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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Admin To Fix Campus Center Disabilities Issues

Since the Campus Center’s opening six months ago, the building has been touted as UMass Boston’s new front door, with sunlight flooding in through glass windows and doors. The building’s mission is defined on the university website as “the gateway to the academic life of the university…[that] reflects the institution’s founding principles of access, diversity, and excellence.”

But some members of UMB’s disabled community cite these glass doors as a barrier rather than a gateway. “For me to sit here and say it’s a fully accessible, a number one, dynamite model for the disabled community, the answer is it is not,” says Carol DeSouza, the university’s ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) compliance officer. “But, I don’t want to diminish the good things that are in that building. God knows people like myself who have been here for twenty-some-odd years have waited for this center for students.”

Among the Campus Center ADA compliancy issues, DeSouza notes the weight of the glass doors, along with the lack of signage in the building, as chief concerns. “You’ll notice that on the second floor hallway the glass doors have chipped because they close fast on the wheelchair,” DeSouza says. “The person doesn’t have a push-button to open them so he or she has to wheel up, hold the door open, pull themselves through -but by the time they do that the door’s already closed and it hits right into the wheelchair.”

Assistant Director of Disability Services Zary Amirhosseini, herself a wheelchair user, has had similar experiences. “I work in Disability Services and there is no door-opener,” says Amirhosseini. She recounts an incident earlier in the day when she had a hard time holding the door open for a student, also in a wheelchair and without the use of his hands. Amirhosseini further cites the doors in the Advising Center and soap dispenser height in the bathrooms as problem areas for people in wheelchairs.

ADA specifications mandate doors to be calibrated at particular rates for weight, pull, and closing speed. According to Stephan Chait, assistant vice chancellor of administration and finance, the doors were calibrated prior to the March opening of the building to account for these factors and have been adjusted several times since.

“Some of the doors were opening too quickly and closing too slowly, some were opening too hard and closing too fast,” he says. “So they’ve been adjusted and that will probably require ongoing [adjustment].”

The lack of signs is also a major issue in the Campus Center. Junior Jimmy Costello, a wheelchair user, is primarily satisfied with the accommodations in the Campus Center. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s pretty good. I know people with more disabilities have trouble with certain doorways and the trash receptacles in the cafeteria,” says Costello. “My only criticism so far of the Campus Center is the lack of signage, and that goes for all students, not just for people with disabilities.”

DeSouza agrees. “It’s a concern for not only people with visual impairments needing the Braille, but for any student I think,” she says. “It’s a very hard building to manage, it’s a lot of distance we’re not used to.” Many of the signs currently in the Campus Center are temporary with simulated, but not actually raised, Braille markings.

Second year student Milissa Garside has mixed feelings about the Campus Center. “In the beginning I thought it was awful. But today, I was really impressed because near the elevators there’s a campus directory and under it the whole thing’s in Braille,” she says. “There’s Braille on the elevators. I have to say compared to last semester they have made some improvement.”

Chait said that the signage was being prepared for bidding. “We had a rather interesting issue, we could open a building and put all the signs in, then have everyone come along and say ‘Oh, why’d you put it there’ or that doesn’t say exactly what it’s supposed to say,’ so we went through a process once the building was built for putting temporary signs which are flat and do not have Braille on them,” he said. “Our efforts to accomplish putting Braille on them were not successful on a number of them. And now that we have a sense of how signage in the building should work, a package is being prepared…with a lot of nice new signage in the building which will address the Braille concern. It’s just been not timed to happen with the opening of the building.”

These new signs with Braille, raised lettering, and numerical identification will be in place for the start of next semester, nearly a year after the building’s opening.

An apologetic Ellen O’Connor, vice chancellor of administration and finance, calls the temporary Braille a “disgrace.” “I know it seems like a long time, some of that is inherent in the special design…it isn’t a question of just buying it and putting it in there.” She added, “We have too many projects and too few people working on it. I’m very sorry about it. I’m aware that we’re trying people’s patience.”

The Campus Center, from conception, has changed hands from the constructors to the state, and finally its tenants. The building remains under a warranty of sorts for its first year. As the building is used and issues are unearthed, the university may raise concerns to the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management (MCAD), the agency that worked alongside with architects and the construction company. O’Connor describes it as a “shakedown period” of follow-up and review.

DeSouza is confident that it is the most accessible building on campus. She cites that positive attributes in the building outweigh the lingering negatives.

The opening of the Campus Center garage was delayed to ensure handicapped van access; the height of the information booth counter is adjusted to accommodate students in wheelchairs; the new bookstore has placed its shelves on wheels so that wheelchairs may navigate its aisles; condiments in the cafeteria are placed at a height for easy wheelchair reach; and the doors with manual buttons are in working order.

“Nothing gets done overnight,” she says. “State regulations are what they are. It takes you a long time. I’ve ordered the buttons to be moved in the elevator in Quinn in 1992. They still haven’t give us the money to do it. It’s not my money, it’s the state’s money and it doesn’t make a high priority…I won’t rest until everything gets done, but I’ve also learned to have patience.”

“The building is built to meet ADA complaint codes,” says Chait. “The unfortunate part is those codes don’t always meet the needs of every individual… The aim was to meet the code requirements for that building which unfortunately does not meet everyone’s requirements.”

DeSouza says that she is open to suggestions to remedy these issues in the interim. “At least we’re promising folks that we’re listening and doing what we can,” she says.