Student petitions for accessible theater buildings

JEFF BROWN/Herald A WKU theater major, Megan Allen, is petitioning to get wheelchair access to Gordon Wilson where she has classes. “They have to move my classes to Cherry Hall,” said Allen.

Kayla Swanson

Megan Allen is the assistant costume designer for “Two Dumb Dogs,” a play that premieres this Friday in Gordon Wilson Lab Theatre.

However, the Portland, Tenn., junior doesn’t have access to the whole building because she is a wheelchair user due to cerebral palsy.

“I do not know how I will be able to contribute my assistance due to my inaccessibility in the building,” she said.

Allen, who is a theatre major, also has limited access to the Russell Miller Theatre in the Ivan Wilson Center for Fine Arts.

Goshen sophomore Patrick MacDonald, who met Allen when she was an usher for a production of “Oklahoma!” last spring, is looking to help change the access to those buildings with an online petition to inform the WKU community of Allen’s and others’ situation.

“Many people within our department knew about Megan and our facilities, but outside the department very few people were aware of the situation,” MacDonald said.

Since putting the petition online through, more than 300 people have signed.

“I have been amazed at how quickly this has gained momentum,” MacDonald said. “I’m glad to see WKU students, faculty, staff, parents and even people in other parts of Kentucky that have no connection to WKU come together to support a basic human rights issue.”

Allen said the petition was a complete surprise to her.

“I didn’t know about it until I heard other people talking about it,” she said. “I was amazed at how many people signed it.”

The petition has helped generate conversations among the WKU community, MacDonald said.

“Faculty members have talked about how they are not able to teach Megan about all aspects of theatre and dance because of the lack of accessibility,” he said.

“Parents, friends, and alumni have mentioned how they would love to come see shows, but are unable to do so because of the inaccessible buildings.”

David Young, department head for the theatre and dance program, said as soon as the department was made aware that Allen was entering the program, a chairlift was installed in FAC.

“Our department was in the one part of FAC that’s not accessible, the classrooms and offices down in that little corner, because of a half flight of stairs,” he said.

Young said Allen’s classes that aren’t accessible to her are moved to other buildings.

Huda Melky, the Equal Opportunity Office director, said Allen doesn’t have to have access to the theatre buildings, but that program must be accessible for her.

“It’s all about accommodation,” Melky said. “If you don’t have accessible building, you will make sure the program is accessible.

“That’s what we would do with any student who needs access to building that’s not accessible.”

In addition, Matt Davis, coordinator for Student Disability Services, said he and members of the theatre department have met with Allen to come up with solutions to her inaccessibility problems.

“We’ve been working with Megan since she’s been here,” Davis said.

Andrew Duff, Allen’s stage management professor this semester, had to make adjustments to teach Allen.

During the safety portion of the class, Duff was able to show Allen the theatre in Van Meter Hall and some of the theatre in Gordon Wilson, but he couldn’t show her the theatre in FAC because of the stairs leading into it.

Instead, Duff said a tour of the theatre had to be videotaped so Allen could view it for the class.

“It’s embarrassing and frustrating because I want her to be able to experience everything that we can offer her in the theatre, but just because of our buildings it’s impossible to do that,” Duff said.

Duff said he signed MacDonald’s petition.

“I think it’s great that Patrick has taken initiative to do this,” Duff said. “I would think that after a while the people who are the upper echelon of this university would just kind of realize that there are buildings, there is parts of the campus people in wheelchairs can’t get around.”

Despite Allen’s limited access to the theatre buildings, she is appreciative of the support she’s received.

“I want to thank everyone who has supported me and others with disabilities so that we are able to get into the buildings on campus,” she said.

She said she hopes the petition MacDonald started will help make the theatre buildings accessible not only for her but for everyone.

“There have been people other than me who wanted to get in the buildings but they can’t because there’s not any access to them,” she said. “I know everybody would like to enjoy the arts.”