Is Dominican University Accessible To Everyone With Disabilities?

April 19, 2016

By Nayah James

Dominican has made an improvement with the development of ramps to make the campus more accessible to students with disabilities, but it still has a way to go according to Physical Plant Director Daniel Bulow.

Senior Paulina Pachel knows what she is talking about. She has Cerebral Palsy-Spastic Diplegia and uses a walker. Although there are ramps to and around Lewis Hall, there is not one at the front. Pachel feels that having to go all the way around campus to get to certain areas within that building is “infuriating.”

“Dominican isn’t handicap accessible,” Pachel said. “I’d appreciate it if we had accessible entries to different buildings.”

The Priory campus also presents obstacles.

“The double doors at the Priory campus have a handicapped railing, but no handicap button to open the double doors,” Pachel said. “How am I supposed to open and hold one door open, push my walker and open the other door? I developed a maneuver to do that, but this shouldn’t have to happen.”

Dominican’s Disability Support Services Coordinator Judy Paulus said that the reason many places aren’t accessible is because the campus is old. But there are plans for improvements.

“The plan eventually is to put a lift of some kind over by the Power side to get up the stairs, towards to athletics and the bookstore,” Paulus said. “I know Dominican has done so much, but I’m impatient. I want access now.”

Dominican is also planning improvements on the stairs in the Clock Lobby in Power Hall, according to Bulow.

“There will be something on the stairs that can be folded down, not a seat but a chair, and half of those stairs will be become a lift,” Bulow said.

In March, Dominican sought to highlight the issue and spread awareness with an exhibit in the Social Hall, according Paulus’ assistant Ruben Torres. The exhibit explained the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Disability Rights Movement from the 1960s to the 1980s, Torres said.

“It was not until 1991, when former President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Torres said. “The act was signed to ensure protection from discrimination in society. This event really meant a lot to me as a person with autism, I felt that the event really showed that I can make an impact in helping people with disabilities.”

More concretely, Dominican’s physical plant managers are very much aware of access issues, especially in older buildings.

“We know about the MAC (Magnus Arts Center) building and its accessibility issues,” Torres said. “The whole plan is to square off the building to add two additions on it and we’re putting in an elevator, that’s in the master planning.”

Also, Lewis Hall and the Fine Arts Building only have one elevator each “so if we were to lose an elevator, we lose our accessibility,” Bulow said.

The priority right now for construction at Dominican isn’t the elevator, it’s the Student Commons. But even that has been put on hold because of a funding shortfall.

“It has to go on the priority list of the master planning of the campus,” Bulow said. “We haven’t even drawn up plans for MAC, we’ve talked about it, but we don’t have plans for it right now.”

He said he thinks Dominican has made progress since the ADA became law 25 years ago, but there’s still ways to go.

Paulus also notes that Dominican is doing better that it did in 1991.

“We’ve made so many improvements,” Paulus said. “We have that back ramp so individuals can come out of the parking garage and into the back of Lewis whereas before they couldn’t because there are stairs at the back of Lewis. Lewis Hall has back door access, though the problem is not many people know it exist.”

Paulus also suggested that the lack of signage might leave some people unaware of the access points.

“Certain places just aren’t accessible and it’s impossible to bring them to the point of access,” Paulus said. “For example, the old Science building — it has the McGreal Center, the dance studio and the art studio — that’s not accessible at all. If you are an individual in a wheelchair, you can’t have classes in that building.”

Paulus said she works hard to make sure that students aren’t faced with that dilemma.

“What we do is when I have an individual with a mobility impairment who can’t do stairs, I let the Registrar’s Office know at the beginning of the semester and we work with them to make sure student’s classes are in accessible buildings and locations” Paulus said.

“For the Mac building, we didn’t feel compelled to do it just because the only thing you can get to is the first floor, so we didn’t build a ramp to the outside of that building yet,” Bulow said. “We had designed a handicap ramp to go on the side of the stairs out front.”

Dean of Students Trudi Goggin said that the university always has disability issues in mind.

“Dominican continues to address accessibility issues,” Goggin said. “A campus built in 1922 is going to present challenges but every renovation or new construction is taking accessibility into consideration.”