Although access to buildings on campus for students with disabilities has improved in recent years, some students say there is still work to be done.
Following student advocacy beginning in 2011, the Disability Management System instituted a series of short-term and long-term plans focused on implementing policies to make campus buildings and transportation more accessible. Since then, more buildings and sidewalks meet the specifications of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Dean for Residential Life Joe Gonzalez wrote in an email. However, some students with disabilities expressed frustration about the current state of campus buildings.
“Duke has so much money and it’s used to make new buildings, but a portion of it could be used to make buildings more accessible,” said junior Cuquis Robledo, president of Duke Disability Alliance.
Senior Jay Ruckelshaus—the founder and president of Ramp Less Traveled, a nonprofit organization that helps students with spinal cord injuries pursue higher education—noted that several places on West Campus, such as Craven and Crowell Quadrangles, still need to be improved.
Robledo explained that the lack of accessibility in some West Campus dormitories poses problems when she wants to visit friends living in these locations. In addition, she noted that the Languages building on West, which does not have a ramp, is impossible for her to enter.
“There are certain classes that I can’t take [because they are held in Languages],” she said. “I think it would be better in the long-run to fix the front of Languages.”
Ruckelshaus explained that many structures on West have not been able to undergo renovations because of the age and architecture of the buildings.
“It’s frustrating but understandable,” he said.
Ruckelshaus noted that he thinks the construction projects currently in progress—including the West Union and the new student health center—will leave campus in a much better place than it was before.
“In the short term, it’s been annoying, especially the closing of the bridge between Main Quad and the Bryan Center,” he said. “But it’s part of the effort of making it more accessible.”
However, Robledo noted that she believes the value Duke places on making buildings aesthetically pleasing inhibits the effective implementation of measures to improve accessibility.
Many ramps to buildings, especially on East Campus, are located behind buildings, which makes them harder for students with disabilities to utilize, she said.
Although progress has been made in the main areas of West Campus, Robledo noted that some parts of campus seem to have been forgotten.
“I can’t take art classes in the buildings on the backside of East Campus, which is definitely frustrating,” she said.
She added that one of her friends chose to rush a particular fraternity because he knew that the dorm where the fraternity lived was accessible to those with disabilities.
The snow this year caused additional difficulties for Robledo and her friends who also have disabilities, she said. Because the walkway in front of her dorm in Edens was not cleared of ice and because snow had been pushed onto sidewalks, she was unable to attend class.
Gonzalez wrote that Housing, Dining and Residence Life is committed to addressing the needs of students with disabilities.
“I believe that most are very happy with the efforts and changes that are made,” he wrote.
However, Robledo noted that she feels that students with disabilities tend to get forgotten in the face of other issues on campus because they make up only a small portion of the student population.
Ruckelshaus explained that because there are very few students with disabilities, the University does not attract as many applicants who have disabilities as other schools do.
“Because of this, we don’t have as many students advocating for [disability access] issues,” he said. “It’s a vicious cycle.”
He added that although he believes projects making West Campus dorms and buildings accessible are needed, focusing on minor dorm renovations—like those to Giles dorm on East Campus—is probably better. Such projects will positively impact the majority of students’ experiences, Ruckelshaus said.
Still, Gonzalez noted that HDRL is planning renovations for West Campus quads that will ensure each house is accessible.
“We have worked very hard to make sure students do not miss out on experiences due to limitation with housing accommodations, regardless of the cost and work required,” he wrote.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.