Volume 97 Issue 8 News

Handicap accessibility changes coming to Juniata College

by Taylor Smallwood

The Juniata College campus will be undergoing renovations in various buildings to accommodate those with physical handicap accessibility needs.

The changes include adding an elevator in Good Hall, making the Knox Stadium bleachers handicap accessible, updating the Ellis Hall elevator and lobby, and building a ramp to the Dale Wing entrance of the Brumbaugh Academic Center.

The renovations are part of Juniata’s strategic plan, “Courage to Act,” that was approved last April. “It is our framework for the future here,” said President James Troha.

Some current students were involved in the formation of the strategic plan. “Part of the strategic planning process was collecting lots of data from current students and alumni. Things, like accessibility, were important. How do we make people feel welcome? How do we have an inclusive community?” said Vice President for Finance and Operations, Rob Yelnosky. “When you have buildings that aren’t accessible to a percentage of the population, that’s not feeling very inclusive.”

“What message do we inadvertently send if there isn’t an elevator in one of our primary classroom buildings? It doesn’t send the message that you are an equal member of this community,” said Provost Lauren Bowen.

Not only will these renovations support individuals with physical handicaps and disabilities, they will help students who become injured during the academic year. “It was hard getting to my class on the fourth floor in Good. I got out of bed a little earlier than usual to take my time to get up the steps. I struggled with that and East every day,” said sophomore Donovan Cobb, who recently obtained a sports related injury.

Some students’ daily routines can be more difficult if they are injured or have a physical handicap. “Anybody that’s been hurt and on crutches on campus knows it’s difficult getting around because of the terrain of Juniata. Everything is a hill and there’s steps everywhere. So that’s difficult, but I know that they are accommodating if you request help,” said junior Davon Jackson, who is currently recovering from surgery for a sports related injury.

The current accommodations for those with a permanent or temporary physical handicaps include moving a class to a lower floor or making residence hall arrangements for the first floor. “There’s not many places where they couldn’t get to in a regular routine once we plan it out. The difficulty is planning it out, and it shouldn’t have to be that way. To get around fully on our campus (as a student with a physical handicap or disability), it’s awfully challenging,” said Troha.

Another goal of the handicap accessibility changes is to create an inclusive, effective learning environment. “We want people to be happy and accessible here, and you shouldn’t feel punished because you broke your ankle or because you live in a wheelchair. That should not be a barrier to your education in any way,” said Bowen.

The accessibility changes have been talked about in the past, but are in motion now. “I hope that it’s understood that the changes we’re trying to effect are because the community is ready and eager for them, and that they are born out of respect for tradition and culture and who we are,” said Bowen.

“I think there is  a new set of leaders and a new set of priorities going forward, and a strategic plan that suggests that we’re going to be more inclusive and more thoughtful about all kinds of diversity and all ways to include anybody in the life of the College,” said Yelnosky.

Although the number of people on Juniata’s campus who are affected by the lack of handicap accessibility is low, the College’s desire to develop a more accessible community is evident. “For me, one is too many. To me, the numbers aren’t important. It’s the right thing to do,” said Troha. “When you do have that moment where a mom or a dad wants to see Good Hall or a classroom on the fourth floor, how awful is it to say, ‘sorry, we can’t get you there.’ There are some people who would think that spending a million dollars on that one, small moment is too much money, but I would respectfully disagree.”

“My grandmother comes, for example, and it’s hard for her to get up to my dorm because it’s three flights of stairs. I think that adding the elevators and things is really going to help a lot of people out,” said Jackson.

Some other changes that may happen later regarding handicap accessibility include elevator installations in the Brumbaugh Academic Center, updates to the elevator in Beeghly Library and a connecting building between Lesher and South Hall.

Some plans for handicap accessibility are more advanced than others. “The idea would be to begin to put elevators into all of the residence halls. Probably the first one where we’ve got a preliminary design is to build a connecting space between South and Lesher,” said Yelnosky. “You can meet a lot of housing needs in South and Lesher, so if you added an elevator there, you’d be able to accommodate a lot of people in a lot of different ways so that’s where our first priority is going to be in the residence halls.”

The changes may also bring additional benefits to the Juniata community. “I think it will help make the campus more accessible. It will help foster that spirit of inclusion that we care about and in terms of, again, thinking of folks who have a different lived experience who may have a physical disability,” said Bowen. “I think it will help foster empathy. As we become more accessible, we’ll develop a greater amount of respect and understanding for all the folks who need access. That’s the kind of community we want to be, and I think that will help us live out our values.”

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