IC is still difficult for people with physical disabilities
By Cassandra Leveille
If Ryan Ritchey wants to use the library, he has to plan ahead. The sophomore English major often has to take a circuitous route because he uses crutches and cannot easily use stairs. To access the first floor of the library, he needs a key to use an elevator located in the Handwerker Gallery. If he needs to work late on an assignment, he encounters even more problems: The gallery is closed after 9 p.m., so he cannot access the library.
Ithaca College has seen many improvements in disability access in the past decade. Recent construction, including the update of the Dillingham Center, the Job Hall extension and the Gateway Building/Peggy R. Williams Center, have done much to improve handicap accessibility on the campus as a whole.
Any new construction Ithaca College undertakes must conform to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for accessibility. The larger challenge for IC is to retrofit buildings and residence halls built as early as the 1960s that were not subject to these regulations.
Leslie Schettino, director of the Office of Academic Support Services for Students with Disabilities (ASSSD), cited the elevator in Whalen that links to the Towers, bathroom renovations in the Campus Center and updating the Textor lecture halls to include ramps instead of stairs as major improvements.
“One of the huge improvements was the elevator in [Whalen] that provides access to the upper part of campus,” Schettino said. “That was really inaccessible before.”
Schettino stressed that while certain residence halls are accessible, disabled students may have friends who live in non-accessible residence spaces, which may put a strain on forming interpersonal relationships with others.
Recent renovations completed over the summer have also greatly improved accessibility in the residence halls. Zach Newswanger, assistant director for operations at the Office of Residential Life, said these included added automatic entrances and ramps in some buildings. Certain Circle and Garden apartments are also ADA accessible.
This summer, $1.2 million dollars will be devoted to construction and renovations of residence halls on campus. However, it can be challenging to allocate resources to update residence halls.
“If you think about it, there’s 51 buildings that have to be maintained with that figure, so it goes quickly when you talk about large-scale things,” Newswanger said.
While many improvements have been made, Ithaca College still faces challenges to making the campus completely accessible. Many of the residence halls and dining halls are still inaccessible, including the Terrace Dining Hall and Terraces 1-12 (Terrace 13, built this past summer, is ADA-compliant, with a ramp and accessibility across the entire first floor). Both locations are completely inaccessible to wheelchair users because there are no elevators. Furthermore, the third floor of Friends Hall is still inaccessible to wheelchair-using students, as well as the Gannett Center.
The steepness of South Hill isn’t on the college’s side, either. Furthermore, snow and ice can often complicate getting around campus for people with physical disabilities.
Dan Williams, coordinator of Adaptive Technology Services at the Academic Support Services Students with Disabilities and a wheelchair user, said the Office of Facilities has been good at clearing pathways and that there are now more ways to get around campus without going outside.
There is often a problem of supplying information to students with disabilities. For instance, certain entrances that are accessible for disabled students are not made evident on the campus map. These maps also need to be updated to include the new buildings. Most buildings have accessible ramps, which was not the case when Williams started working at IC four years ago.
“There is still a question of where to get access information,” Williams said. “The hardest thing for us to convey is how to get around campus.”
Ritchey agrees that the lack of information can make the campus confusing.
“When I came here, no one really explained to me where some of the handicapped entrances are,” Ritchey said. “There could be entrances around here that I have no idea exist.”
Blue signs, another ADA requirement featured in CHS, Park and many of the new buildings, indicate accessible bathrooms, ramps and elevators. These can be located at the entrances of new buildings. This information is also available online. However, older buildings do not list this information, Williams said.
Ritchey noted the ramps that Ithaca does have in place are not conveniently located.
“A lot of handicap entrances are out of the way, which is kind of a pain,” Ritchey said. “[It would be] quicker to take the steps than to use a ramp that’s a thousand feet away.”
A positive with Ritchey’s experience was with the Campus Center Dining Hall, where staff get food for him. Since he didn’t know the service was available until later, he said he tried to do it himself with disastrous results.
Despite some services like these, trying to find an accessible way around campus is a disorienting experience and can heighten the sense of alienation of people with disabilities. While the college is technically accessible, the reality for a disabled student has them taking circuitous, indirect routes to get to a class or extracurricular activity.
As Schettino said, “Life is a little more difficult if you have mobility impairments on this campus.”
Cassandra Leveille is a junior writing major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.