Discussions on Iowa State’s campus accessibility


Courtesy of Nicolas Torres on Unsplash

According to Mark Miller, needs of ADA compliant parking spots in lots on campus change from semester to semester. 

Claire Hoppe

Hollie Wilson sat with her hands folded across her lap in the Student Accessibilities Services office.

Her fingers were covered by arthritis compression gloves, and her walker was placed in front of her chair for easy access. Marisa, Wilson’s 12-year-old service dog, lay perched on the back of the chair, keeping guard over her owner.

Wilson, a senior in psychology at Iowa State, often spends time in between classes in the Student Accessibility Services office. The building is easy for her to navigate because there is a parking lot right outside the door, so she doesn’t have to walk far to reach her destination.

It is a challenge for Wilson, who was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome at the age of 18, to get to campus, let alone travel from building to building for classes.

“And it’s a rare condition where, I have classic type, and my joints are all too hyper mobile,” Wilson said. “But it causes me to have a lot of pain and dislocations… it has caused organ troubles, so I have heart problems. And sometimes I don’t get enough blood in my brain, so I faint and fall.”

Wilson’s diagnosis has caused her to leave school multiple times. In fact, Wilson first came to Iowa State as a freshman in 2012, but she had to leave for medical reasons near the end of the semester.

When she returned to campus her sophomore year, she was forced to leave again because of her health. After her second leave, Wilson didn’t return to school for five years, but she was determined to finish her degree.

Wilson has now been consistently attending Iowa State since 2018 and is set to graduate in December. But her college journey has been anything but normal. Wilson not only has had to study, attend class, socialize and work, but she has faced many more obstacles than the typical Iowa State student.


One of the first challenges Wilson has to face every day happens before she even steps foot in a classroom — finding accessible parking in lots close to her buildings.

According to Wilson, even though she has both a state and university disabled parking pass, each day is a guessing game of whether she will be able to find a handicap parking spot on campus.

“I just drive to the parking lot I need to go to and hope there’s an open handicap slot because there’s not enough on campus,” Wilson said.

Wilson said because there are only a certain number of designated handicap spots at each parking lot on campus, she often resorts to parking in a reserved spot where she is at risk of receiving an Iowa State parking ticket.

One of the most difficult lots on campus to find a handicap spot, according to Wilson, is the parking lot between Lagomarcino Hall and Science Hall II.

“There’s only two handicap parking spots [in that lot],” Wilson said. “And usually those are full around the time I have my class. So most of the time I just parked in one of the regular spots. It’s rare that I’ll actually find a regular or a handicapped spot.”

Mark Miller, the director of parking at Iowa State, said the parking division tries their best to make sure there is an adequate amount of ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant parking spot in each lot on campus, but it is an uphill battle.

Miller said the general rule of thumb for parking lots is one ADA accessible parking spot for 25 regular spots, but this can vary between lots. Miller said one of the main difficulties in determining how many ADA parking spots there needs to be per lot is that circumstances change from semester to semester with different students and employees.

For example, while a lot might require four handicap parking spots one semester to accommodate individuals, the next semester only one spot might be used while the other three sit empty. Miller said one solution to this problem is turning the spots into temporary ADA parking spots.

“So if you drive around, there’s some areas that we have the two permanent ADAs that may be compliant to ISU ones [parking spots] to accommodate that need,” Miller said. “In the next year or next semester, two students or two staff that were parking there — it could be temporary… So we take those stalls back out.”

Miller also said that the parking division takes into consideration the parking spots available at the busiest locations on campus, such as the Memorial Union or Parks Library. According to him, while Lot 16, the parking lot closest to Parks Library, only requires one ADA parking space, Iowa State offers 10.

“Because it’s right by the library and accommodates a lot of different buildings’ needs,” Miller said. “So we’ll look at different areas and put more stalls in somewhere else.”

Miller said there are different scenarios which may result in a handicapped student receiving an Iowa State parking ticket. For example, the individual’s Department of Transportation placard or Iowa State medical permit may have fallen off. Or, all the ADA spots were full.

Miller said these situations can be easily fixed. If a placard were to simply fall off and the individual showed the placard to the parking division, they would take the ticket back. But, if there were extenuating circumstances, an individual could begin the process of appealing the ticket.

“They can still fill out an appeal which goes to an Independent Appeal Board made of faculty, staff and students, and they basically look at the appeal and then they vote on it, approve it or deny it,” Miller said.

Miller said if an individual continues to have trouble finding an available ADA parking spot to call the Iowa State Parking Division, and they will be happy to figure out a temporary parking solution.

Building Accessibility

Another challenge that Wilson must face after having found an ADA parking spot near her buildings is entering and maneuvering inside the buildings themselves. Wilson said having accessible entrances to buildings is a necessity.

“There’s a lot of [parking] spots on the other side of Lago, but there’s no accessible entrance on that side of the building,” Wilson said. “So I have to walk all the way around to get to the accessible entrance. And like I said, I can’t walk very much. I use my walker.”

Wilson noted that she does have an electric wheelchair she can use, but she opts not to due to it being difficult to get in and out of her car.

Wilson said another building on campus that is not overly handicap accessible is Ross Hall. According to her, the building does not have a handicap accessible bathroom.

“I’ve had classes in there before, and when I need a handicap restroom, then I had to go to another building to find one,” Wilson said. “So then I ended up missing a lot of class from going in between buildings because I’m not that fast either.”

Wilson also said the horseshoe shape of Ross Hall makes it difficult to efficiently get to class. She said the only handicap accessible entrance is on the opposite side of the horseshoe from the elevator.

Wesley Gee, an assistant university architect and the sustainability and accessibility coordinator for facilities, planning and management at Iowa State, said problems with accessibility are traditionally found more in older, or “legacy,” buildings.

“We come across instances where there are challenges, or legacy installations, from time periods where ADA wasn’t enacted or applicable to the building designed,” Gee said. “We work collaboratively with departments and others to identify those and get them queued up for correction.”

Paul Fuligni, the head of the department of facilities, planning and management at Iowa State, explained what it means for buildings on campus to be ADA compliant.

According to him, before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was signed into law, buildings were not required to be handicap accessible. However, all buildings designed and constructed after the act was passed are required to be fully accessible, including accessible entrances and bathrooms.

So newer buildings on campus, such as Troxel Hall which was opened to students in 2013, boasts much more accessible entrances, bathrooms and seats.

Wilson said Troxel Hall is much easier to navigate compared to other buildings on campus. From the accessible seats to elevators that stop at each subfloor, Wilson said she felt seen by the team who designed the building.

“I think they actually took into consideration handicapped students when they built it [Troxel Hall],” Wilson said.

However, Fuligni said even though the act required all new buildings to be ADA compliant, the act does not require buildings constructed prior to the act to be reconstructed to comply with ADA; this includes buildings such as Lagomarcino Hall and Ross Hall on campus.

“So for the buildings before 1990, the approach has been based on what we need to do to make sure we have program accessibility,” Fuligni said. “So we may not necessarily go through an entire building, and as you know, we have some very large, old buildings.”

Fuligni said it is a priority to make sure all older buildings on campus have accessible entrances, bathrooms and way to get to upper or lower floors. Based on the ADA, it is only required that buildings constructed prior to the act must have accessible service, activities and programs.

“So over the years since they [ADA standards] came out, the buildings that existed before the standard have been moving toward having more of a current accessibility design features,” Fuligni said.

Gee said that building corrections can be placed into different categories, for example, a small correction being a sign installation and a larger correction being a complete bathroom renovation.

As for which corrections take priority, Gee said it comes down to how heavy traffic is in the certain building and having the funds and time to adequately complete the correction. Fuligni said what the building is used for is also considered.

Fuligni also said time is an important factor when it comes to deciding which buildings need renovations before others. He said some projects require extensive amounts of planning, designing and construction. If the building is frequently used during the school year, the renovations must all be completed over the summers.

For example, Fuligni discussed the Parks Library restroom renovations. According to him, because the project was so extensive and because the library is a social and academic hub, the renovations had to be completed over multiple summer breaks.

“For a typical project, we may design at one year, and if we can’t be ready for the next summer, we have to wait to the following summer to get in there and get a contractor in there to do the work,” Fuligni said.

Fuligni said because of the time required to plan, design, fund and reconstruct buildings on campus, the renovations are planned years in advance.

“So we try to keep a running plan of about a two or three year period that we’re working towards for all our repair projects on campus and larger projects on campus,” Fuligni said. “It does take some lead time, and that’s kind of our planning horizon.”

Fuligni said the facilities, planning and management department works closely with the Student Accessibilities Services at Iowa State. He said students, faculty and staff can identify their concerns with certain buildings and areas on campus. From there, temporary solutions can be put in place while long term solutions are discussed and planned.

“It really is kind of a broader effort to make sure campus and the university is accessible,” Fuligni said. “It’s not just the design features of the building. There’s also obviously working with the students or the faculty and staff who have those needs.”

Adriana Gonzalez-Elliott, the director of Student Accessibility Services, said working with other university departments and organizations is a priority for Student Accessibility Services.

According to her, partnering with other on-campus organizations is a way Student Accessibility Services works toward promoting equity, access and inclusion at Iowa State.

“We support students who apply for accommodations at Iowa State and empower them to advocate for themselves,” Gonzalez-Elliott said. “We coach students and provide tools on how to have conversations with instructors and other campus entities.”

Gonzalez-Elliott also said Student Accessibility Services can work with instructors as they implement accommodations into their classrooms.

Wilson said the workers at Student Accessibility Services have helped her through her time at Iowa State by becoming her community. Wilson said she has started working at the office, and she and her co-workers have become close friends because they also have disabilities.

“A lot of them [the workers at Student Accessibility Services] have disabilities, too,” Wilson said. “So they understand what it’s like.”