It is clear that Knox needs to prioritize being a more accessible campus. That is obvious from both student voices to administration, such as at events like the recent Town Hall, and from this week’s article by Sam Jacobson. Recent renovations have addressed some accessibility concerns, but many important buildings on campus, especially Old Main and GDH, are nowhere near adequate. The renovations and new buildings like WAC are moves in the right direction, but this should be a clearer priority for Knox.
At the Town Hall, President Teresa Amott said that the tentative theme for the next strategic plan would be people and places. We strongly agree with this themes, and ask that accessibility be one of the top priorities in the ‘places’ part of the plan.
One big thing we ask is for more accessible classrooms. We know it will not be easy to put an elevator in Old Main or GDH, but it something we need to continue moving towards. Especially for the humanities and social sciences, most classes are in these buildings, but very few of the classrooms are on the ground floor. Wilson House provides a possible alternative but can only accommodate one class at a time.
As Jacobson’s article shows, however, we also need to address accessibility in the residential halls. Currently, only Hamblin and the first floor of the Townhouses are accessible, and both of these buildings come with their own challenges. Some renovations, such as the to the bathrooms in Conger-Neal, also show lack of foresight in being wheelchair accessible but not having an elevator to reach them.
This is not just important for people with chronic, visible physical conditions. Non-physical and non-visible conditions can play a large role in accessibility and need to be considered. People with injuries also need to be considered. Ideally, a broken leg should not require a change in classroom, missing class or climbing the Old Main stairs on crutches.
There are two clear steps we see. The first is that the Office of Disability Services needs more support. Having peer educators next year will hopefully help this, but extra full time support would help all of campus. Second, students with disabilities need to be better included in the decision making process for the coming strategic plan. Their voices are the ones that truly matter in this discussion and to exclude them from any step in the process would be to do further harm.
One thing that became clear in the Town Hall was that students were worried that they were not represented during the implementation of the strategic plan. That needs to change for the next plan, especially as regards accessibility.