Handicap access at Mercer sees few changes in five years

Written by: Tim O'Boyle

The Administrative Assistant for the Dean of Liberal Arts, Debra Stotland, gets to Mercer every morning at 7. She always pushes the handicap buttons for the doors she enters to make sure they work. If a button is broken she calls Security to let them know. She does on behalf of handicap students who might find themselves in her same situation later in the day.

Stotland was confined to a power wheelchair until 6 years ago when she underwent bariatric surgery. During her time of relying on Mercer’s handicap accessibility, she found that many handicapped students have to go to great lengths to get around campus.

“In good weather it’s fine, but during inclement weather it’s very inconvenient for students,” Stotland said.

Stotland told the VOICE, on bad weather days when a student doesn’t want to walk outside, in order to get from the MS building to the AD building, the student must enter the LA building first, go through the ET building, then go into the BS building before finally arriving at the AD building. A trip that requires an inconvenient amount of time when the MS and AD buildings are less than 50 yards away from each other.

Many offices at Mercer keep their doors open if they do not have an automatic door opening button, but Stotland said that this gets Mercer in trouble with the Fire Marshal’s because of it being a fire safety hazard. Stotland has continued to make handicap accessibility a focus for Mercer’s administration by being an advisor for a student club whose aim was to bring handicapped awareness to those who are non-handicapped, and she has also gone as far as to offer administration to use her in wheelchair to see what it is like to be handicapped on campus.

“It’s gotten much better” said Stotland, “They meet the minimum requirements.”

When Stotland would use the Faculty/Staff dining area while she was handicapped, she would have someone accompany her, or wait for a student to open the door for her since the area does not have an automatic door opening button. She was amazed at how willing students are to help, “Our non-handicapped students are very helpful.”

In 2012, The VOICE assessed handicap access on campus. Reporters found that Mercer had no automatic door button at the entrances for the Financial Aid office, Bookstore, or the Enrollment Services office. This is a problem that has continued to be unresolved, despite the offices are some of the most frequented places on campus.

Since the 2012 article, handicap access has not changed much on campus. Mercer has maintained minimum compliance with the ADA, but issues raised in the 2012 VOICE article have not been fully addressed.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed into law in 1990 and strove to enforce civil rights laws protecting people with disabilities against discrimination in employment, public services, and public accommodations. Mercer complies with ADA regulations because they are considered a part of the “Places of Education” category under public accommodations. The Act was edited in 2010 and contained small rule changes like requiring light switches be installed 48 inches off the ground, compared to the previous 54 inches.

A person with a disability is defined by the ADA as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”

When asked how Mercer goes above ADA standards Arlene Stinson, Director of The Center for Inclusion, Transition and Accessibility, said “The standard is the minimum, and obviously there is a desire to maintain compliance for all students with disabilities.”

Out of the many automatic opening doors on campus, that are in front of certain buildings and within, less than 10 work.

“The college is ADA compliant, and generally as a campus it is fairly accessible.” said Stinson, “We have a series of elevators and two floor situation that allows access to almost all classrooms by elevators.”

Mercer still has no elevator in the CM building, making the art gallery on the second floor harder to get to, one of the issues brought to light by the 2012 article.

According to Stinson, “the total number of students we serve each semester is approximately 700.” That number includes students with learning disabilities and not solely those who are physically handicapped.

“Arlene [Stinson] determines the needs and we make adjustments based on her recommendations.” said Director of College Safety Bryon Marshall, “we figure out creative ways to get them to class.”

If a classroom needs to be moved because of lack of access for a student, according to Marshall, it is done, “in a way that is very quiet, confidential”

Both Marshall and Stinson cited a problem they encountered this semester with a student. “We had to move a classroom because it wasn’t accessible to someone who uses a wheelchair.” said Stinson.

Marshal says “Simply the room’s no longer functioning, so we move the class. That way we don’t single out the person.”

Stinson says, “The ultimate goal is for the accommodation floor to not be necessary anymore because the campus is designed so it is accessible to all.”

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Tim O'Boyle

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