The Case of the Broken Buttons: Accessibility at Hampshire

Amy Deyerle-Smith and Treat Shephardson

Here’s something you probably do frequently: walk to the Bridge. After all, Hampshire students are required to spend $150 per semester at the bridge, or lose their money. Not only that, but the BridIMG_3419 colorge is one of the few congenial public areas on campus. But here’s a question you might not be able to answer, if you are able-bodied: if you had a mobility impairment, or were confined to a wheelchair, how would you get to the Bridge?

If you have been in this situation, you probably know where we’re going with this one. If you haven’t, we invite you to take a moment from reading the inaugural Hampshire Howler and think about it. Can you picture how to do it?

 

Here’s the solution: hit the wheelchair button to open the side doors to the post office, enter the rear hallway via either the Hampstore or the adjacent door, take the elevator up one floor to the library, press the button to exit to library to the atrium, press another to enter the APL, and a third to access the eponymous bridge to the RCC. While cumbersome, this method is how the school meets the legal requirement of making the Bridge and the library accessible.

In reality, taking this route is virtually impossible.

 

This is the first of two Howler articles on accessibility at Hampshire. While the second feature will seek to engage Hampshire’s administration on the issue, this one details nothing more than an informal survey of Hampshire’s buildings and facilities. We make no claim to objectivity or expertise, but, to one co-writer who was previously ignorant of these issues, what we found was astounding– while to students with mobility impairments and those who have long been involved in advocating for accessibility at Hampshire, there may be nothing remarkable here besides the ongoing need for this issue to be recognized and resolved.

 

The two outside buttons used to enter the library don’t work. But supposing you’ve made it into the building: the problems continue. Is it after 7pm? If so, the Hampstore is closed, so that route to the elevator is out. And the door next to it is locked. It can still be opened via the button next to the gallery, but that button is at the other end of the hall, and the door automatically closes after thirty seconds. If you make it this far through the gauntlet you are liable to have another problem in the APL: the wheelchair button to the Bridge doesn’t work (it will open mechanically if you give the door a little push to get it started, which largely defeats the point of the button).  

Oh, so you want to leave the Bridge now? Go back, again through the defective APL door, take the elevator down to the ground floor, push on the door (there’s no button on the elevator side) and set off a deafening alarm to leave the building. Theoretically, this is so that people cannot get in the elevator with books and steal them from the library. In truth, library books are free anyways, and this door only forces students to choose between a difficult and potentially painful trip down the stairs, and an earsplitting and incriminating alarm.

Needless to say, working buttons for automatic doors are a necessity, not a luxury. Having to contend with a heavy door is far more than a mere inconvenience.  “[You] Can’t open it in a wheelchair because [you] can’t brace yourself,” said Blythe Newton-Haynes, founding signer of the Collective of Students Affected by Ableism, or CoSAA. She has Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, which means that her joints are one and a half times as mobile as most. “Some joints are worse than others,” she said, “and my shoulders are very loose.  I have pulled both out of place multiple times, doing strenuous activities such as rolling over in bed and picking up a water bottle.” Opening heavy doors, such as those on the library, can pull her shoulders slightly out of their sockets.

 

The library and RCC buildings are far from the only problematic spots. We tested the automatic door buttons around campus on two separate days. In ASH and Cole Science Center, the first button can get you through the front door, but not the second one directly after (although, commendably, Cole has buttons for all the doors sectioning off the first floor, and those all were functional: this may be due to the fact that the President’s office is located on the first floor of Cole. The elevator, however, was twice as slow as the library’s–it took fifty seconds to get from the first to the third floor, compared to the library’s twenty-six. We’ve also been told by a monitor that the front door is locked at 5pm, after which students have to use the side door by the library.) The outside buttons to FPH and the Music and Dance building didn’t work at all.

What exactly is the issue with the non-functioning buttons? Because most outside automatic door buttons at Hamsphire are accompanied by keyholes, and because specific automatic doors were observed to behave differently on different days (for instance, the first time we tried the MDB we found both buttons non-operational, while the second time around only the inner door would open), we worked under the assumption that the problem was administrative. That is, campus police officers with the keys usually did not remember or did not know that the handicapped doors had to be open along with the regular ones. But the problem turned out to be quite mysterious. Both of the campus police officers we spoke with for this article seemed genuinely unsure as to whether they were able to unlock the buttons or not. An officer that we spoke to on the phone initially said that the doors could “usually not” be locked, and then when prodded, said that it was a possibility “maybe for some buildings.” This conversation was quickly ended when it was determined that we did not currently need to be let into a locked space.

Those buildings that should have been accessible but did not function were almost a step better than the housing offices, Merrill B, the Center for Feminisms, the Writing Center, the Multicultural Center, the Tavern, and the back entrance to EDH (closest to the handicapped parking spaces,) which have ramps or accessible entrances but no buttons. The Wellness Center, Spiritual Life Center, Centrum Gallery and QCAC, are all on the second floors of buildings with no elevators. Dakin does not have wheelchair-accessible doors to go along with the already inadequate number of accessible rooms.

According to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (9.1.2), for a building with 300-400 beds (Dakin has 319), there should be eight wheelchair accessible rooms and four wheelchair-accessible showers. Dakin has four rooms, and one accessible bathroom, which for some reason seems to only be able to be in use by one student at a time. Blythe was told to talk to Joel Dansky, the former Disabilities Services Coordinator.

And then by the time I talked to Joel, this girl had broken her arm and needed the accessible shower because […] the showerhead moved, and I guess they can’t have two people sharing the bathroom. Which like, shocker, more than one person can be disabled at a time! And exist in the same area! WHAT A CONCEPT!” She believes that there was a washing machine in there as well, but couldn’t be positive due to her lack of access. Instead, she had to carry her laundry downstairs and through the heavy doors in the Dakin basement, which strained her shoulder joints and tissues. “I aggravated the muscles and nerves around my shoulder joints weekly just so I could do my laundry,” she said.  “This often resulted in painful cramps and knots which interfered with my day-to-day life.”

There seems to be a perception that the reason the campus is not accessible is because there are no students in wheelchairs necessitating it. But that’s not the real story: the reason there are no current students in wheelchairs (aside from occasional injuries) is that it makes navigating campus almost impossible. When asked if there were days that she would prefer to use a chair, Blythe responded with “Y E S”, adding that she knew of “at least one other [student in the same position] for sure. Two or three people I suspect would say yes if asked.”

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