Every WKU student has complained about “the Hill” at some point in their college careers. Seeing students wheezing while walking to class is a normal, every day occurrence. Students scout out which routes allow them to get to class while going up the smallest incline.
However, some students face an even harder time getting around campus.
It takes the average student about 15 minutes to walk to the top of the Hill from the bottom, but for someone in a wheelchair that time goes up drastically.
Matt Davis, student accessibility center coordinator, can offer a unique view on this predicament.
Davis attended WKU and dealt with maneuvering around campus, as he is in a wheelchair himself. While here, he was a representative on the Americans with Disabilities Act committee. During his time serving on the committee, they made many adjustments to campus. However, improvements continue today.
“As far as accessibility on campus we have made a lot of strides,” he said. “But it’s really a challenge in some areas of campus because of the age of the buildings.”
Currently all campus-wide transportation is accessible to every student, including those in wheelchairs.
“Not only are they wheelchair accessible but they have a ramp that comes out just like any student getting onto the shuttle,” Davis said.
The Center also offers an ADA van that can go door-to-door to take students to class. This is also available to students with temporary disabilities to allow them to get around campus easily, according to WKU’s transportation policies.
Davis said while campus has drastically improved since he was a WKU student, challenges still exist.
Federal ADA legislation specifically requires that all “public accommodations” must have equal accessibility for disabled users, yet some buildings on campus are harder to use than others.
Senior Patrick MacDonald noticed how difficult it was for a fellow student to navigate Gordon Wilson Hall, which has three floors and still no elevator.
“I got to know her and see how excited she was for learning, and then I realized how limited her access was,” the Goshen native said.
When the buildings are old, it can be difficult to provide the accommodations that each student needs to make it to class.
“We move the classes to a different building,” Davis said. “They actually did that for me when I was a student here.”
MacDonald wanted to go one step beyond. Two years ago, he created an online petition to boost Gordon Wilson’s accessibility by adding an elevator.
“I think we’re all used to the stairs,” MacDonald said. “But when you stop to think of how many buildings have steps and on our hill, you realize how much longer it takes to get places between classes.”
Due to the incline of campus, some ramps on the Hill must be in certain locations that are sometimes inconvenient.
“There is quite a challenge in some areas of campus just because the slope is so steep,” Davis said. “Some of them might not be the most convenient but we try stretch the dollar as much as we can.”
Davis said that the availability of funds can cause challenges when making sure
students are taken care of, and deciding what is more cost effective.
As for MacDonald’s petition, he presented the over 1,800 signatures to David Lee, dean of Potter College of Arts and Letters, who then met with President Gary Ransdell.
However, Gordon Wilson has yet to add an elevator.
“There hasn’t been much response,” MacDonald said. “I don’t mean to say nothing is happening, but I feel like they could be doing so much more. The disabilities office is doing the best they can with what they have to help the students, but there are ways it could be made more of a priority.”
The office relies heavily on the university for its funding, with some of the students receiving support from state agencies such as vocational rehab and an office for the blind.
Davis said there is always something that needs to be improved on campus to make it more accessible.
“In this job just when you think you’ve solved all the problems something else comes up,” he said. “That’s where student feedback comes in.”
He said there will always be students who complain about the accessibility on campus, but the office uses this to improve wheelchair accommodations.
“No matter what you do there are going to be student concerns but to me student complaints to our office can be a positive thing because that helps create change,” Davis said. “Student feedback really helps things move in a positive direction.”
According to Davis, the office has had a good working relationship with the different departments on campus.
“I think sometimes some of the challenges may be just educating the different departments on why there is a specific need and what that need is for,” he said. “Because a lot of times it may be just a misunderstanding, or question as to why something needs to be done.”
Davis said they work along with other areas of campus to make sure student needs are met.
“It is more trying to be student focused, but sometimes we have student concerns or requests that we try to deal with and making sure that those departments on campus are involved in that process,” Davis said. “That’s what we’re here for is to help students.”
For MacDonald, awareness is enough.
“When people are aware of (accessibility), they’re willing to sign for it, to support it,” he said. “It’s bringing up something most of us don’t deal with on a daily basis.”