Hall on Tuesday afternoon for University of Missouri system President Elson Floyd. Challenged by rainy pavement and a steep incline, Floyd struggled to pull himself up toward the street — in a wheelchair.

His experience on wheels was part of the Accessibility Tour, an event designed to increase awareness about disabilities at MU. As part of the tour, Floyd talked with faculty, staff and students about the status of disability services on campus.

Floyd joined people who regularly use wheelchairs, as well as those whose disabilities create mobility impairments, to evaluate accessibility and other issues that affect people with disabilities.

“This is one other growing population,” he said. “This is part of my effort to continue to familiarize myself with the university.”

Lee Henson, the Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator at MU and the event organizer, said that about 100 people use wheelchairs on campus in an average week. Including all kinds of mobility impairments, he said there are probably more than 500 a week.

Kevin Brown, a motivational speaker, author and former MU student, said that this evaluation does not mean MU is behind in its wheelchair accessibility but that there is always room for improvement.

“Evaluation is about what we have, not about criticism,” said Brown, who uses a wheelchair. “This is to open our eyes a little bit.”

Some stops on the tour, which began and ended at Jesse Hall, revealed limited wheelchair access at some buildings. Memorial Union was pointed out by Trey James, an MU medical student who uses a wheelchair, as a building symbolic to the university but exclusive of people who use wheelchairs because there is no easily accessible wheelchair entrance.

James, who also got his undergraduate degree from MU, said Memorial Union is frequently the heart of campus tours for prospective students.

“But I didn’t take the tour,” he said, “because I was in a wheelchair.”

Memorial Union resembles many buildings on campus, James said, that were built before the ADA was passed in 1990. The act mandates mandated the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities.

This includes the areas of employment, government, accommodations, telecommunications and transportation.

The ADA provides hiring as well as construction guidelines, which assure that new buildings accommodate people in wheelchairs.

Henson said the university’s newer buildings do a very good job complying with the ADA. New buildings such as the Paige Sports Arena, he said, have committees within the responsible departments that work with designers to ensure that the expectations of the ADA are met before construction.

For buildings constructed before 1990, the act requires the continued reviewing of accessibility. Modifications are to be made when possible.

For instance, Henson said, the switchback ramps at Brady Commons probably were not an original feature of the building, which was built in 1961, but added later for wheelchair accommodations.

But such improvements are only part of a larger goal to fully integrate people with disabilities into the environment of MU, Henson said.

Ultimately, he said, the school could be looked at as a top choice for people who are deaf, blind and have learning disabilities, as well as those who use wheelchairs.

“People need to see disability part of the fabric of human experience,” Henson said.

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