Technically, SIUE is compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Each building has an accessible entrance and an accessible bathroom, there are accessible parking spots and sidewalks meet the width requirements. However, it’s no secret that students with disabilities have long struggled with the lack of accessibility on campus.
In some buildings, the accessible entrances are difficult to find; in others, accessible bathrooms aren’t easy to find and some of the regular bathrooms do not have an accessible stall. Furthermore, SIUE seems to take pride in the fact that they provide multiple accessible routes between most buildings, which is not required by the ADA.
SIUE may be following the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Recently, storage pods occupied accessible parking spots behind Rendleman Hall for far too long. At the beginning of the semester, students had to stand in line for re-entry COVID-19 testing without a place to sit down. The time to recognize how people with disabilities are affected by the thoughtlessness of others is long past due.
Able-bodied people tend to take their privilege for granted. But, able-bodied readers, can you imagine only being able to enter a building at one specific entrance? What if that entrance had only one route? Imagine that once you’re inside, you can’t find the only bathroom “accessible” to you.
Not to mention the hilly nature of SIUE’s campus, which leaves even some able-bodied people short-winded. Now what if it’s raining, or you have to carry something for class, or one of your few accessible parking spots has been overtaken by some storage pods? The possible complications are endless.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to campus accessibility, but clearly, the bare minimum is not enough. “Reasonable accommodations,” as required by the ADA, is a term that leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and a lot of room for error. SIUE needs some self-reflection.
We’re asking the administration to listen to students with disabilities without jumping to the defense. The frustrations of students with disabilities have historically been ignored, and even shut down, under the university’s explanation that the campus is ADA compliant. However, it’s not too late to take them seriously and make a change.
Of course, the campus’s infrastructure would be practically impossible to make completely accessible due to the layout and location of the campus. But as of now, the administration appears to be ignorant at best in regard to the issues that students with disabilities face. Taking initiative to hear from students with disabilities about any suggestions they might have that would make their college experience just a little bit easier would be a start.
SIUE has been taking steps in the right direction when it comes to conversations about equity and inclusion. Now, let’s include people with disabilities in those conversations, and let’s turn those conversations into action.