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.
FIX THOSE CRACKS!
By Joshua Feldman with Jennifer KeenerThe 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.**