Students notice lapses in accessibility services

by C. Aileen Blaine

Youngstown State University prides itself on its status as a safe, inclusive campus offering resources to students to better their chances of success. But for YSU senior Mac Pomeroy and others with disabilities, a few oversights make all the difference when it comes to having an enjoyable campus experience.

“We have the [cart services], we have disability services, we have buttons installed on campus,” Pomeroy said. “But these things are all severely neglected.”

One of her biggest grievances is the lack of access points into buildings. As someone who uses a cane, heavy doors are often difficult for her to open.

“There’s a lot of disabled students on campus — we really rely on [door operators and cart services],” she said. “It just often feels like with accessibility, they did it, but they didn’t keep up with it.”

This restroom on the first floor of Kilcawley is marked as handicap accessible, but it lacks a door operator that may make it easier for some to enter. Door operators aren’t outlined in ADA regulations. Photo by C. Aileen Blaine / YO Magazine

Even when the doors aren’t a problem, sometimes getting to them in the first place is a logistical challenge.

“There’s no accessible pick-up and drop-off points for students, and I don’t mean the carts — I mean just getting to campus,” Pomeroy said. “And quite frequently, it’s actually difficult to access the driveways that are available for things because you’re just not supposed to pull into them.”

Though she doesn’t use the resources often, Pomeroy did acknowledge that the academic accommodations are helpful and efficient.

Gina McGranahan, associate director of Academic Success Center Accessibility Services, is also the Title II/Section 504 coordinator for students. One of her main tasks is working with students to ensure that their needs are met both spatially and academically. This includes orchestrating extended test times, alternative test environments and notetakers for students.

“I think the thing that keeps students from registering with Accessibility Services is they think it’s like high school and I’m going to go to class and say, ‘Hey, Joe, come with me.’ That doesn’t happen — it’s confidential here,” McGranahan said.

Students have rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in public spaces such as jobs, schools and transportation, as well as in public and private areas open to the general public. The act, which is broken up into five titles, outlines the specific requirements for various institutions as well as the requisites for both physical and mental disabilities. Title II focuses on nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in state and local government services as they apply to the labor- and workforce-related practices. YSU falls within the title’s scope as a public university.

At YSU and other schools, students are entitled to the following rights:

  • Equal access to postsecondary education
  • Non-discrimination
  • Participation and enjoyment of the school and its activities
  • Accessible education
  • Appropriate accommodations
  • Privacy concerning personal information

However, this doesn’t mean that instructors will provide students with easier work or drastically alter course and conduct requirements. Students are responsible for making sure their needs are met as well. They must provide the university with the proper documentation from a doctor or licensed professional.

McGranahan acknowledged that some students may have reservations about contacting her office due to concerns about privacy, but she assures them everything is kept in strict confidence.

“We know here what their disability is, but unless there is a need for somebody to know, it doesn’t leave this office,” McGranahan said.

Students with documented disabilities can register with Accessibility Services and are assessed on an individual basis. They may be able to qualify for the following:

  • Early registration
  • Testing and classroom accommodations
  • American Sign Language interpreters
  • Information, referral and awareness services
  • Collaboration with departments and agencies on and off campus
  • Housing accommodations
  • Note takers

The university also requires that instructors include the disability accommodation statement in each syllabus in an effort to help students feel more comfortable and likely to self-disclose their needs in a private setting.

YSU makes efforts to ensure that its electronic and information technologies — which include all information provided through the university’s website, online learning environment and course management systems — are accessible to students, employees and guests with visitors, according to YSU’s ADA compliance webpage.

Stacey Luce, manager of employee benefits, addresses employees’ ease of access requests, which can include software, classroom and technology accommodations. Employees are asked to provide official documentation from their doctor regarding their needs.

“I speak with the employee through an interactive process and try to get as much formation of what they’re truly looking for,” Luce said. “We work through some things that we can do for the employees.”

Accommodations include talk-to-text software, larger monitors and remote work opportunities upon assessment.

“As long as there’s not an undue hardship on the university, based on their requests we accommodate them on that,” Luce said.

A common cause for delay in providing employees their requests is delayed or broken communication with an employee’s doctor, according to Luce.

“What might complicate the process for getting someone the resources they need is the physician failing to complete the paperwork timely,” she said. “It’s not working with the employee, it’s not trying to get the equipment timely or trying to get the software timely. The physician is always the holdup.”

For Pomeroy, test time extensions and notetakers don’t detract from the fact that sometimes it’s difficult for her to get where she needs to be. Between opening heavy doors on campus buildings and orchestrating rides with the understaffed cart services, attending classes sometimes mean unforeseen circumstances.


‘One of the worst days of my college experience’

One particular incident sticks prominently in Mac Pomeroy’s mind when she thinks of the shortcomings of accessibility accommodations at Youngstown State University.

“When the problem’s bad enough, I’ve been known to go home,” Pomeroy said. “One time, I was left out with the cart services — they didn’t come pick me up [after about] an hour. I had to call my own dad to come and get me because it was winter. I was stuck outside because — guess what — one of the buttons wasn’t working.”

Due to her mobility issues, Pomeroy finds walking long distances difficult. This coupled with the frigid Ohio winter and frozen doors meant she didn’t see any other option.

“I had to call my dad crying to come and get me,” she said. “It’s not something that should happen. … It was one of the worst days in my college experience.”


John Hyden, associate vice president for facilities maintenance on campus, said buildings on campus are built to code, though older constructions, such as Jones and Fok halls, have been grandfathered in despite code violations.

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board is a federal agency that issues guidelines to ensure that buildings and facilities are accessible to those with disabilities. The board operates with the guidelines and standards of the ADA and other laws. Its website offers animations, documents and other resources outlining building codes and requirements. These requirements range from height, length and width specifications for restrooms to ramps and floor materials.

The recently renovated restrooms in Kilcawley Center marked as handicap accessible meet the ADA’s standards. The measurements are as follows:

 

Location  Width  Length  Door width Door operators
1st floor (single user) 107 inches 95 inches

(at longest point)

35 inches Yes (in repair)
1st floor stalls 36.5 inches 59.5 inches 31.5 inches No
2nd floor stalls 36.5 inches 61.5 inches 31.5 inches No

 

Many campus buildings offer accommodations to students, faculty and staff that aren’t necessarily outlined in ADA regulations. This includes the door operators on campus.

“We’ve found that it’s better to address the specific needs of the folks that are here. Even if we’re not required to by law, we still will accommodate those in most cases,” Hyden said.

This restroom’s door operator is out of service, but supply chain shortages complicate the repair process. Photos by C. Aileen Blaine / YO Magazine.

However, it’s hard to say to exactly what extent YSU is responsible for the lack of repairs. Nationwide, supply chain shortages have been popping up for some seemingly unlikely products. Within the Mahoning Valley, businesses ranging from auto body shops to T-shirt printing vendors are struggling to find the parts needed to fulfill customer needs amid the global supply chain shortages, according to coverage from local news outlets such as WKBN and The Business Journal. The impacts are appearing at YSU in the form of the broken door operators sprinkled across campus.

“Right now, we’re waiting for parts,” Hyden said. “You hear in the news every day about supply chain issues. If I need a part for a door operator and I can’t get it, I can’t fix it.”

And sometimes, even if parts are available, it’s not always practical to fix an issue due to the campus facilities and maintenance’s hours of operation, according to Hyden.

“If I find out a door operator doesn’t work in Kilcawley Center at 7 at night, I’m not going to call somebody out in the middle of the night to come fix it,” he said. “But first thing in the morning, we’re going to get them on it.”

The door operators are one of the most frequently reported maintenance requests, according to Hyden. When an elevator goes out of service, it requires the campus facilities to reach out to the maintenance and repair contractors, who are supposed to be on the scene within 30 minutes of a request.

“I just really feel like the university needs to pay more attention to its disabled students, and it needs to pay attention to the accommodations that it offers,” Pomeroy said.

Though she doesn’t handle physical maintenance accommodations, McGranahan said she reports when she notices infrastructure issues on campus.

One way of improving the conditions on campus is underutilized and unrealized by students, according to Hyden. He said his department is more than willing to work with students to help them in any way it can. The facilities and maintenance department also communicates with the Accessibility Services to ensure student, faculty and staff needs are being met. The department tries to find students with whom it can work with for an extended period of time to gain a better understanding of campus resources in need of improvement.

“I’m not sitting in a wheelchair, so it’s easy for me to say. … So we rely on those who do need those accommodations and take advice from them, whether or not it’s part of the ADA — we’ll always listen to their suggestions,” he said.

Those  interested in working with the campus facilities and maintenance department to improve infrastructure resources, or to report a problem, can reach out to Hyden at jphyden@ysu.edu or 330-941-3235.

Students interested in applying for academic accommodations can contact the Accessibility Services office to find out what accommodations are available to them based on their needs, with strict confidentiality, McGranahan said. Students can reach the office at 330-941-2090, and employees can at 330-941-1322.

Employees interested in exploring available resources can contact Luce at seluce@ysu.edu or call 330-941-1322.