Photo courtesy of Undergraduate Government of Boston College / Facebook

BC Community Discusses Accessibility at UGBC Town Hall

If you’ve ever seen the Million Dollar stairs, the stairs to Upper Campus, or any of the other dozens of staircases on Boston College’s hilly campus, you may have noticed that it can be difficult to get around. For many, it is a minor inconvenience on the way to class. For disabled students at BC, however, the hills and staircases can be a real obstacle to moving throughout campus.

On Tuesday, Oct. 24, UGBC’s Council for Students With Disabilities hosted a town hall event to discuss experiences, accessibility on campus, and change. The Council generally holds one town hall per semester to provide a space for students to share any issues, complaints, or suggestions that they feel may have gone unheard, according to Council Chair Claire Chatellier.

“It’s a way for us to better investigate how we can better serve our constituents and what can be improved,” Chatellier said of the event.

The town hall featured speaker William Tibbs, the Director of Planning and Design on the Capital Projects Management team. Tibbs gave a brief history of accessibility on campus, starting with the Campus Accessibility Report that began in 2005, which focused primarily on landscaping and grounds issues rather than the buildings. It was not until 2008 that the team began to look seriously at the accessibility of various campus buildings.

Tibbs noted several projects that have been completed—projects that he calls the “low-hanging fruit” on a very difficult campus. These initial projects included adding accessibility ramps and door-opening buttons to building entrances, as well as redoing all of the bus stops, some pathways, and the Academic Quad, which used to have several sets of stairs on it. Although these projects are some of the easier ones to tackle, they still pose significant obstacles. Namely, the cost of these projects is significant. The accessibility ramp into the library on Brighton Campus, for instance, cost about $250,000, according to Tibbs. This is also the approximate cost of the accessibility ramp at the O’Connell House on Upper Campus, and the cost of updating any elevator on campus.

Tibbs also acknowledged that outside evaluators from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education had been to campus in recent years to evaluate the accessibility of campus.

Said Tibbs, “In general, I would say all of them said that [evaluators] thought we were doing a good job, that we still had things to do, and that like in any big university you can’t do them all at once; you just have to have a plan to work your way through.”

Over the past decade or so, since the Campus Accessibility Report, Tibbs estimates that BC has spent over $4 million on improving accessibility. Although he acknowledges that there is progress yet to be made, he notes that there are several things that his office has learned over that time span that will aid its future projects. Lessons learned include moving from the reactive to the proactive, encouraging student involvement, getting a second opinion from accessibility experts, verifying construction, and developing a comprehensive and flexible plan.

As for what this comprehensive and flexible plan would entail, Tibbs did not go into the specifics of what is upcoming, other than to say that they are phasing in signage that would indicate more accessible routes through campus.

He did, however, provide some insight into how plans are formed. Tibb’s office is constantly creating three-year plans. While their plans have historically been based on complaints they have received from others, or immediate need for a particular student, they have now incorporated a more proactive portion that creates a list of priorities to tackle before they become an immediate problem.

Despite these proactive aims, pressing problems still take priority—and in order to fix them, the Project Management team has to know about them. Again and again throughout the presentation, Tibbs urged students to provide feedback and to voice their concerns so that the team can react to the problems that inconvenience students the most.

Following the presentation, Tibbs sat in on the ensuing discussion to hear firsthand the concerns from students about accessibility. Students related a variety of experiences and difficulties, including waiting two hours for Eagle Escort, experiencing difficulty getting onto the Newton Bus, not knowing the accessible routes around campus, and having to explain why they were receiving extra time on a quiz or why they were allowed to step out of class.

Many students expressed some frustration and disappointment in their experiences. Some, however, were hopeful that the difficult events of last week and the ensuing discussions on the immediate need for change may provide a window with which to accomplish their goals.

“If we really want to do anything, now is our time,” stated one student participant of the discussion.

For anyone who is interested in continuing these discussions on accessibility on our campus, or determined to create a change, there are a variety of ways to participate.

The Council’s next event, entitled “Talking Body: A Discussion on Disabled Bodies in the Media,” is taking place on Nov. 9 at 12 p.m. in Stokes N201. On that same day at 5:30 p.m. in McElroy 237 there will be an All Abilities Welcome Adaptive Yoga Session. Both events are part of Love Your Body Week. Finally, the Council will host guest speaker Wendy Booker, a motivational speaker who was the first person with Multiple Sclerosis to summit Denali at a height of 20,310 feet. Booker will be at BC on Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. in McGuinn 121.

For those interested in being even more proactive, there are ways to do that as well. Tibbs encouraged all students with observations, concerns, or issues to voice them. He recommended the channel of the Office of Student Affairs, or contacting the Council directly so that its members could pass along the information. Finally, anyone who wants to be more active in advocating for these issues or who already has a project in mind that they are passionate about is encouraged to attend the Council’s weekly meetings. Times and locations can be found on its Facebook page.

“All events are open to everyone, whether you have a disability or not,” emphasizes Chattelier. “We welcome all abilities at all of our events and all of our general meetings. I think a lot of people think that they have to have a disability to participate, but that’s definitely not the case.”

She adds, “Anyone who has an area that they perceive they could work on and advocate for more accessibility...we encourage people to take initiative and work on that and make it their own.”

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