Home News Campus News The inconvenient truth for students with disabilities

The inconvenient truth for students with disabilities

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Robert BeaseyFew students know the ins and outs of campus better than junior Robert Beasey. Back doors, alternative pathways, hidden ramps — Beasey has found them all. However, his proficiency in campus navigation grew out of necessity.

Beasey has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized chair to get around. Automatic doors, wide sidewalks and gentle-sloping ramps are indispensible parts of his daily life. But finding accessibility often means taking roundabout, inconvenient routes.

The Americans with Disabilities Act states that “each facility or part of a facility constructed by, on behalf of, or for the use of a public entity shall be designed and constructed in such manner that the facility or part of the facility is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”

USF St. Petersburg complies with ADA standards, ensuring that at least part of each facility is accessible for those with disabilities. But accessibility is not synonymous with convenience.

Most USFSP buildings have automatic swinging or sliding doors, including Bayboro Hall, Coquina Hall, Davis Hall, the Science and Technology Building, the University Student Center, the Student Life Center and the Nelson Poynter Library. However, some buildings, like the SLC, only have one automatic entrance, while the rest are manual.

Other buildings, like Residence Hall One and the Knight Oceanographic Research Center, have no automatic doors at all. For a student like Beasey, who has full use of his arms, opening manual doors isn’t impossible, just inconvenient. But for others with less mobility, a manual door makes self-sufficiency a challenge.

None of the buildings on campus have automatic doors for classrooms.

ADA doesn’t require doors to be automatic, as long as each doorway is at least 32 inches wide. Automatic swinging doors can be installed for around $350.

Most restrooms on campus have automatic doors, but not all have accessible facilities. For most students, an occupied restroom means one in which each facility is in use. For those in need of accessible restroom stalls, finding a vacancy can be tougher. Restrooms on campus rarely provide more than one accessible facility.

Others provide none at all. Beasey sometimes has to try three or four restrooms before finding an unoccupied stall that accommodates his chair.

When Beasey is at work in the Student Disability Services office in the SLC, a restroom break means a trip to the second floor just to maintain personal privacy. His chair doesn’t fit inside the restroom downstairs — unless he wants to keep the door open.

In the building that houses the Tavern and the Grind, which isn’t technically part of campus, only the women’s restroom provides sufficient space.

When the Science and Technology Building was first built, it didn’t have automatic doors to its restrooms — not even the one designated for those with disabilities. Beasey’s complaints eventually resulted in automatic doors being installed, but the process took about five months.

Access to the building’s restrooms has become easier, but entrance to the building remains a challenge. The ramp in front measures about 34.5 inches across at its base. Factor in the protruding handrail, and the ramp is only about 32 inches wide. To be ADA compatible, ramps must be 36 inches across. The ramp’s 180-degree turn is only about 50 inches wide, which is significantly narrower than ADA standards require.

Beasey can navigate this ramp if he puts his chair on its lowest speed setting, but he prefers to use the alternative ramp off Parking Lot 2, which is ADA compatible, to enter the Science and Technology Building.

Students who need an elevator to get to second-floor classes have the option of Davis Hall or Bayboro Hall. Motion-detecting sliding doors at the entrance of Bayboro make for easy elevator access, but a problematic automatic door in Davis reduces convenience.

According to Beasey, the button that activates the door that opens into the elevator’s lobby doesn’t always work. He said he has seen people turn off the switch that operates the door on multiple occasions but does not know the purpose of doing so. Even when the button is functioning properly, the 3-foot distance between it and the entrance makes it difficult to get inside before the door begins closing.

Though the Davis elevator puts him closer to his classrooms, Beasey prefers to use the one in Bayboro.

While accessible routes around campus are not too hard to find, there is rarely more than one accessible pathway to any particular spot. If people are obstructing a sidewalk, Beasey has to ask them if he can get by. It’s not as simple as just taking the steps or cutting through the bushes, like it would be for other students. Sometimes, when no one is paying attention to him, Beasey uses the horn on his chair. But the unintimidating beeping sound it makes is more likely to be perceived as a cell phone ringing than a horn honking.

Most students, however, act courteously towards Beasey. Though he doesn’t rely on others to open doors for him, he often finds people doing it anyway.

Beasey spends a lot of his time in the library doing homework. In the horseshoe of computer desks, only one is designed to accommodate motorized chairs. Fortunately, Beasey’s chair is low enough that it fits at any desk.

Students in need of a device called JAWS that magnifies textbooks can use the one located in southwest corner of the library. The school’s only other device like this is kept in the Student Disability Services office.

In between work and class, Beasey sometimes likes to sit near the waterfront. The four tables outside Davis Hall offer a nice view, but only one provides space for his chair.

Beasey uses a van service through the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to make the commute from his home near Palm Harbor. The trip costs him $4 each way. If he wanted to go to the Tampa campus, he said he’d have to pay $65 each way, since transportation to another county is considered private transit.

Steep travel fees discourage Beasey from attending USF social and athletic events in Tampa. Though USFSP has begun renting buses to take students to Tampa, arrangements for students with disabilities have not been made. Beasey and Disability Services are working with the school to change this.

Beasey is also working with Frank Biafora, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to put together an event for Disability Awareness Month in October. The event will showcase acts related to dealing with disabilities, including a play Beasey wrote about growing up with cerebral palsy.

Disability Services works to support students with special needs. Qualifying disabilities include physical or mental impairments that limit one or more major life activities, such as walking, standing, seeing, hearing, sitting, breathing, learning or taking care of oneself.

Services include providing note-takers, granting permission to record lectures, providing sign language interpreters, allowing extra time on tests and providing distraction-free learning environments. A full list of services can be found at usfsp.edu/disability/services.htm.

Students needing special assistance or arrangements on campus can register through the SDS office by calling 727-873-4990.


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