Editorial: Campus accessibility has room for improvement

Editorial Board

When coming up to Iowa State, there are many things that look exciting through the eyes of a freshman. Moving into your dorm, walking around to all of the buildings where your classes are going to be held, and for some, going greek. All of these activities sound really fun, but from the perspective of a disabled student cruising onto campus in a wheelchair, things like moving into your eighth floor dorm and going through greek recruitment can sound intimidating. The possibilities for adventure at Iowa State are supposed to be endless, but this could perhaps apply to only a select group of students.

In most sororities, the bedrooms are only on the second and third floors and the only person who allowed to have a bedroom on the first floor is the house director. This would not be a problem if the greek houses had elevators to help the disabled students live-in, but unfortunately the cost of renovations to house just one disabled student is simply too high. Within four years, hopefully that student would have graduated and that elevator that cost thousands of dollars to install would no longer be in use.

When one house mother was asked about would happen if a disabled person were to rush, she said, “They are more than welcome to join the house but we do not have the accommodations for them to live in the house.” This statement stands true with most greek houses. They will not discriminate against people who are disabled and want to join, but they must be aware that they will probably never have the opportunity to live in the house.

Students that are physically disabled may look at these mansions and know that they will never get to live in one of these houses simply because they have no way to accommodate them. This could turn students away from wanting to go greek at all. However, even though there is not a living option for many students who are looking to go greek, there are sororities and fraternities that do not have houses anyway, and instead operate more like a learning community. Additionally, there is still the option of becoming part of a greek chapter and living out of the house, which is already an option chosen by many students.

The struggle of being disabled on campus goes further than just the greek houses, though. Living in the residence halls and having classes in certain buildings can also be a problem. Yes, most of the residence halls do have elevators, but there remains an issue in that the elevators in most buildings cannot always be relied upon to be in working order. If a student were in a wheelchair and had to go to the fourth floor, but the elevator was often broken, he or she would face extraordinary challenges that most students may never really think about.

The same problem goes for having classes in some of the buildings on campus. Pearson Hall is but one example. If there is an elevator in that building, it is certainly difficult to locate and by the time a new student or visitor could find one they might very well be late for a class or meeting. Going to class in the winter is difficult for anyone as is, but imagine arriving at a building after taking the long journey through Iowa’s winter weather, only to find that an elevator is either missing or out of order.

Iowa State should make it a top priority to seek out and make improvements to create a campus more accessible to students and visitors with physical disabilities. Even small improvements, such as making sure the sidewalks are cleared in time for the first classes in the morning, can be made.

The university already has the expertise and opportunity to make such improvements, as well as larger, more costly ones. Arvid Osterberg, a professor of architecture at Iowa State, authored a guide to accessibility and design at Iowa State, appropriately titled Access for Everyone. In it, Professor Osterberg, a prominent building safety and accessibility researcher, details not only what the university has done to accommodate those with disabilities, but also includes more than 400 recommendations. These recommendations should be embraced wholeheartedly by the university, so that our campus and public buildings can really be open to all.