For many students the winter months are all about the cancelled classes and staying inside as much as possible Â But for the mobility impaired, navigating a college campus can be mentally and physically draining, and staying in becomes not a matter of desire but a choice made out of a lack of other options.
Snow buildup on curb cuts – breaks connecting the sidewalk and roadway to allow for pedestrian access, from bicycles and strollers to wheelchairs and walkers – and sidewalks are one of the biggest obstacles that the winter weather brings to campus. Â Ice that can develop after freezing temperatures could also lead to an especially difficult time moving from A to B around campus.
Kelsey Harsh, a communicative disorders student at the University of Rhode Island, has found life with a broken fibula is very hard on campus, especially in the winter. Â “Its been tough, I know they can’t give me a handicap parking pass because it needs to be mandated by the state, but I just wish they had something that could make it better … [also] with the snow and all the ice on the ground the floors are wet inside [buildings]. Â So even if I’m not slipping outside I’m slipping on those floors, which is dangerous … I already fell once because my crutch slipped on the wet floor.”
Because of the many obstacles to travel, when asked a student who asked to remain annonymous responded that “It definitely leads to social isolation for a number of people. If you’re using a wheelchair, having a 12-inch walkway isn’t going to help. Â I know for me, having to get to class with a broken leg was especially stressful and I never left my room unless I absolutely needed to…It takes me forever to get to some of my classes… and I’m usually out of breath and late”.
When asked how Disability Services was able to deal with the recent storm for the mobility impaired, Pamela Rohland, the director of Disability Services at URI, said that due to the recording system used, it is possible to make a list of all the buildings that need to be plowed immediately. Â “There are places that will always be on the list, like the dining halls and Roosevelt, which offers many services … but we make sure the places where students with mobility needs are a priority, in terms of shoveling and snow clearance”
Similar to the anonymous student, Harsh has had trying experiences getting from class to class using the Kingston Connect, a shuttle that picks students up and drops them where they need to be. Â “The flex service is nice but they just aren’t as reliable as I need them to be,” Harsh said. “I have back to back classes Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., and after giving them my schedule I told them that I needed to be picked up at 10:50 a.m., for that one class … That first day I waited 25 to 30 minutes. Â They didn’t show up until around 11:15 a.m., so I missed that class … It was a little better today but it is still frustrating.”
While URI does well on many of the big mobility issues, including providing services beyond the minimum required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), campus is often a difficult place to move around in. Â Harsh states “It’s not good that a lot of this stuff happens but I can’t think of anything more they can do in this situation either…They can’t cancel school every time there’s snow on the ground. Â And we can’t have people at every building clearing the way after every student”
Rohland also said “[We make sure that] If a student with a physical handicap is assigned to a classroom that is not accessible to them [especially with weather conditions], the entire class is actually moved to a different room rather than telling the student they can’t take the class …We [also] offer the RamVan with two staff that are part-time but permanently staffed to help with students who may have mobility related disabilities get from place to place on campus.”
And though Disability Services tries their best to accommodate all with disabilities it is not always immediately apparent to them what may need to be done.
“We don’t know what a situation is all the time,” said Rohland. “We always do the best job we can when we have the proper information from people who need services … for instance we found that there was a student who was having trouble getting around their third floor bathroom … Once the issue was brought to us we were able to contact the facilities department to go out there and see what they can do … We try to make the physical environment here on campus more easily traverse for people with disabilities … The university, regardless of cost, supports equal opportunity for students with disabilities.”