Wheelchair access an issue for some

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KAYLIE RICKS
KRICKS@BUTLER.EDU
CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

For students living in Apartment Village on Butler University’s campus, walking to class can be time-consuming.
For Tammy Nguyen, a junior strategic communications major, getting to class takes even more time because, like eight other students on campus, she uses a wheelchair to get around.
Schools around the world try to make their campuses wheelchair and scooter accessible. At Butler, all academic buildings are wheelchair accessible, with ramps on the outside. The academic buildings also have elevators, allowing students to get to classes that aren’t on the main floor.
Nguyen, who was born with spina bifida, has used a wheelchair her entire life. She said Butler is accessible for her. The toughest areas, she said, are the hill going down to Holcomb Gardens and the ramps and hills by AV.
“It could always be worse,” Nguyen said. “My first choice for school was Florida State, which is a public school.”
Students with disabilities generally give Butler’s academic buildings and most of the campus good marks for accessibility.
“The overall feedback I receive from students and visitors with mobility impairments is that our campus is quite accessible to wheelchair/scooter users,” Michele Atterson, director of student disability services, said. “There are always areas that can use improvement, so we allot resources annually to continually upgrade physical access at Butler.”
Gia Landi, a senior communication sciences and disorders major who lives with cerebral palsy, thinks Butler can do a few things to improve its accessibility.
She said it is hard for a student who uses a wheelchair to get around when Butler constantly has construction on its campus. It doesn’t help that these construction projects take so much time to get finished.
Landi uses a scooter to help her get around. Last year, she had a class in the Pharmacy and Health Sciences Building. The elevator wasn’t working, which resulted in her missing “four or five classes.”
“When an elevator breaks down, Student Disability Services is quickly notified about this by Operations,” Atterson said. “SDS then notifies students with mobility impairments. If the elevator issue results in a student missing class, SDS is available to work with the professor and student regarding the missed classwork.”
Landi was able to Skype with her teacher during the class time. Even though she wasn’t physically present in the classroom, she was still able to see what was going on. However, the elevator took time to be repaired.
As a senior, Landi said one thing that bothers her is that she has never entered a fraternity house. Along with that, she never went through recruitment because many of the sorority houses cannot accommodate her needs.
Becky Druetzler, director of Greek life, said all chapter houses were constructed in different decades under different code requirements.
Nguyen said she thought about going through recruitment but backed out both times. She is considering trying again this year.
“A lot of houses don’t seem wheelchair accessible from the front,” she said, “but the majority of the houses have a side or back door. People don’t think about that.”
However, houses that look accessible from the outside may not necessarily be easy to get around in inside.
“It’s complicated,” Druetzler said. “Some of the houses, like Lambda Chi Alpha, are completely accessible, but there isn’t a student room on the first floor.”
Alpha Chi Omega just did a renovation and built a ramp. Delta Tau Delta has plans to do a major building addition. A ramp will also be added to their house. Greek housing on campus, however, is not owned by Butler and therefore is not allotted resources by the university.
“With any new construction, they are going to be required to follow the new codes,” Druetzler said. “Any builder is going to question the accessibility when they are planning.”
Landi said she went over to meals at some of the sorority houses.
“Some of the houses have stairs going into the kitchen, and that would be a daily struggle for me,” she said. “They would have to make the changes for my scooter. It’s true the academic buildings are accessible, but Greek houses need to change.”
Last year, some of the chapters had incoming pledge classes of more than 50 girls. Not all sorority and fraternity houses can house everyone in the pledge classes.
“With the growth in our chapters, living in the chapter house is not an absolute anymore,” Druetzler said. “Students who use wheelchairs could always choose to join the membership, but not necessarily live in the house.
“It’s always something you have to think about,” she said. “Even if it’s only a small number of students, you need to be open to accommodating everyone.”

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