University Near Completing Disabled Accessibility

7 years 4 months 3 weeks ago Tuesday, December 28 2010 Dec 28, 2010 Tuesday, December 28, 2010 3:32:44 AM CST December 28, 2010 in News
COLUMBIA – Disability advocates said the University of Missouri is just shy of complete disabled accessibility almost two decades after the Americans with Disabilities Act passed. The ADA took effect in 1992 but prior to that, getting around MU was a struggle for the disabled. MU was founded in 1839 and many of the original buildings still exist today.

“I think the general access just getting to several buildings was a big issue here,” ADA Center Executive Director, James De Jong said.

The Great Plains ADA Center is located in Columbia. De Jong said he remembers Faurot Field before it was renovated with the notion of disabled accessibility. He was told he had a spot to sit, but it wasn’t the best.

“Yeah you can get in, but sit under the scoreboard,” De Jong said.

Former State Senator Chuck Graham also works for the Great Plains ADA Center now. Graham grew up in Louisiana, Missouri. He began  using a wheelchair in 1981.

“When I did my campus visit, the attitude was well, if you come here, we’ll deal with your problems,” Graham said. “And I didn’t see the fact that they didn’t have a ramp into a building or only two accessible dorms as my problem. I saw that as their problem.”

Graham decided to attend the University of Illinois instead of MU.

Aimee Wehmeier is the director of the Services for Independent Living in Columbia. Wehmeier has muscular dystrophy. In 1989, she came for her first visit to MU and met Carma Messerli, MU’s Disability Services Coordinator. Messerli also has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.

“It was neat to see someone who was working professionally who had a disability and who had graduated with a Master’s degree from Mizzou,”Wehmeier said.

Wehmeier said MU has come a long way since she went to school, but the campus is not completely accessible in some places. She tried to enter the elevator in McAlister Hall and struggled to fit. She can’t use her left hand very well to push the elevator buttons.

“I would have to back in…not accessible at all,” Wehmeier said.

When the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect in ’92,universities had three years to fix their campuses. Missouri spent $10 million on renovations.  The state funded half of that work.

“There were certain things that we wanted to do but essentially we had to cut those because of budget concerns, but those are things we’ve tried to pick-up over the years and a lot of them have occurred since that point and time,” Gerald Morgan with Campus Facilities said.

However, the ADA does not require every room and office to be reachable for the disabled.

“If I were a student and I had a need to meet with a faculty member and a faculty member’s office wasn’t accessible, we could still have the meeting. We just wouldn’t have it in the faculty member’s office,” Disability Services Coordinator Lee Henson said.

De Jong said the athletic facilities make MU look like a top campus for accessibility. He said Mizzou Arena is a great example.

“You’ve got a gentle incline right up to the building now and it’s good for everybody and so I give them a lot of credit that they were open to that advice and they implemented it,” De Jong said.

Campus Facilities said it has a list of 30 buildings that still need updating.

“As the budget allows, these buildings are being fully renovated and what happens at that point, typically, is we make sure we have a main entrance that is an accessible entrance. So the main entrance to the building very likely will change the location but it will become a location for everybody,” Morgan said.

Still, De Jong said Missouri is still not quite 100 percent ready for the disabled.

“They’re still getting their arms around if you will, the idea of universal design,” De Jong said.

“We were out on site just a couple of weeks ago, over at the new student center, trying to determine where we can create a new accessible path across Hitt Street. It’s just a complex issue when you’ve got a lot of existing utilities and existing grades that you have to deal with. It’s an ongoing process,” Morgan said."

De Jong said it would be extremely helpful if Mizzou offered some kind of shuttle service. He said shuttles would need to be lift equip and accessible for the disabled.

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