Accessibility matters: accessibility from a wheelchair at Guilford College

The Center for Principled Problem Solving recently brought attention to the issue of increasing accessibility on Guilford College’s campus. The CPPS plan seeks to implement both short and long-term strategies that work to make Guilford’s campus a more inclusive space, free of barriers in all their forms.  Read more about the CPPS project here.

Third year and Guilfordian staff writer Bryan Dooley shares his experiences as a Guilford student with disabilities.  

Bryan Dooley, Staff Writer

Imagine the start of a typical student’s day about ten minutes before the first class: roll out of bed, hit the bathroom, grab some clothes and something to eat and run to class.

Now imagine instead you had to plan every aspect of your day.  You wake up.  How do you get out of bed?  How much time will it take to eat breakfast and have someone help you get dressed? How uncomfortable will you be with someone helping you get dressed for the first time?

Next, imagine signing up for classes based on the time they are held because you must anticipate having to call for backup assistance?  What happens if you don’t allow enough time for people to wake up, get themselves ready and get to you?

I can tell you. You are stuck in bed, and you are going to be explaining this to your teacher.

As a student with disabilities, I must have plans for when to leave for class, what route to take to class and a back-up plan if I can’t physically get there due to issues with stairs, doors or other barriers.

Imagine how you would feel in this situation. Imagine your anger if you can’t get somewhere you need to be. You can’t visit your friends if they live on the second floor of any dorm on campus or attend any parties there.

How do you visit a teacher? What if their office is upstairs in Archdale, where there is no elevator? How are you going to get into that building? Can you find someone to open the non-automatic doors for you?

These basic questions illustrate why accessibility issues on this campus mean so much to me.  I am happy to report that accessibility has improved remarkably since I came to Guilford in the fall of 2009.

Back then I couldn’t physically get into the disability office because my chair was too big. I had to wait outside the door and hope no one overheard important, private conversations with either Kim Burke, director of disability services, or her assistant, Associate Director Georgie Bodgan.

Both disability offices are now fully accessible to any student regardless of a wheelchair. In Burke’s office, she has a table that can be raised or lowered so that we can sit down and talk at the same table.

Now, because of a group from Principle Problem Solvers, a fully accessible, brand new elevator has been installed in King Hall.  I can independently operate this elevator. In 2009, I couldn’t use the elevator, because it was too small and the buttons were too high.

The college is also replacing a dangerous ramp which leads to the community center. The ramp used to be barely wide enough for my chair to cross over.

Despite all of these improvements, Guilford still presents me and everyone else in wheelchairs with many obstacles.

The beautiful brick ramp in front of Founder’s is still inaccessible. There is no way for me to physically open the heavy old-fashioned doors once I make it up the ramp. It’s basically a ramp to nowhere.

The ramp epitomizes so many of the accessibility challenges at Guilford. The main challenge is a lack of mindfulness. Why would you go through the trouble of building a beautiful ramp with no way for most of the people who would use it to get into the building?

Although I make good use of the first floor of Archdale, I still cannot access the second floor. I have to call ahead to arrange meetings with my advisor, whose office is on the second floor.  We meet quite frequently, creating a challenge for everyone involved, not just the student.

Even if I could access the second floor, I still cannot get into the building independently. There are still no automatic doors, and there’s still a huge barrier in the form of a threshold at the door. I must get a running start to get my chair over that barrier.

Dana Auditorium is probably the most inaccessible building on campus. There are no elevators in the entire building, and there are only two accessible places in the building: behind the stage with no way to exit, and one accessible seat in the whole auditorium. The rest of the Auditorium is filled with stairs and other impediments which detract people with disabilities.

Guilford has achieved quite a lot in the two and a half years I’ve been here. But we all have a long way to go to insure an accessible environment for every student, faculty, staff and visitor.

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