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Feldman ’15: A school without boundaries

There are many factors that limit where people are able to attend college: finances, location and academic programs all play major roles in choosing an appropriate college. Disabilities should not play a factor. Certain schools do not do well in accommodating people with physical disabilities. Unfortunately, it seems Brown has joined their ranks.

Brown is a university filled with opportunities for many people. But for some, these opportunities are severely limited if the path getting to those opportunities is blocked by a staircase. Keeney Quadrangle is a perfect example. The complex that houses the largest number of first-years on campus only just got an elevator this year. Incoming first-years who are unable to walk up stairs were until this year limited in their abilities to make friends based on whether or not they lived above the first floor.

While Keeney has made the necessary change, many building are still far from it. It is appalling to think that buildings that house large numbers of students like Graduate Center still have no elevators. The first floors of several academic buildings are also only accessible by taking steps. Slater Hall, one of the most desired housing locations on campus, is just one of many dormitories in which you have to walk up steps directly upon entering the building. With some of these buildings, the problem is that they are really old. Slater was built in 1879. But that doesn’t mean these places don’t have to conform to recent building codes just because they predate them.

It is easy to say that if a person has a physical disability, he or she should just choose a dorm that can appropriately accommodate him or her, but that is unfair to those students. Students shouldn’t miss out on being able to choose their housing because they physically wouldn’t be able to get to their rooms. Restricting the housing of students with physical disabilities is further aggravated because these locations might not be conducive to the student’s needs. If someone can’t walk and is given specific housing on Pembroke campus that has elevators, how is he supposed to eat on weekends?

Student and Employee Accessibility Services does a good job in a couple of these areas. If a student is willing to go through the paperwork, SEAS offers an on-call shuttle to help students get around campus, and one can also apply for better accessible housing. But the larger part of this issue is not that SEAS is not doing a good enough job, it is that the University should be doing a better job.

Wilson Hall, as it currently stands, is a disgrace to Brown’s campus. Wilson lacks any ramps or elevators, making it inaccessible to those who cannot walk up steps. While it isn’t necessary to tear down Wilson, it should be immediately renovated. This expansion would be expensive and limit the building’s use during the construction period, but it is a necessity. If the school can waste money on a speaker who never spoke, Brown can afford to make necessary changes to University buildings. Wilson also isn’t just any building — it’s located at the focal point of campus, right in the center of the Main Green. Considering all of the club meetings and course sections that occur there, it is surprising that an elevator wasn’t installed years ago. The building should be renovated over the summer when it’s not at its peak usage.

Even buildings as modern as List Art Center need further accommodations. Currently, there is an accessible entrance to the building that can be unlocked by calling a Department of Public Safety officer, but that is not enough. As it stands, a person with a physical disability has to exit the accessible entrance and reenter the building through the main entrance to reach an elevator that goes to a restroom. Are we really going to require people to walk outside in the cold of winter to use the bathroom when they already would have difficulty getting to a bathroom on the same floor?

Adding an elevator to an older building or an additional ramp to a newer building may be expensive, but most accommodations for people with physical disabilities are extremely affordable. Two thirds of accommodations cost less than $500, and many of them are free. There are also tax incentives that support private institutions’ abilities to afford changes.

Part of the issue is that there is no way to always know if or when someone will have a physical disability. Injuries, whether through sports or just walking around and tripping, happen all of the time and can lead to someone losing the ability to walk for an extended period of time. And when someone breaks a leg, even if they would be driven to their classroom door, that student still has to worry about how to make it to his or her seat in a cramped class. Squeezing in between aisles and into a seat in MacMillan Hall 117 or Barus and Holley 168 isn’t easy to do on two legs, let alone one.

Classes can be moved if a student with disabilities is unable to access the building, but this is primarily done at the beginning of the year. Hopefully, this prevents students from not taking courses because they cannot enter the building. But that doesn’t help those students who sustain injuries during the year. Even temporarily losing the ability to walk is difficult enough without the University adding to the struggle.

The purpose of creating accommodations for people with disabilities is not to give anyone a special privilege — it is to give everyone equal opportunities. In a university that has so much to offer to both its students and the world, aren’t equal opportunities something that should be encouraged?