Accessibility during emergencies

Butler’s protocol for students with disabilities during emergencies is under revision. Photo by Lauren Hough.


Up until the week of Nov. 7, the university said on its website that it could not guarantee the safety of individuals with disabilities in the case of an emergency evacuation. The statement was listed under the tab “Emergency Procedures for Students with Disabilities” and read, “Butler University cannot make any guarantee or representation that its personnel will be able to assist an individual with a disability in the event an emergency evacuation occurs.”

Since then, however, two updates have been made to that section of Butler’s website. A section was added above the original statement that read, “The Evacuation Policy & overall emergency procedures for individuals with disabilities are currently undergoing review and revision. An up-to-date policy will be posted on this page soon.”

Now, the original italicized statement has been completely removed from the website.

Kathleen Camire, director of Student Disability Services, SDS, said in an email to The Butler Collegian the source of the original statement is unknown. 

“In the last several weeks, we have been working to find out the origins of the italicized statement on evacuations, as that statement has been there for probably a decade or more and we weren’t sure where it came from or if it was legally required,” Camire said. “After investigating further, we learned that statement is outdated and not relevant because of the specific emergency evacuation processes that we do have for students with disabilities.”

Camire said a new policy is being actively revised and updated with the goal of being in place for the spring semester. She added that individual departments do not have the ability to directly edit their own websites, so SDS has to go through the marketing department to get new information posted. 

In the meantime, Camire said students with mobility concerns have been made aware that the policy is being updated, and that SDS has discussed emergency needs and concerns on an individual level.

Concerns with accessibility and SDS have been prevalent since the beginning of the semester. Repeated accessibility shortcomings on campus have drawn attention to areas of the university that fall short of providing adequate support for students with disabilities. 

Frank Ross, vice president of student affairs, said in an email to The Butler Collegian that the university has become more conscious of accessibility issues as the year has gone on. Ross said students vocalizing their concerns, especially members of Bulldogs for Universal Design, BUD, has brought to light ever-present challenges that students with disabilities face. 

“I do believe the Butler community is becoming more aware of accessibility matters on campus, in large part due to the advocacy from students, including our Bulldogs for Universal Design organization,” Ross said. “… Access is something to which we are all committed, and I very much appreciate our students who are educating us on issues, raising concerns, and helping identify areas where we can make our campus more inclusive.”

Ross added that there are systems and processes in place to assist students with mobility concerns in the cases of emergencies. 

Butler University Police Department, BUPD, partnered with SDS to create a system that allows emergency personnel to quickly identify, find and help students with disabilities in emergency situations anywhere on campus. In addition, Ross said the university has shared information with the Indianapolis Fire Department so first responders can locate and assist mobility-impaired students. SDS also encourages students to have their mobile phones on them at all times to call 911 and ask for assistance if needed.

Becca Mattson is a junior music education major and the president of BUD. As a wheelchair user, Mattson said in an email to The Butler Collegian that she has a personal protocol in place that is sent to all of her professors. 

The letter states, “This student is a wheelchair user with limited mobility. Please alert medical personnel during evacuation, if at all possible, as she will need assistance in order to safely exit the building.”

Mattson said she is to call BUPD to inform them of her location if she needs assistance, and believes that as in her case, SDS works with students to determine evacuation plans best suited to individual needs.

Echoing Ross, Mattson said she believes Butler as a whole is becoming more aware of accessibility issues on campus. 

“I do believe adequate action is being taken to work towards making campus more accessible,” Mattson said. “… It is important that the student body understands that making changes takes time, and it is unfair to expect Butler’s administration to do everything overnight. Members of Butler administration are working diligently to make improvements for our students, and I am incredibly grateful for their work.” 


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