No one can dispute the challenges faced by disabled GW faculty members, students and staff every day. Although many of the University’s buildings and facilities are wheelchair-accessible, there is much more that needs to be done to make life better for the disabled.
Reports from disabled students paint a picture of a University that is neither responsive to important needs for building access nor apologetic for its negligence. Students say a Mount Vernon Campus shuttle’s automatic chair lift is regularly out of order and there is not wheelchair access to two of the three floors of the campus’s academic center.
Another student reports that she waited months before she could even get access to the Marvin Center using the new elevator; and the University did not know how to get her out of the Marvin Center during a fire drill. Other disabled students have had better experiences but do not give GW high marks in dealing with them.
Vice President for Public Safety and Emergency Management John Petrie admits the University has no plans for helping disabled people evacuate most buildings on campus during emergencies. Petrie said that the manual he is writing will outline emergency procedures for all students, including disabled ones, and will be available in the fall.
Because the use of elevators is forbidden during an emergency, people who are paralyzed are unable to get out of some buildings. University officials should be better trained to deal with emergency procedures.
Renovations in the Marvin Center nearing completion are a good first step toward helping disabled students because some of the renovations will make the building more accessible. Although costly, applying similar disabled-friendly efforts elsewhere on campus would further advance these goals. This campus should be accessible to all students.
Getting around campus is a bigger challenge for disabled students and faculty than it should be. To spare students the inconvenience of unreliable transportation in the future, shuttle drivers should test their automatic lifters periodically to ensure they are working properly.
GW is an accessible school. But there are many more steps left to take before all faculty members, students and staff are able to function here as well as any other regardless of their physical condition.