October 17, 2008

Disability Activists Address Ways to Make C.U. More Accessible

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Andrea Haenlin-Mott and Katherine Fahey, members of the Executive Disability Group and Americans with Disabilities Act Coordinator Team, spoke with the Student Assembly yesterday about their strategy for making Cornell more accessible for faculty, staff and students.
Vincent Andrews ’11, S.A. representative-at-large, invited the two women to discuss their plans because he believes the S.A. should be aware and involved in an initiative that greatly affects the welfare of the student body.
“Disabled students exist on campus and we need to grant them the proper attention and representation,” said Andrews. “We’re listening to their concerns and discussing the issues.”
“According to the National Organization on Disabilities, in 2007, there were an estimated 54 million people with disabilities in the U.S,” said Katherine Fahey, director of Student Disability Services. “There are a growing population of individuals with disabilities at Cornell.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects people with disabilities from discrimination in places of public accommodation, like a center of education. In order to continue receiving federal funding, Cornell must comply with Section 504 of the act. Recently, the Department of Education has audited several Ivy League institutions.
Cornell “must comply with the law,” in order to continue receiving federal aid, said Haenlin-Mott, ADA coordinator for facilities services.
Cornell has organized a group of administrators, including Susan Murphy, vice president of student and academic services, and Stephen Golding, executive vice president, to assess Cornell’s care of members of the community that have disabilities.
The focus of the team’s initiative is divided into six main areas: physical accessibility, educational programs and services, technology, communication employment and emergency preparedness.
While the committee lacks any student representation, S.A. members asked questions and gave some suggestions to the ADA.
Rebecca Stein ’09, ILR representative to the S.A., suggested that the team discuss handicapped parking spaces and the additional cost students must pay for such spaces.
“I was classified as disabled for a month,” Stein said. “While I did not buy a permit to park in the handicapped spaces, I saw that they were left empty most of the time.”
In addition, S.A. members asked the speakers about C.U.’s biggest gap in accessibility. While there are residential buildings that need accessibility like Risley and High Rise 5, Haenlin-Mott and Fahey mentioned a focus on public buildings that are severely lacking in accessibility.
“There are not too many buildings that are without accessibility problems,” Haenlin-Mott said. “There are public areas that remain inaccessible, like Schoelkopf [Field], the Campus Store, Day Hall … We have grand places for Willard Straight Hall,” Haenlin-Mott said.
According to the guest speakers, another key element to the new strategy is signage. While there may be accessibility for people with disabilities, much of it is unknown because it lacks the appropriate signage.
“It may be the best kept secret,” Haenlin-Mott said.
In addition, the University initiative hopes to address all of the different disabilities of its members.
“This is not just wheelchair accessibility,” Haenlin-Mott said. “This also includes learning disabilities, asthma and allergies.”
While the federal law does increase the incentive for Cornell to boost its concern for levels of accessibility to members with disabilities, Haenlin-Mott explained the larger goal at hand.
“We want to build a community that doesn’t exclude people by being unaware of what is needed to integrate people with disabilities into the community,” she said.
The implementation of the plan is scheduled for July 2009.