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Archive for Friday, November 30, 2012

KU making progress on accessibility for students with disabilities

November 30, 2012

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July 2011 KU ADA task force report ( .PDF )

Kansas University's progress on making its campus accessible for students with disabilities can be measured in numbers. For instance, so far it has checked off 21 of 49 accessibility recommendations made last year by a KU task force.

But student Elizabeth Boresow says she can also see it in a shift in attitude that she's perceived during her five years at KU.

"There was an attitude of, 'We don't want to deal with disability, and we don't have to unless they make us,' " Boresow said.

Now, she says, things are different. A sign on her dorm room that once labeled it with the negatively charged word "handicapped" now uses the more positive "accessible." Boresow, who has autism, lives there with a roommate who has a visual impairment.

The university has involved students in decision-making on accessibility. There's an administrator dedicated to accessibility issues who is a phone call or email away for any student.

"I would say things are overwhelmingly more positive," said Boresow, who helps advocate for accessibility as a member of the student group Ablehawks and Allies.

The new helper is Jamie Simpson, the university's director of accessibility and Americans with Disabilities Act education, who was hired in March.

In July 2011, a task force on ADA compliance gave Provost Jeff Vitter a report with 49 recommendations for making the campus more accessible. An update this September listed 21 of those steps as complete.

"Accessibility isn't something that changes completely overnight," Simpson said, "but we've had some major victories."

The steps address facets of campus life ranging from tests and classroom instruction to vending machines and language on campus signs.

Simpson helped to provide faculty and staff with training on how to accommodate students with disabilities in their classes. It included videos, Simpson said, of students talking with faculty about how such things help them. "The students just got their chance to say an accommodation isn't an advantage," Simpson said. "It's really just a way to even the playing field."

Another campus office, the Academic Achievement and Access Center, has reserved a room in Strong Hall this semester for students with a need for reduced distraction, additional time or other accommodations while taking tests. It includes furniture designed for students who use wheelchairs, as well. Previously, Simpson said, the 700 or so requests for test accommodations each semester required staff to locate rooms somewhere that would work.

The Parking and Transit office has placed stickers on 500 accessible parking-spot signs around the campus to replace the word "handicapped" — a term fraught with historical connotations of pity — with the more positive "accessible parking."

"That is a small thing, but it makes a difference," Simpson said.

Simpson and other KU staff also asked campus vending machine providers about complying with new ADA standards related to the reach range for people who use wheelchairs. The new standards dictate that anything a person might need to reach should sit between 15 and 48 inches off the floor. Buttons and card-swipers on KU's campus machines sometimes are as high as 66 inches.

The vending machine providers answered the call, and KU is now the first institution in the country to receive new Coca-Cola machines designed to meet those specifications.

"The accessible vending machines — you can do that on your own, without having to ask someone, a stranger, for help," Simpson said.

KU offices' Web presences are also becoming more accessible. KU's Information Technology office is helping KU entities switch their webpages to a new content-management system designed to aid screen-reader programs used by Internet users with visual impairments. KU will require all units to make that switch eventually.

With more than half of the 49 recommendations not yet fulfilled, there's still a ways to go. Among the items still on the to-do list are two more fulltime assistants, additional staff training and proposed changes in paratransit programs.

One step that's in progress but not yet completed is an effort to map routes through campus that avoid the use of stairs. Such routes can get complicated on KU's hilly campus: The route from Jayhawk Boulevard at the top of Mount Oread down to Sunnyside Aveune below requires one to move through five buildings and ride three different elevators.

Eventually, Simpson said, signs will be posted throughout those routes to guide people not yet familiar with the campus. "We can't change the topography of this campus," Simpson said. "We can't raze the hills. But we can make it easier for people to know how they can get to where they need to go in a way that does not include stairs."

Boresow says the biggest change for her was the introduction of Simpson's position. Now there's one place for students with disabilities to go with a question or concern.

She noted that the university even allowed members of the Ablehawks student group to take part in the hiring process.

"In a big university, you get sent everywhere, and you find yourself going in circles without anything happening," Boresow said, "and she's sort of making sure that doesn't happen."

This story has been clarified to reflect KU Information Technology's role in the switch to a new content-management system for university webpages.

Comments

happyrearviewmirror 2 years ago

Bring a camera if you are even brave enough to step foot on the KU campus and could be perceived as having a physical limitation. Harassment is 24/7 . The cruel HR people are top on the local list for abusing power and using southern justice tactics to recruit local law enforcement to persecute those they target. What a nightmare! Liars stink, especially those in positions of power.

KU loves to blame the victim. I was horribly harassed on campus and got false charges of racism lodged against me for telling an offender to back off. No one at KU has the character or conscience to correct their incompetent errors either. Just the most substandard and discriminatory environment imaginable.--UCLA to KU sure is a long drop both in academics and morality!

It should be possible just to respect everyone and treat people the same, but too many KS people have been raised to terrorize others on the public streets in the name of being helpful. Nobody wants to approached by aggressive scripted people who operate in the world based off stereotypes and just have a plan to steal the wallet out of your back pocket.Strangers will to gang bang you at KU and claim to be helping. Refuse to play their offensive games.

Phoghorn 2 years ago

Welcome back goodcountrypeople...

happyrearviewmirror 2 years ago

The implicit assumption here is that one should docilely accept whatever prejudices complete strangers care to impose on one! Embrace your label-- even if the true handicapped are those who congratulate themselves for being helpful when they are actually making things( unjustly) much more difficult for strangers and making them feel unsafe and stalked on the public streets. KS country bumpkins scare more people so badly, and even give them agoraphobia!

I used to so love walking. KS bigotry robbed me of that pleasure. Exercise is necessary for health. 25% of women overall do not exercise outdoors due to fear of rampant stranger harassment. Thanks to KU administrators like the Tuttles for their eagerness to blame the victim and engage in southern-justice persecution of victims.

Phoghorn 2 years ago

So the fact that I held a door for an 89 year old WWII Veteran in a wheelchair the other day makes me a KS Country Bumpkin. Gotcha.

bearded_gnome 2 years ago

ref the article: I'm quite skeptical but I hope KU is really trying to make things right after decades of dishonor regarding its treatment of disabled students faculty and staff.

Kendall Simmons 2 years ago

I remember when the curb cuts were the last places from which snow and ice were removed, as well as not being able to get to my car in the "handicapped" parking because the rear door that led to the elevator going up to Jayhawk Blvd was locked after 8 PM...even though you could still enter the building from the Jayhawk Bldv. front entrance and take the elevator down.

I also remember explaining that the information on the Accessibility page of the KU Libraries' website was horribly out-of-date, even listing someone who had not been there for almost 2 years as the contact person for accessibility assistance. The then-Dean of Libraries' response? "We're doing a major revamping of the website that we expect will be up sometime in the next year. We'll take care of it then."

(I also hope that happyrearviewmirror will finally do what his new username implies and leave Lawrence for someplace he thinks he'll be happier. No matter what name he posts under, he's still a hate-filled person who apparently doesn't have a gracious bone in his body.)

bearded_gnome 2 years ago

happyrearviewmirror has apparently had a couple of other screen names. and he or she desperately needs the services of a psychotherapist.

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