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Is UNH Factoring Accessibility Into New Building Renovations?

Some students are not satisfied with the campus’ level of accessibility. What is the university doing to address that?
Ryan Malloy
Increased construction at Huddleston Hall and elsewhere on campus has expanded the conversation of how accessibility is being factored into new improvements.

Feedback from University of New Hampshire (UNH) students suggests they are not satisfied with the current level of accessibility on campus. With multiple building renovations underway, the university has the opportunity to support its commitment to improved accessibility. 

Rosie Correll, 2021 UNH alumna, experienced firsthand the challenges of navigating campus with a physical disability. Correll was diagnosed with congenital myasthenic syndrome, a rare form of muscular dystrophy that involves muscle weakness and fatigue, when she was 16 years old.

She expressed frustration about one particular experience when she could not get to class because of a broken elevator. Correll explained that she emailed UNH Disability Services, but was left with no response.

“The elevator eventually got fixed later that day, but no one should be unable to get to class due to something they can’t control. I am one of the lucky ones where I am able to climb stairs, even though it was difficult and used up a lot of my energy that took away from my ability to focus in class,” said Correll. “What if I was in a wheelchair? Or another mobility aid? I wouldn’t have been able to get to class at all. The elevator breaking is obviously not something someone can control, I totally understand that, but UNH should have handled it properly.”

As an undergraduate student in 2020, Correll even created a petition to make the campus more accessible.

“Non able-bodied people are considered the ‘other’ group, or ‘not in the norm’ and are forced to deal with the aftermath of building construction and weather because they are not considered very often by the predominant group,” Correll wrote in the petition.

Construction is in progress at Hetzel Hall, Spaulding Hall and Huddleston Hall, the latter of which will become the Hamel Honors and Scholars College in fall of 2024. In addition to keeping up with accessibility requirements, these renovations aim to address maintenance issues, improvements to bring these facilities up to current student, faculty and staff expectations and updated safety improvements. Spaulding Hall is also being expanded to add more teaching and research laboratories, said William Janelle, associate vice president of UNH Facilities.

“When buildings are renovated on campus, every effort is made to bring the facility into compliance with current code requirements which includes accessibility,” said Janelle. 

This includes the Huddleston Hall renovation, explained Janelle. The Northwest corner of the building will include an accessible entrance that will access a new elevator and serve all floors within the building.

Hetzel and Spaulding Hall are also being updated to meet current accessibility requirements. Both buildings will have at least one at-grade entrance, elevator service and gender-inclusive bathroom. Hetzel Hall, a residence hall, will have single-user showers, bathrooms and resident rooms, said Janelle. Spaulding will have accessible bathrooms, research and teaching labs and meeting spaces. 

According to a 2013 document outlining the accessibility of buildings on campus, 21 of the 52 academic and general buildings on campus do not have elevators (note that the Paul Creative Arts Center comprises seven separate “buildings,” divided by the multiple theaters, galleries and recital halls. Three do not have elevators and two have lifts). 10 out of 34 bathrooms in the academic and general buildings listed are not accessible. The document has not been updated by UNH Facilities since 2013. 

The Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is working with Facilities on a geographic information system (GIS) mapping project in hopes of integrating accessible bathrooms and other accessible spaces into buildings. The current GIS mapping project “will be able to produce a more thorough and complete understanding of our campus buildings as it relates to various inclusive and accessible spaces and we will be able to then replace the 2013 chart,” said Nadine Petty, associate vice president and chief diversity officer for the Division of DEI, in an email to The New Hampshire.

According to the 2019 Campus Climate Survey, 12.1% of the sample reported having one or more “disabilities.” 236 respondents elaborated on their responses regarding accessibility. One of the themes that emerged across these responses was “mobility concerns.”

As written in the survey, “One respondent noted, ‘There are buildings without elevators,’ while another respondent observed, ‘Some buildings are still not accessible (stairs are a big barrier for me) and I still have to request meetings to be moved. This is uncomfortable. Sometimes I can’t attend a meeting either due to lack of parking within a reasonable distance or stairs (or both).’”

When students are placed in a classroom that is not accessible to them, Student Accessibility Services (SAS) works with the student and the instructor to determine the best solution. 

“Often the best solution is to change the location of the class to a more accessible building or room that will meet the student’s needs,” said Director of SAS Scott Lapinski.

When finding another space is not possible (i.e., if it is a lab course), SAS will work with the student to ensure they continue to have effective access to the course. This can include a wide variety of options depending on the individual needs of the student and the essential requirements of the course, Lapinski said. 

As colder months approach, a concern amongst students who advocate for accessibility is that sidewalks are not cleared adequately after snowfall. 

“During winter, sidewalks are not always properly plowed enough for people to use wheelchairs, crutches, canes, etc. to safely get to class. As an able-bodied person, I can’t even remember how many times I have fallen or almost slipped while walking to class during the winter,” said Mercedes Pepin, UNH alumna and collaborator on Correll’s petition, in an email.

Some students with disabilities are unable to salt the walking paths on their own, and if they are unaccompanied it can be a hazard, said Correll.

The UNH facilities department is responsible for sidewalk maintenance. The team does their best to keep up with the changing climate of New Hampshire, Janelle said. 

“During a storm event and typically 24 hours after the event, sidewalks can still be snow and ice covered as the team continues to treat and remove accumulated snow and ice,” said Janelle. 

I think UNH needs to spend more time focusing on bettering the lives of the students who pay to attend their institution and less time funding an excess presence of police, paying executives unreasonable salaries, and modernizing class buildings each year as a way to appeal to the public eye,” Pepin said. “At the end of the day, colleges are a business. So, it is disheartening to see a school that advertises diversity and inclusivity but does the bare minimum to achieve this.”

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