It screamed, it froze, it dropped between floors and finally, it has been shut down. Following a series of student complaints about the safety of the only elevator for the Dort residence hall, Campus Life Coordinator (CLC) Meghan Walde sent an email to the student body on Feb. 24 announcing that the Dort elevator would be out of service for the rest of the semester pending a replacement of the structure.
“It’s been broken off and on as long as I have been here,” said thesis student Raina Nelson, who is also vice president of diversity and inclusion. “My second year, I was an RA on the third floor and it went in and out of service every couple of weeks.”
Six calls to Schindler, the company holding Dort elevator’s warrant, had been placed since Dec. 3 of 2015 prior to the permanent shut-off. “Every single time they said it’s totally fixed, and a week later it’s broken,” Nelson said. “I’m a disabled person on this campus and I need this elevator. It’s not something you can sweep under the rug.”
The shut-off of the elevator came at the heels of National Disability Awareness Month, which New College campus celebrated for the first time in March. National Disability Awareness Month was established in 1945; it celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2015.
Accessibility on campus has been a slow-moving project for New College, as increasingly constrained budgets create difficulties for accessibility repairs. One of the most infamously inaccessible locations on campus, College Hall, has no elevator to reach the second floor where classes are held and professors’ offices are located. The cost of installing an elevator into the old manor has been estimated at a quarter of a million dollars, according to Nelson. With historical protections that allow College Hall to dodge Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, there is little chance that an elevator will be coming to the building soon.
Other similarly inaccessible places on campus have begun installing changes to meet ADA requirements. In the Pei dorms, composed almost entirely of stairs, Physical Plant has installed a door-opening button in an ADA room. At the Four Winds, a small ramp was recently constructed in front of the entrance where previously a small lip demanded that any wheelchair users take a much longer path around a parking lot to access the cafe. Buttons to open doors have been installed in various places across campus, and Nelson as well as other members of the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) have been conducting walkthroughs of the campus to identify other problem areas that may limit accessibility for disabled travelers.
One of the more ambitious projects that Nelson has prioritized are the tiles ubiquitous to the residential side of campus. The tiles are notorious for heating up in the sunlight and becoming extremely slippery in the rain. “They crack easily, and they’re easy to trip on so if you’re not disabled when you get here, you’re disabled when you leave,” Nelson joked.
Accessibility representative and second-year Arlee Boyett highlighted other accessibility issues on campus. “HCL8 is nearly completely inaccessible since there’s no ramps on the inside,” Boyett said. “And the overpass presents a challenge for students with mobility or fatigue issues. We’re working on putting in more ramps for places like HCL8, but some problems, like the overpass, are trickier to handle. We’re really having to get creative when trying to fix them.”
Another ongoing problem at New College is that sometimes ADA-accessible signs do not mean ADA-accessible areas. Nelson highlighted that several rooms in Dort and Goldstein are labeled ADA-accessible despite not meeting current guidelines. “They’re not ADA-compliant because they haven’t been inspected since shortly after the buildings were built,” Nelson said. “So it’s in step with the rest of Dort’s ADA compliance in that it’s not compliant.”
Nelson added that the Goldstein elevator is not a suitable substitution for Dort elevator because of its distance to Dort rooms. “It’s literally less work for me to just walk up the stairs than take the Goldstein elevator, then walk all the way around,” Nelson said.
“At some point everyone will be disabled, so I think it’s important to practice taking that into consideration and promoting universal design,” Nelson said, “as opposed to having to renovate like we’ve been doing all year.”
Part of Nelson’s work as VPDI has been working with the new Disability Coordinator Meighen Hopton to organize National Disability Awareness Month. Efforts to celebrate Disability Awareness Month.
“We had several really cool events,” Boyett said. “The first one was about reframing the narrative about disability using quotes and personal statements that was put up in Ham. We also showed a really nice documentary showing the struggle of the disability rights movement. On top of that, we had some therapy animals on campus, which was so much fun.”
The total cost to replace the elevator will come close to $100,000. According to emails from Associate Dean of Campus Life Mark Stier, the replacement will put a strain on parts of the Housing budget earmarked for renovations planned for this summer. The elevator replacement is a 90-120 day process. “There’s a chance it might not be completely installed before the next school year starts,” Nelson said.
“The elevator issue is extremely frustrating,” Boyett said. “On one hand, it’s a positive thing that the school is admitting that it’s actually broken instead of just halting use for a day after it drops someone, which has happened to me twice. However, the timeframe for fixing it is really not that good, since that means that students have to use the stairs or the Goldstein elevator, which can lead to a long walk if you live on the beginning of the Dort rooms. It’s definitely a bad situation, but unfortunately the only thing we can do is wait until it’s fixed.”
“People have left this school over accessibility issues,” Nelson said. “Even though other schools struggle with this, and it’s a typical problem in undergraduate education, I don’t think that’s an excuse to ignore it. Disability knows no age. Being in college doesn’t mean you’re not disabled, and it can be isolating in a high-activity place. It makes it hard to live a ‘college life.’” Nelson pointed out that several eco or green initiatives also ostracize disabled students. Movements to dissuade students from driving to class leave students with limited walking capabilities feeling guilt-tripped for trying to get to class, and despite inquiries earlier in the year, Housing and Student Affairs are unable and unwilling to provide services to transport disabled students to class.
“I think overall, we are a very socially conscious campus,” Nelson said. “But there are a couple of things that don’t get talked about enough.”