When students are walking from class to class, most won’t think about what type of door handle their classroom will have or if there will be an entrance they can use.
Students who are in a wheelchair or have accessibility needs, however, must regularly think about these daily activities.
Through the Americans with Disabilities Act, Auburn University is required to make campus accessible and accommodate the needs of all its students. However, in some buildings, such as Mary Martin Hall and Comer Hall, students are out of luck.
Comer has no elevator to reach the second or third floors, and this presents issues for some students.
In order to receive full accommodations, students must meet with the Office of Accessibility and determine what their individual needs are and how the office can help them.
Barclay Bentley, assistant director for the Office of Accessibility, said most of the issues that arise are finding housing for students and making sure they have a way to get to campus.
“If they are incoming as a freshman, and they’re going to live on campus, then we’re definitely going to work with housing and try to make sure they get their dorm set up like they need,” Bentley said.
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There are over 80 on-campus dorms scattered across the University that are accessible to all students. Additionally, there are ways to help students who live off campus with transportation and navigation.
“All Tiger Transit buses have an accessible lift on the back end, so if they notify Tiger Transit that they need a ride, the driver can get off the bus, let them up, get on the ramp, put them in the back of the bus, bring them to campus, drop them off, and they can go to class like everybody else,” Bentley said.
Despite all of the improvements Auburn strives toward and the work that accessibility does, problems still arise.
Zach Dickey, freshman in public administration, navigates campus using a manual wheelchair.
Because of his spinal muscular atrophy, Dickey has been using his chair since he was 12 years old.
Before moving to Auburn, Dickey met with the Office of Accessibility to go over what accommodations he needed to help him navigate campus and its difficulties.
In order to make it easier to enter his building, Dickey asked to have an automatic door installed, but it took over half a semester to complete.
Addressing the issue of buildings not accessible to students, such as Comer, Bentley said that the Office of Accessibility will work with the Office of the Registrar to see if they can get classes moved.
“We’re not going to force a student to completely change their schedule if we don’t have to,” Bentley said. “If we can just move that whole group from one room to a different room and nothing else changes that’s an easy fix — because nobody has to change their schedule — everybody just goes to a different building.”
Dickey said he has not come across this problem personally and has not found buildings he cannot enter.
“Often times, I just have to enter in a different way than other students,” Dickey said. “The best fix to this would be better signage toward accessible entrances.”
Bentley said they work with students to meet their needs if the student will just approach them with their concerns.
“I’ve seen the smallest athletic wheelchair whip through these different corners,” Bentley said. “I’ve seen somebody in a big power wheelchair with a sip and puff operating device navigate, as well. So if you fall somewhere between that range, you’re going to be able to navigate the campus.”
Dickey is also a member of the Auburn Wheelchair Basketball team, which is connected with the Office of Accessibility.
While Dickey believes Auburn has made great strides, there are still things he would like to see improved upon.
Dickey said she would love to see additional funding set aside for a women’s wheelchair basketball team and in the future other adaptive sports.
“Auburn is home to some amazing women wheelchair basketball players, but right now, they have to play on the men’s team instead of playing in the women’s division,” Dickey said. “Also, if Auburn added women’s wheelchair basketball and other adaptive sports, it would give us Tigers even more opportunities to beat Bama.”
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