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EDITORIAL: Siena Heights Needs to be S.A.F.E. for Everyone

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We are pretty lucky here at Siena Heights. Most of our walks to class take us less than 5 minutes. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all students. Spectra took a deeper look into the mobility of students in wheelchairs, scooters or other modes of transportation.

The first stop was in our own classroom. One of our staff members is a soccer player. She talked about the frustrations she had while injured. She lived in St. Catherine Hall on the second floor. Even though it is a new building, there is no elevator. According to the Elevators and ADA Compliance, “Unless your facility is less than three stories tall, or has fewer than 3,000 square feet per floor, your elevators must conform to guidelines set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

St. Catherine’s square footage is 200 square feet less than the requirements. To us, that seems like the university is not putting its full attention to making a space fully wheelchair accessible. There really is not any excuse. It is a brand new building. While the student on our staff was injured, she had to crawl up and down the stairs to get to her room. It was time-consuming and a huge inconvenience. Even though this was a short-term issue for her, it reminded us how difficult it is for people who have permanent physical disabilities to navigate campus.

Walking around is easy, but finding the different passages, ramps and level gravel to ride on is another story. So, we talked to the Students Advocating For Everyone (S.A.F.E ) organization. We spoke with the group’s advisor, Office of Accessibility Coordinator Laura Lyall, about what S.A.F.E. has done on Siena’s campus. She said that there are a lot of things wrong on campus, but she said S.A.F.E will make sure that the new Spencer Performing Arts Center is not building to the minimum, but built with an intentionality towards those who are in wheelchairs. So far, she said S.A.F.E. has made sure that the handicap buttons work on campus, and that one is installed on the second floor of Dominican Hall. We are frustrated with how minimal the accessibility for students with disabilities is. We are a campus that promotes diversity, but we cannot provide spaces that are easy to navigate for everyone.

Lyall said the biggest project S.A.F.E is working on is making the back of the Science Building more aesthetically pleasing. Lyall said the group wants to put plants or flowers out there to make it look more welcoming. Lyall said S.A.F.E is committed to trying to make spaces that seem unwelcoming are homey and nice. While this is a great step, we think more should be done. At the very least, there should be plans in place to build ramps or other spaces for wheelchair-bound students. It is one thing for our student advocating organization to put flowers in the back of a building. We think the university should be doing a lot more than that.

Lyall said S.A.F.E. is doing all that they can to make sure that Siena is a campus that is welcoming to all types of students. She said their main goal is to make sure each student voice is heard, and to make as many changes as possible.

Brian Bertram, who is SHU’s associate vice president of Campus Facilities, said, “All new buildings and major renovations performed on campus are designed to meet ADA requirements.”

He said the school is up to code. We are very happy to hear that our campus is complying with the law. Bertram said he also works closely with Lyall to meet any other needs that come up from other students. However, we wonder why the university seems passive when it comes to making more improvements. It should be their goal to provide improved accessibility for all students.

Mobility around campus still continues to be an obstacle. Older buildings on campus make renovations difficult and expensive. As campus continues to expand, so will the opportunities for more wheelchair accessibility.

We feel like there is so much more that this university could do to make this place wheelchair accessible. Money is always an issue, but there is always money to create a decent space for all students to thrive academically, physically, spiritually, athletically and socially. We think our university has a long ways to go until all students feel like they belong on campus.

 

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EDITORIAL: Siena Heights Needs to be S.A.F.E. for Everyone