Director’s full-time job: making KU more accessible

Jamie Simpson is the KU director of accessibility and Americans with Disabilities Act education. She started in March 2012 as the first person in her position at KU. One of the many things she monitors on campus is the opening force required for interior doors. Simpson displays an ADA door-opening force gauge which is used to ensure that the maximum opening force for an interior, non-fire rated door is no more than 5 pounds.

After just more than a year as the director of Accessibility and ADA Education, Jamie Simpson says Kansas University has been taking strides to become an increasingly accessible institution for students, faculty, staff and visitors with disabilities.

Simpson is the university’s first full-time employee whose job it is to coordinate and manage the opportunities and access on KU’s campus. She is in charge of training efforts for the staff, faculty and students, engaging people with disabilities, creation and clarification of policies and procedures and providing a central place where people with disabilities can report ADA issues.

Dorothy Nary, research associate for the KU Research and Training Center on Independent Living, said when she first came to KU there wasn’t a high recognition of the number of people with disabilities. In recent years, however, the university has taken action, which includes hiring Simpson.

“We see society changing. We see people who might not have been disabled before but now are surviving. We’ve realized things need to be more accessible,” Nary said.

Nary said many students with disabilities who come to KU think about getting to a dorm room or classes, but don’t consider if the university’s accessibility may limit their participation in other campus activities.

But that’s what Simpson and other members of campus, such as the KU Able Hawks and Allies, are working to create: an environment where every person on campus is able to be an active member of events and activities.

The Able Hawks and Allies is a mix of students, some with disabilities and some without, who provide a mix of social events and advocacy work for students, faculty and staff with a disability. The students have brought speakers to campus, sponsored training on disability etiquette and continue to work to break stereotypes and change the campus mindset about people with disabilities.

Some members of the group also are members of the architectural barriers committee, so they can relay concerns about accessibility to buildings or routes to classes, and make suggestions on upcoming construction plans, such as the KU Master Plan.

Able Hawks and Allies president Elizabeth Boresow said at every meeting the group is asked to voice any concerns about accessibility issues on campus, with those concerns being taken to Simpson. Boresow believes Simpson’s position has given students a way to make a difference when they have a concern rather than to deal with a daily inconvenience or struggle.

“Once (Simpson) started things have gone a lot better,” Boresow said. “There’s a central place and we can collaborate and share resources. (Simpson) tells us what we can do and we tell her about problems; it used to be, you’d call around yourself and have to figure it out.”