Madeline St. John
In the last week of January, a new railing was installed outside of Mary Fisher. This railing was the end result of a process that began 8 or 9 months ago. It is one of the first concrete steps on a lengthy list of requests that as of yet remain mostly unfulfilled.
Last spring, Jessica Solomon ’18, who has a physical disability, was thinking about living in Mary Fisher the next year. She was concerned about using railing-less stairs. She contacted Residential Life about the prospect of installing railings. At the time, there was no system in place, or an official person to contact. It was up to Solomon to figure it out on her own.
In April 2015, the Office of Community-Based Learning and the Education Department were conducting their wheelchair experience for students enrolled in the special education course. In this experience, students spend at least six hours in a wheelchair, completing certain tasks: going to lunch, and meeting up with friends, etc. During this simulation, five or six people at a given time might be moving up and down Van Meter walkway in wheelchairs. “That is not normal for this campus,” said Santa Wallace, administrative assistant in the Office of Community-Based Learning. “I think that is why Adina and Jess noticed.”
Wallace, who has quadriplegia due to a spinal cord injury, was collecting wheelchairs from students on the ground floor of Van Meter, when other students saw and approached her to talk about difficulties they themselves were having navigating campus. One of these students was Adina Karten, ’18. Karten knew Solomon, and the two of them had been they discussing the idea of forming a student club centered on students with disabilities.
After Karten’s encounter with Wallace, Solomon, Karten, Wallace, and Mary Adkins (who is now Director, Master of Arts in Teaching) met to discuss their concerns. Adkins and Wallace encouraged Karten and Solomon to form a student club.
Wallace advised Solomon to document, in an email with pictures, all areas on campus where she was having difficulty. After receiving the detailed email, Wallace forwarded it to Linda Barone, Facilities Project Manager and Barbara Stob, Legal Counsel. This email put Solomon in touch with the right people to contact about railings and also led to reforming Goucher’s Americans with Disabilities Act Standing Committee. (There is also now an ADA Technology Committee that is working to make information technology more accessible, and the Office of Communications is ensuring that the new website meets ADA standards.) These two committees had formerly been a single committee that oversaw projects such as the installation of the automatic door openers.
Solomon was then able to advocate for her needs by directly contacting Linda Barone, Barbara Stob, and Terence McCann, Director of FMS, who began his employment at Goucher in August 2015.
“I spent April emailing,” said Solomon. “When I moved in in August, the railings were still not put in. I kept emailing, and the inside ones were put in in August, another in October, and the outside ones were completed the last weekend in January.”
A number of obstacles played a part in how long the process took. “Unfortunately, you can’t just throw up rails,” said Wallace. “There are building codes, problems with these old buildings, etc.”
“The fact that it is an old campus makes them hard to put in…The manufacturer was backed up, apparently, and then there was a snow storm,” Solomon said.
“These are complicated installations because they involve stone in most cases, so it took time to get it right,” Stob wrote in an email. “FMS will continue to work on these issues.”
While they understood these difficulties, Karten, Solomon and Wallace all agreed that the process should not have taken this long.
“[Solomon] identified the problem. Why did it take that long to get it fixed?” said Wallace. “If someone has an issue, we, as a community, need to get the issue resolved in as timely a manner as possible…You [the student] are thinking about classes, schoolwork, you don’t need to be worrying about ‘how am I going to get from one part of campus to another?’”
“Jess actually identified a problem for anyone who uses steps. Steps without railings are a safety issue, as well. The challenges are different for everyone. For me, I need a power button that works…I can’t identify someone else’s needs. It’s not until someone like Jess comes to campus and experiences it first hand—which is a shame—but that is usually what happens,” Wallace said.
“What I’ve found is that you don’t know realize or appreciate what you need until you don’t have it,” Wallace said.
Solomon is now serving on Goucher’s ADA Committee to ensure that the newly constructed first-year dorms are accessible.
“Not only accessible, but welcoming,” said Karten. “Goucher has a lot going for it. It’s flat; there is a lack of hills. It gets a lot of recommendations for people with disabilities because of this. It has a lot of potential, but Goucher doesn’t take advantage of this.” Members of Equal Access hope that this will change. For now they are focusing on improving accessibility for students who are currently at Goucher.
“Legally, Goucher is required to meet the American Disabilities Association’s requirements for accessibility because the school receives federal money from FAFSA and Pell Grants,” Karten said. However, most of the buildings on campus have gotten by without meeting these requirements because they were “grandfathered in.”
“Only Sondheim and Welsh are accessible, which means that about 60-70 percent of the dorms on campus are not accessible. They do try to place students with disabilities in [Sondheim and Welsh], but a lot happens in dorms. You might go to meetings, visit friends, and it’s not accessible,” Karten said.
Equal Access created a list of aspects of campus that should be changed or improved to be more accessible for students with disabilities. They listed places where railings were needed and cited other issues with accessibility on campus. Many of the handicap shower stalls have incorrectly-placed grab bars (the bars are placed on the sides rather than in the front) and the handicap button to enter the Chapel is not easily visible.
“Nineteen percent of the population has a disability,” said Karten. “There is a large invisible group of us, and it affects all creeds, races, and religions.”
This semester, Equal Access is partnering with the Center for Race, Equity, and Identity to create programs for students and teachers. “[At Goucher], there is a lack of classes on disabled issues,” said Karten. “While there is room to talk about it…and there are a couple of classes, most of the learning about disabilities comes in education classes. Teachers aren’t the only ones who would benefit from knowing about disabilities.”
Equal Access Meetings, open to all, take place in the Center for Race, Equity, and Identity on Mondays at 9pm.
As far as other resources go, students who need accessible classrooms should notify Student Administrative Services. For those with special housing needs, contact the Office of Residential Life. For academic accommodations, contact Frona Brown, Goucher’s disabilities specialist Goucher’s Title IX Coordinator, Lucia Perfetti Clark, can be contacted for claims of disability discrimination. Contact Terrence McCann, the Director of FMS, for issues of building accessibility. If interested in serving on the IT accessibility committee, contact Barbara Stob.
The Office of Community-Based Learning has, for a long time, been partnering with organizations that work with individuals with disabilities. This semester, from March 21st to 25th (the week after spring break), the wheelchair experience will happen again. On March 23rd, the Maryland Ravens wheelchair basketball team will be coming to campus, from 5-7pm in the Old Gym. The event is open to everyone.