The Center for New Media (CNM), partially clad in green pixel-like panels, is South City Campus’ newest jewel of a building for Salt Lake Community College. Bright surfaces, skylights, terrazzo-like floors and plentiful amounts of glass give the CNM a high-tech corporate look. Inside are the latest technologies for mass communications and digital arts production.
Underlying all the glitz are challenges and accessibility deficiencies troubling students and faculty since it opened, including power outages, uninstalled software and printers, network access troubles, overheating classrooms, mismatched chairs and desk heights, video screens blocking white boards and poor sight lines. All this excludes the unfinished cafeteria and broadcast studio spaces.“We are asking for everyone to be patient in this transition,” says Richard Scott, interim dean for the Schools of Arts, Communication and New Media, who helped steer the first phase of integrating those programs under one roof. “The building isn’t finished. We have lots of work yet to do.”
Most troubling are accessibility limitations in certain areas that are finished and sparse signage pointing out elevator and bathroom locations. Brian Rolands, a SLCC student the past three years, was challenged the first week of class in gaining entry to the CNM library.
“I am very disappointed they didn’t put a button in at the front entrance in the new building they just constructed,” says Rolands. “It was hard at first to find the elevator, too, because there are no signs.”
The glass doors do not have an electronic activator and are heavy to operate.
Rolands, who experiences a degenerative muscular dystrophic condition that limits his reach to open and close doors and relegates him to a motorized chair.
“I tried to open the library door by pushing against it with my chair, but it didn’t work. The doors rattled, and thankfully, someone saw me to let me in,” says Rolands.
SLCC provides resources for both students and faculty who require special accommodations due to a disability. Each request is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and usually requires documentation of the disability, according to Kathie Campbell, assistant director for the Disability Resource Center (DRC).
The DRC is the first stop for students. Faculty and staff should contact SLCC’s Human Resources department.
Over 54 million Americans, about 20 percent of the population, experience a disability. Campbell points out that a disability can range from communicative, such as difficulty hearing, to mental, as in a learning disability, and to physical limitations.
“We often mistake that a disability is only one limiting you to a wheelchair, but anyone who cannot perform a life function the same as a normal person has a disability. We help in getting the resources students need to be successful in the classroom, such as adaptive furniture or equipment,” says Campbell.
The DRC serves approximately 6 percent of the college’s population, about 3,600 students.
“If they need an adjustable desk, for example, that student should contact our office. For matters concerning the physical facilities or building, they should contact the school’s risk manager,” says Campbell.
SLCC takes accessibility matters seriously and proactively, according to officials who handle the school’s risk prevention and administration. In 2012, the Universal Access Committee (UAC) was established in response to a DRC program review.
“We invite focus groups that include many people with disabilities in order to know what their needs are and how we can address them on campus,” says Sarah Stoker, the Equal Employment Opportunity and Risk Administration coordinator.
The 25-person UAC meets monthly and is composed of people from different departments college-wide.
Four subcommittees cover accessible technology, Americans with Disabilities Act [ADA], physical access and accessible instructional materials.
“We are trying to be proactive about general accessibility,” says Mikel Birch, the director of Risk Management and UAC member. “The goal is to examine accessibility of all programs and departments and develop a transition plan for the future.”
A study of accessibility by the DRC concluded that there are lower graduation rates for individuals with disabilities and other barriers to complete their education. Only 13 percent of people with disabilities over the age of 25 earn a bachelor’s degree versus 31 percent for those who are fully abled, according to Birch.
“We wish to remove these barriers. The goal is to have everything universally accessible—from facilities to instructional materials—but it is a lofty goal,” says Birch.
According to Birch, an ADA physical accessibility assessment is in development by the UAC for SLCC. The assessment will be used to develop a new ADA policy and assist in the transition planning.
“Actually, SLCC is doing a pretty good job overall compared to other local schools, and it is one of the reasons I teach here,” says Stan Clawson, an SLCC instructor.
Clawson suffered a fully severed spinal cord injury while rock climbing in 1996 at the age of 20, and has used a wheelchair ever since.
“ADA is continually evolving. Schools only need to provide reasonable accommodation,” says Clawson. “It is fortunate for SLCC that their campuses are mainly flat. But Redwood’s buildings—many built before ADA passed in 1991—have since been retrofitted. I always have to plan my routes, and sometimes it is not convenient.”
Clawson visited the CNM and tried the glass entry door into the library.
“Very interesting, those doors. They swing both in and out. Surprising there is no activator but I personally don’t need one. I manage because of my upper body strength and full use of arms,” Clawson says. “I can see, however, that it might be an issue for some. Imagine someone opening this door by pushing it or forcing it with their motorized chair. What happens to that door?”
Minimum building code prescribes glass doors, in this case, be heat tempered to resist impact shocks. Building codes are only minimum standards and may not be fully adequate to serve the welfare of the public in all circumstances.
Rolands has found difficulty in maneuvering in and out of some of the bathroom entrances.
“It is not fun if you are in a hurry,” says Rolands. “And the front entrance [to South City] where there is a ramp—that door is often locked. I have to wait for someone to walk by to let me in.”
Not all accessibility needs are brought to the DRC’s attention. Some disabilities are hidden or not easily identified. There are also those who experience disabilities who prefer to live very independently.
“I may be slow, but I seek quality,” says Howard Stanton, a graphic and web design student. “I wish sometimes I could see the screens better. The text could be bigger. I have such a hard time, sometimes, and have to often ask many questions,” says Stanton.
This can slow down the instruction for the other students.
Awareness to help others when needed is an important charge to both students and faculty because SLCC’s policy is to keep the graduation, program and curriculum requirements the same for every student.
“We recognize that we need to train our faculty more in these matters, so they can be better at teaching everyone or at recognizing which students require that extra assistance to be successful,” says Campbell. “This is why an event such as the Disability Awareness Week is so exciting. It really brings some great presenters and gets people involved. As for those with disabilities, they are treated like anyone else.”