The Buff and Blue: Fix The Cracks

Moderator’s Note: This article was published in the fall of 2005 while I worked at the SBG feverishly to pinpoint the structural errors and hazards and the administration wasn’t being very attentive or effective. So I figured that the two main student-run media outlets, the Buff and Blue and BisonTV would run the story on the ever growing cracks on campus. Today, in 2007, there are major cracks that remain… namely Hanson Plaza and Field House parking lot. Message of this action: don’t sit idle while something pisses you off. Don’t be a sitting duck while the powers – that – be play you for a fool. Stand up, use every avenue of media to expose this problem – it’ll surprise the defensive by putting on an articulate and smart offensive. It sure got the attention that Deaf-Blind students needed. Too bad Jane Fernandes, Paul Kelly and King Jordan were at the helm. Truly a shame they didn’t listen.

In addition, during the Gallaudet protests in October, I took a look around and saw some cracks were covered by cement on the major walkways, some remained at-large, pun intended. Since I spent most of the time on the front lines, I have not had the chance to venture inside dorms to see if yellow/black cautionary strips were added in each wing; if Hanson Plaza’s Grand-Canyon like gaps were covered up. If anyone at Gallaudet can be my personal private investigator, that would help greatly.

To answer some comments that the font was too small for people to read – my apologies. I’m not web-page-savvy and I’m still learning the nooks and crannies of WordPress. Bear with me – and I would very much appreciate helpful and positive feedback rather than hostile criticism. We are all in this together, not separately. Plus, when I do this blog, all the fonts are the same due to modifications on my computer so I have no clue what you see. Thanks.

– Christine


By Joshua Feldman with Jennifer Keener
The Buff and Blue, Gallaudet University, Monday November 14, 2005

Cracks in the sidewalks, a lack of black-and-yellow warning strips on stairs, the need for automated buttons to open doors, high wheelchair ramp grades, and poor lighting were among the common problems discovered all over campus.

“I am Deaf Blind and in a wheelchair. I do not want to struggle to open a bathroom door. I do not want to break my neck at the bottom of the stairs when it could be prevented. The administration chides students, saying that all we do is talk and complain about problems, but that is not the case here. I am doing something.” – Christine Roschaert

Christine Roschaert is not happy. The Director of Ethics and Conduct for the SBG is concerned about the safety of visually and physically disabled people on Kendall Green, so much so that she initiated the first ever campus-wide survey of infrastructure to find inaccessible and poorly designed areas that should be fixed. Last year, as chairwoman of the Committee on Disabilities, she conducted a survey of students with multiple disabilities to see what they needed in terms of accommodation. The results were staggering and disheartening: Numerous complaints poured into her office, and even when one problem was fixed, it was usually fixed in a localized manner, leaving the same situation or problem untouched elsewhere on campus. Such piecemeal repairs prompted Roschaert to consider what she dubs as a “Campus Walk” to find and document once and for all the physical barriers to accessibility that exist on campus. Cracks in the sidewalks, a lack of black-and-yellow warning strips on stairs, the need for automated buttons to open doors, high wheelchair ramp grades, and poor lighting were among the common problems discovered all over campus.

Roschaert, with the help of Officer Virginia Fedor from DPS, student Jason Yingst, and CREs Bob Wilson and Nikki Surber, walked around campus during both daylight and the night on April 26, 2005, writing down “recommended changes to lighting, pavement, and building structures to improve visibility and physical routes,” said Roschaert. It took five pages for the team to finish writing down their complaints. “Each page had between 20 and 40 corrective actions on it,” Roschaert explained. Afterwards, Fedor told the team they would get copies of the list they had made that day and the issues would be followed upon by fall. “She told me I would return to a safer campus,” says Roschaert. Fedor assured the team that she would make sure the items on the list would be prioritized by the Physical Plant Department.

Roschaert, who has Usher Syndrome, returned to campus this fall in a wheelchair, after breaking her leg over the summer. When she became stuck in trying to get over a crack in the sidewalk and her wheelchair broke, she put two and two together: “These were the same cracks that we had agreed to fix during the campus walk!” she says. There have been minimal changes on campus: Only some cracks have been covered by cement, and PPD managed to fix the footbridge that runs between Kellogg Conference Hotel and the Library, which was badly mottled. One wonders whether that bridge, used rarely by students, should have been fixed first. “More urgent changes were not given attention, such as adding black-and-yellow cautionary strips to all stairs, both inside and outside buildings, automated door buttons for most of the doors that allow people in wheelchairs to enter bathrooms and buildings, and also the poor lighting on Hanson Plaza has not been changed into a brighter type of lighting,” she said. Roschaert feels that the campus is dangerous and those who can see and walk do not realize just how dangerous the campus is. As a testament, at the beginning of the school year, Roschaert filed a report with Clerc to paint black-and-yellow warning strips on the stairs in the building. Today, Roschaert says she sees “a project not even half finished. Yellow paint with masking tape lays on each stair, even some steps have none,” she explained. “I feel so frustrated. No one is listening to us.” Seeing very little changed, Roschaert decided to take matters into her own hands. Roschaert emailed Officer Fedor three times, requesting a copy of the list and an update on progress being made. Roschaert says she has not received any copies, despite her requests. In an email to Roschaert addressing Christine’s search for answers from Officer Fedor, DPS Chief Meloyde Batten-Mickens pointed out that “DPS was involved in the walkthrough with PPD as the coordinator, not the actual unit to fix the facility concerns. During that time, Officer Fedor was following directives under a different manager, whom [sic] is no longer here. Officer Fedor is an excellent officer who is very dedicated to Gallaudet.”

There are no what ifs about the potential for harm. It has already happened. A few weeks ago, Joel Knuth, who uses a wheelchair, thought there was a ramp when there was none under the HMB pedestrian bridge. He had seen white markings and mistook them for indication that a ramp was nearby. He got hurt after being thrown from his chair as it toppled over the curb. A few years ago, a student with Usher Syndrome woke up in the middle of the night because of a fire alarm. The student had to evacuate the building, and while hurrying down the stairs of the dorm, which were not painted with black and yellow warning strips, he fell down. Today, the stairs where it happened “remain without any strips,” Roschaert said.

Roschaert received an email reply from Gary Aller, Manager of Business Operations, under which PPD falls, regarding her requests for change and frustration at the slow pace of repairs. “Many of these issues have been addressed, but it is not practical or reasonable to assume that [the] University can address all these issues in a short period of time. Many of the sidewalks with raised edges have been replaced. It is my understanding that the elevator emergency notification systems are being changed. We also tried to use yellow and black tape on the crash bars on exit doors but the tape is being pulled off and we may have to paint the doors instead. At the same time we are completing these projects, the University has been preparing for the beginning of the semester for KDES, MSSD, and the University. The work of the Physical Plant staff has been exemplary,” wrote Aller. “The University takes very seriously its obligations under ADA and will evaluate your requests for additional changes. However, some of these may take time,” he added. George Gateau, manager of the distribution center and system operations for PPD, did not reply to Roschaert’s emails.

Explaining she is at the point where she is ready to take this case to a lawyer, Roschaert says she does not want for “ Gallaudet University to be the center of attention from the media outside,” and potentially the defendant in a class action lawsuit. Roschaert echoes what the disabled community here at Gallaudet must feel: “I am Deaf Blind and in a wheelchair. I do not want to struggle to open a bathroom door. I do not want to break my neck at the bottom of the stairs when it could be prevented. The administration chides students, saying that all we do is talk and complain about problems, but that is not the case here. I am doing something,” she says. Roschaert knows of two students who have left Gallaudet over concerns about accessibility, and she admitted she would not be surprised to see more students follow their lead.Adding a few last words, Christine Roschaert hopes the students will do something: “This kind of ignorance decreases motivation [for the disabled] asking for full access and an easier life at the place where they spend 24 hours, 7 days a week. More energy has been consumed in planting flowers and plants all over campus by the PPD. I find that it isn’t a priority as opposed to life-saving and independence-enhancing aids to [enable] students with disabilities to lead a normal life here at Gallaudet.” **note the red flag re: hanson plaza several months before its footbridge collapsed? tsk tsk.**

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9 Responses to The Buff and Blue: Fix The Cracks

  1. mishkazena says:

    Christine, since you were at Gallaudet last Fall during the protest, did you observe any new changes as recommended on your list?


  2. TClock says:

    How come it is hard for people with weak sights to read your article? Practice before you preached, please.

  3. gary brooks says:

    I hardly read this!!!! please please for all bloggers make all the fonts big enough! so we can read easy. We want to keep our readers glued to the world of Deaf News.

  4. Jean Boutcher says:

    It was with great difficulty reading your message because of the stark black background against off-white text. Please memorize forever that the eyes are so precious to deaf people.
    Merci bcp. d’avance.
    Jean Boutcher

  5. I don’t think anyone knows this but those with Usher’s read better with dark background and light font color. I will remain in this, or change the font color to yellow or white. But I am not going to change the background. Sorry for any inconvenience it may cause your Deaf eyes. This blog is FOR the deafblind, and to educate the deaf.

  6. Lejon says:

    I can see why this is hard to read. Even though the fonts are certainly big enough, the letters and lines are too close to each other. The spaces in between these letters and lines need to be separated a little more. When I read a line and continue to go to the next line, I wind up going back to the same line. That is what really makes this difficult to read.


  7. mishkazena says:

    Interesting. I had no problem reading this blog.


  8. Andrea says:

    It is sad — though, unfortunately, not very surprising, to find that Gallaudet is still experiencing many of the same problems with accessibility that were there 15 years ago. For wheelchair users, for example, some of the doors on campus are hard to open. Also, during the winter, sidewalks are pretty much never completely cleared of snow — PPD puts all their efforts into clearing roads on campus for cars and buses, but don’t really do enough to make sure pedestrians have a safe place to walk where they don’t need to worry about slipping on ice. I have a foot problem (for the past few years) that makes it harder for me to keep my balance if anything happens to throw me off (such as a foot slipping on ice), and my foot is also far more prone than it used to be to re-injury if I should happen to fall again.

    I’ve seen similar situations at the cafeteria where students try to lobby for more vegetarian food, or healthy food or both — then they get the cafeteria to agree to make changes, and they make a few changes, but a few weeks later things are back to the way they were.

    I suspect the secret to trying to create ANY kind of change at Gallaudet is PERSISTENCE. Never, ever assume that a problem is solved just because someone says, “Okay, we’ll fix this now.” My thoughts, based on years of observation at Gallaudet, are:

    1. Keep careful documentation of everything that needs to be changed (you did this–but should keep your own copies, never release your only copy to administration).

    2. Make sure these documentations include notes on all verbal and written agreements with the appropriate administration about what will be changed. Get agreements in writing where possible; if not, then take careful notes of all verbal agreements and have copies ready to be shared as needed.

    3. Have some kind of system for on-going monitoring of the situation and report continuing problems promptly.

    4. Christine, do you still have the notes from when you did your walk around campus? (If not, can you do another one and generate a new set of notes?) If so, maybe you could post them here, so more people will be aware of the specifics of where the problems are. Ditto for any agreements that were made.

    What can people off campus do to help? What can sighted, able-bodied people on campus do to help?

  9. Meredith says:

    Actually, this was easier to read for me than the Xanga posts. Often when I would read Xanga through my RSS reader, posts would show up as white text on white background. I figured it had something to do with Christine’s own settings, and because I am a sighted person, I figured it was up to me to fix the problem, not ask her to change. I always just copied the text into Notepad and then I could read it fine.

    But this post showed up in black on white in my RSS reader, and I could read it with no problem. Then I came here and I can still read it with no problem, though it is kind of small. The light on dark is not a problem for me, and most browsers let you adjust the text size – perhaps those who are having trouble reading this site can just adjust their text size rather than expecting Christine to change.

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