Questions arise surrounding accessibility at CWU

Joseph Stanger, Staff Reporter

Going to classes while living on campus isn’t particularly difficult: you walk the equivalent of a few blocks and you can get almost anywhere within minutes. But, if you’re a wheelchair user, getting around is a very different experience.

“There are smaller things that people don’t think about walking around campus as an able bodied [person], they don’t see inaccessibility,” said Sawyer Stearns, a graduate student from the family and child life program who’s been navigating campus in a wheelchair for nearly five years. “Not only for someone in a wheelchair, but even people who are visually impaired or hearing impaired there’s definitely some issues.”

For an able-bodied person, a large crack in the sidewalk is just something to step over, but for a disabled person, it could be a legitimate obstacle. Stearns said she’s even fallen out of her wheelchair on campus because of the condition some of the sidewalks are in.

Stearns said her experience with accessibility on campus has been overall decent, but because of inaccessibility in certain buildings, her version of getting to class looks a bit different than what it would look like for an able-bodied individual. She said she’s had classes in Michaelson Hall throughout her time at CWU, and in order to get to those classes, she has to enter through a completely different building.

“The problem is that the elevator is in Randall and you have to cross the breeze-through to get into Michaelson,” Stearns said. “Also, most of the rooms in there, if they’re not the bigger rooms … [I’m] in a room that’s so tiny that I can’t turn around without hitting things. So, it makes it harder for me to be a part of everyone else because … I’m a little more isolated.”

Although her professors have been accommodating, it doesn’t change the fact that Stearns usually has to take long detours in order to get where she needs to go. During her first few years, she wasn’t even able to get into her friends’ dorm rooms if they lived in one of the older buildings because of a lack of accessibility. Stearns believes that if CWU was more accessible, she would’ve been able to accomplish more in her time here.

“I felt more isolated at times when friends would meet in a dorm that was not accessible and I wouldn’t be able to get over there. I couldn’t go,” Stearns said. “I never try to let [my wheelchair] stop me for things, but if I can’t get in, that’s definitely going to stop me.”

Stearns said good accessibility starts with allowing those with disabilities to make decisions and have a louder voice in conversations about accessibility.

“All the time we’re tearing down buildings and then we’re making new ones,” Stearns said. “I think good accessibility starts in letting [disabled people] have a voice. Just because Disability History month is over doesn’t mean the awareness is over.”

Web accessibility can also be an issue for those with disabilities, but unlike CWU’s campus, there aren’t standards or regulations for it. During a screening put on for Disability History Month, which occurs every October in Washington, Disability Services director Wendy Holden talked about some of the issues she’s seen at CWU regarding online accessibility.

“There are faculty who are worried about textbook prices so they … take a textbook and they photocopy it, and they upload photocopies for everyone to save them money,” Holden said. “I keep telling them, ‘First of all, no one wants to read your crooked photocopy. Second of all, it’s inaccessible!’”

Holden said disability services is looking to get people signed up for their disability advocacy organization, ABLE (Accessibility Belonging Learning and Equality), which is currently inactive due to previous student leadership graduating from CWU. 

Disability Services is also hoping students will show up to the meetings held by the Accessibility and Disability Action Planning Team (ADAPT). She said that changes are more likely to be made if students make their own voices heard rather than leaving faculty to be the advocates.

“I don’t know if students realize how valuable your voice is and how much power you have. I can say, ‘we need to do this and we need to do this,’” Holden said, “but if a student says, ‘this is a problem and this is what’s important to me,’ it carries a lot of weight.”