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The Scarlet & Black

Disability awareness and accessibility

Since the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1991, Grinnell College has taken steps towards making the campus a more accessible place for people with disabilities. In order to achieve this goal, the College fine-tuned its philosophy regarding future renovation and construction, and also developed the Disability Awareness Committee, comprised of both faculty and students, “for the purpose of initiating awareness, education, curricular enhancement, recruitment, and retention on campus for persons with disabilities and the Grinnell College community.”

While these developments are a step towards a more accessible Grinnell, to further consolidate and streamline efforts the College established the Accessibility Committee this past year. The committee is comprised of administrators and faculty, with Jennifer Krohn as the new Senior Research Associate.

To date, almost all buildings on campus have been modified in some way to make them more compatible with wheelchair access. This process has been made easier by the large-scale construction of new buildings across campus in the past few years including the Joe Rosenfield Center, Bucksbaum Center for the Arts, the Chrystal Center, East Campus residence halls, and the additions to the Noyce Science Center.

While modifying old academic buildings and dormitories has proven to be more difficult, ramps and accessible door openers have been added to many of the existing structures. Students may have noticed recent additions such as ramps along the north campus loggia, mechanized doors on Burling Library and the bookstore and renovations to both Faculty and Nollen House.

“You can meet the code but is that what we call friendly?” Krohn said. “Not necessarily.” These modifications to make campus spaces more compatible are to provide comfort and simply make differently abled students’ lives easier. This includes, for example, expanding the size of ramp landings, plans to modify student lounges, and smaller things, like the height and structure of toilet paper dispensers.

In order to make certain their progress is efficient, the group has consulted with Scott Lissner, an expert in the field of student accommodation and disability school policies. “When he came last time [in 2007] he looked at some of our facilities with a group of us,” Krohn said. “He walked us through and taught us techniques so we could go and get an idea of what we were looking for.”

The committee plans to have Lissner return in June so that he can look more specifically at the College’s policies and procedures. This would give the College the opportunity to more uniformly present the accessibility options available. “There are some things we as an institution need to say to all students. ‘If you have a disability and you need assistance, here is who you can contact,” Krohn said. “We have to say it in academics, and athletics, and housing, and dining, and student activities so that all these programs are accessible.”

Via the College website, the Accessibility Committee has made available what resources are available for students or visitors with disabilities. The website provides its visitors with a campus accessibility map, the dining, housing, and transportation services available and also photographs of the newly purchased accessible van which currently resides outside the Health Center.

Beyond wheelchair accessibility, accommodations are available for other disabilities as well. For people who are hearing-impaired, the College offers closed-captioned convocations, in addition to sign language interpreters at major events and various microphone devices for professors during class. Also, assistive technology is available such as Kurzweil software that manages Internet functions for people with visual impairments. While the college offers various technologies, equipment is purchased on a student-need basis.

“It’s hard because each need is individual, and we need to look at each case and see what works best,” said Karen McRitchie of ITS.
This philosophy works well according to Patrick Comparin ’13, who navigates campus in a motorized scooter. “What I like about Grinnell is that they’re very good at listening to what you have to say and adapting and making changes, especially FM,” Comparin said.

While the College has made large efforts towards making Grinnell accessible, the administration as well as students see plenty of room for improvement. For example, buildings such as the Forum, areas of Burling Library, and Mears Cottage are still deemed inaccessible. Unfortunately, some buildings cannot meet ADA standards without undergoing large renovation projects or being destroyed and rebuilt. Additional major construction plans, nevertheless, are not currently possible according to budget constrictions with the current economic crisis.

Others believe there can be improvement outside of construction projects such as awareness and discussion about disabilities or more accommodations for events. Comparin noted the lack of accessibility into residence halls that host meetings and also the inconsistency in where some major events are held.

Leah Krandel ’09, a member of the Disability Awareness Committee, noticed for example, “I was at the University of Iowa and something that really struck me was I saw a sign for a regular activity and at the bottom it said ‘If you need special accommodations, please contact us here.’ And I was thinking, we could totally do that, that would make such a huge difference.” Other small accommodations suggest including signs directing visitors to accessible entrances, bathrooms, and other key locations, which is a point Krohn is taking seriously into consideration.

Future plans for campus improvement include demolishing and rebuilding Burling Library and renovating the preschool, Norris, ARH, Mears and the first-floor of Faculty House.
Furthermore, to foster discussion and awareness, the Disability Awareness Committee plans to have a symposium in Sept 2009 and welcomes more students to its group. While progress is being made, Krohn admits there is work to be done. “We’re not perfect, but accessibility is definitely a priority and we’re working hard to make Grinnell accessible.”

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