Student faces challenges with handicap accessibility

Troy Neumann

Lumen Reporter

Aimee Litwin, a junior psychol­ogy major from Onalaska, Wis., at­tempted to attend mass at Viterbo’s San Damiano Chapel. Going up the ramp in her wheelchair, she felt as if she was tipping.

Litwin, a handicapped student confined to a wheelchair much of the time, has experienced more is­sues than just this during her time at Viterbo.

“It’s been a challenge,” Litwin told Lumen. “There’ve been issues I have run into. I have been late for some classes because the elevator is too slow or broken.

There are many things that go unnoticed at Viterbo that can prove to be trouble for a handicapped stu­dent, Litwin said.

One such challenge is the ramp leading to the chapel on campus. This is one problem that Litwin has brought to attention of Viterbo offi­cials that has yet to be addressed.

“We have to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabili­ties Act,” Jane Eddy, director of Aca­demic Resource Center and Coordi­nator of Disability Service, said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted on July 26, 1990. Ac­cording to the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Acces­sible Design, “each facility or part of a facility constructed by, on behalf of, or for the use of a public entity shall be designed and constructed in such manner that the facility or part of the facility is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if the construction was commenced after Jan. 26, 1992.”

This doesn’t mean Viterbo needs to tear down walls and rebuild to meet every possible situation, Eddy said.

Viterbo cannot anticipate every­thing that will need to be changed for a handicapped student, Eddy said. She noted that when Litwin first came to Viterbo to check her room, a faculty member went with her to ensure that everything was the way Litwin would need it.

Another problem that Litwin has helped to address is in-case-of-emergency situations. If there were a fire in the Murphy Center, the el­evators would shut down. But, Lit­win has classes on the higher floors of Murphy.

“We had a fire drill one day and I asked my professor what I was sup­posed to do,” Litwin said. “She said she would ask someone and later told me a fireman would have to come and find me.”

Another problem with Murphy is that there is only one handicapped accessible bathroom in the building.

She has been late for class trying to make her way down to the second floor and into the library to get to the bathroom, Litwin said.

The Murphy Center does follow the 2010 Americans with Disabili­ties Act Standards for Accessible Design, because it has a path to the handicapped bathroom, but Litwin is worried that it takes too long to get to or from some areas of the building, she said.

She also has concerns about the cafeteria.

“When I first tried getting to the cafeteria I didn’t know how to get up there,” Litwin said. “I ended up using a faculty elevator and ended up in the kitchen.”

When she is in the cafeteria she also needs the help of the faculty to serve her food, because the tray rail­ings are too high for her.

“It would just be nice to be able to serve myself, in case no one is there to help,” Litwin said.

Many of the doorways do not have automatic openers, either.

“I’ve become good at pushing the doors open with my feet, but my chair sometimes scratches the door accidentally,” Litwin said.

There are also unexpected prob­lems that arise.

“When I left a class in the Fine Arts Center on the second floor the elevator was suddenly broken,” Litwin said. “I had a ride waiting for me so I called them and six re­ally nice guys helped carry my chair downstairs.”

“There are things that we try to fix as quickly as possible, like a bro­ken door scanner or elevator,” Eu­gene McCurdy, Viterbo’s director of Physical Plant, said.

“The biggest thing for us is that any time a student can tell us ‘this is not working for me’ we can try to help,” Vickie Unferth, Viterbo’s Di­rector of Residence Life, said.

For example, when Litwin began living in Bonaventure Hall, Physical Plant had to make the door to Bo­naventure more handicapped acces­sible by moving the card scanner as well as making the door open auto­matically.

Other issues have been raised about the residence halls as well. As the halls on campus are being re­modeled, they are being made more handicap friendly, with handicap accessible showers, bathroom stalls and wider doorways.

“The new residence hall will also be more handicap accessible,” Un­ferth said.

“All the doors will have automatic operators and the building will have an elevator,” McCurdy said.

With the new residence hall, new bathrooms and new doorways will be more accessible to the handi­capped, McCurdy said.

“I don’t think it’s fair that other students should have to miss out on an otherwise good school because of their physical limitations,” Litwin said. “I just want people to be more aware of the issue, because it’s im­portant for anyone with a disability to be able to get around.”

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