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Blue light phones get disability upgrade

They are big, they are blue and they are often touted on admissions office tours as symbols of the University's campus security. Blue light phones are a highly visible campus crime prevention measure, but not everyone can use them because they lack appropriate features for the disabled.

Changes will soon ensure these phones are accessible to everyone in the community, by providing increased accommodations for students, faculty and the public with disabilities. Additionally, software will be installed to guarantee that each blue light phone line is working properly in a move to increase reliability for students.

Changes to the blue light phones include curb ramps, surface modifications for individuals in wheelchairs and adjustments to the emergency alert system to accommodate people with low vision or hearing impairments.

"The reason for the technology upgrade is two fold," said Shawn Flaugher, crime prevention specialist for the Duke University Police Department. "We need to comply with the [Americans with Disabilities Act] guidelines [and] we're trying to install software safeguards to check the [phone line] connections and help serve students."

Director of the Women's Center Donna Lisker said the blue light phones in general are helpful tools in maintaining student safety on campus as one component of a safety program.

"I think they are useful as one part of a larger security plan," Lisker said. "However, I think by themselves they are not going to cut it. We need to think about our security more broadly so that blue light phones can be a last resort."

As part of a compliance settlement with the Department of Justice from a February 2000 lawsuit, the University has been implementing a five-year program to make the campus more accessible. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires universities and other public institutions to provide appropriate access and services for individuals with disabilities.

"The general rule is that we want to make sure that individuals with disabilities have access to the same type of services that folks without disabilities do," said Mary Thomas, director of the disability management systems. "[As] the University provides these safety phones, we wanted to make sure our phones are accessible for people with disabilities."

She added that many other schools are also dealing with these issues are looking at Duke as a role model as how to comply with these rules. "Our ultimate goal is that we want to make our university a welcoming place to all individuals," Thomas said.

Sophomore Shannon Kunath said she appreciates the growing blue light presence on campus.

"I think there have been times, especially in the Blue Zone, because you are so far out there, that at least at night, if you ever felt threatened or in case of an emergency, I've been really glad they are there," she said.


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