The wheels on the Unitrans buses may go round and round, but a different set of wheels on campus has slowed down lately.
Adam Shapiro, a third-year clinical nutrition major, is in a wheelchair, and when he wants to get to class in Everson Hall, the uneven pathways are sometimes so rugged that he worries that his chair might tip over.
“A lot of places on campus make me feel secluded,” said Shapiro, who transferred to Davis in the fall. “It would be nice to use the entrances and pathways that other people use, but I’m constantly forced to find different ways of getting to where I need to go.“
Though Davis is relatively flat, wheelchair users have found certain areas on campus difficult to navigate. For example, the restrooms in the MU and in the Chemistry building are so narrow that Shapiro’s wheelchair cannot fit through them.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), bathroom stalls must be 30 inches wide or more, which Shapiro and other wheelchair users claim is not the case in certain buildings.
Victoria Shao, a senior psychology major and wheelchair user said that in some of her lectures, she has to sit in the aisle at the top of the stair because there isn’t a fixed wheelchair area.
“Even though the building is older, I still feel like I’m getting in the way,” she said.
Though these complaints are matters of compliance with the ADA, many other obstacles are not illegal, but inconvenient, said William “Buzz” Dreyer, a computer programmer for the Statewide Integrated Pest Management program and wheelchair user.
“Davis has been a very good campus for me since it’s so flat,” said Dreyer, who has worked on campus for 20 years now. “But sometimes there’s the issue of keeping pathways clear. People don’t always realize that when they leave their bikes on a ramp, wheelchair users can’t get to that building anymore.“
Dreyer also gets frustrated with maintenance when assistive devices don’t work. If the one wheelchair accessible stall isn’t working, he has to go to an entirely different building. When an automatic door won’t open, he has to rely on a passer-by to open the door for him.
“Knowing who to call when that kind of thing happens is sometimes a mystery,” he said. “It would be nice to have one place to call to report a problem. Staff may know that they can call facilities to fix the problem, but most students and visitors don’t know that.“
Another issue those in wheelchairs face on the Davis campus is the matter of feeling unwelcome. Many wheelchair entrances are in the back of buildings, or the automated door openers are difficult to locate. Wheelchair users have to ask for assistance, which can often be humiliating or inconvenient, said Disability Issues historian and Davis professor Catherine Kudlick.
“Technically, going to the back of a building to get in is legal by ADA standards, but it’s not welcoming,” said Kudlick, who also teaches a history class on disabilities. “Wheelchair uses feel rarefied enough physically, why add seclusion onto that feeling?”
Kudlick believes that one solution to the structural problems wheelchair users face are more empathetic building designs.
“Architecture schools don’t even teach their students how to design buildings to accommodate wheelchair users,” she said. “If you’re not in a wheelchair, how are you even supposed to know that a particular door might be in a bad spot for someone with a disability?”
These complaints are not going unheard though. The Disability Issues Administrative Advisory Committee (DIAAC), which receives a small allowance from the ADA, meets monthly to address the issues of the disabled community and bring them to the attention of the UC Davis administration. They also examine all blueprints and offer suggestions on how to make the structure more accommodating to those with disabilities.
Bill Biasi, chair of the commission, has been a wheelchair user for 21 years. He is working on integrating Human Factors Engineering (HFE), a study that has acquainted many architects with the principals of wheelchair capability, into future building plans. He requires that in a group of architects, at least one person be familiar with HFE.
In doing this, Biasi hopes the school will integrate as many automatic doors as it can afford, and that more sidewalks will include curb-cuts to ensure that wheelchairs can get from the street to the sidewalk.
The DIAAC’s major project is currently an online map of wheel chair accessible areas on campus, so that students like Shapiro will know the best possible route to class.
The commission would also like to see more assistance for staff and faculty. While students can rely on the Student Disability Center for help, non-students have trouble getting around too, he said.
For the most part though, if all buildings simply complied with ADA standards, life in a wheelchair would be much easier, Shapiro said.
“Whatever it takes to make the buildings on campus more ADA compliant would make me feel equal to those who are able-bodied,” he said.
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.