Dear Members of the Syracuse University Community: The start of every new semester brings with it excitement and anticipation. This year, those emotions are heightened and for some include anxiety associated with a return to campus life during the COVID…
University Continues to Make Critical Improvements to Enhance Accessibility and Inclusion Across Campus
Back on campus for the start of the 2017-18 academic year, students, faculty and staff will notice a variety of changes that are improving how they move around campus, participate in events and pursue their academic and research endeavors. Over the past year, Syracuse University has made significant progress to enhance accessibility across campus—from academic buildings and residence halls to event programming and technology. The focus on accessibility is the latest step in the University’s long history of advocacy for people with disabilities—both as a worldwide leader with experts in the field and as a place striving to ensure an inclusive community for everyone.
“We are committed to creating a more accessible, inclusive campus,” Chancellor Kent Syverud says. “Every person on campus should feel welcome, supported and empowered as part of our community. That should be reflected in our programs, events and facilities. We will be stronger as a community through our efforts to ensure every person has a place on our campus.”
That idea is a force across campus for making strides in the area of accessibility. Supported and encouraged by the Chancellor’s leadership in this area, various staff members and campus units have been constantly enhancing accessibility and leveling the field for all over the past year—through design, applications, construction, programming and other areas. Students, faculty and staff have been strong advocates for accessibility, working with the University administration.
Substantial steps have been taken through the recommendations of the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion, established in 2015, to help advance accessibility and inclusion throughout campus.
The recommendations and their progress over the past year include the following:
- Establishment and distribution of a centralized budget for faculty/staff disability accommodations to help relieve individual schools and departments of costs. Aaron Hodukavich, director and ADA coordinator in the Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution Services, says the funding has covered such items as American Sign Language interpretation, Communication Access Realtime Translation and furniture accommodations.
- Creation of a Universitywide policy on information and communication technology accessibility. The plan, which will mandate how electronic communications are created to enable full accessibility, is currently being worked on.
- Implementation of a comprehensive accessibility audit of all 9 million square feet of University spaces. Campus Planning, Design and Construction (CPDC) contracted with United Spinal Association to conduct an audit, which identified physical barriers to access on campus. “It gives us a road map to remove barriers across campus and in a way that prioritizes it for us,” says Joe Alfieri, CPDC director.
Kennedy Patlan ’18, a member of the Disability Cultural Center Advisory Board and the Campus Facilities Advisory Board, is encouraged by a greater recognition of issues relating to accessibility and enhanced lines of communication between students and the administration. “The administration is continuously taking steps toward identifying the issues, seeing where challenges have existed in the past and has begun to proactively work to fix those issues,” Patlan says.
Patlan has noticed the increasing number of speakers who speak on issues of accessibility and inclusion, the work to transform physical spaces and the promotion of accessibility features at campus events. She notes that the push for accessibility has been a collective effort—with students, faculty, staff and the administration. “It’s cool to see how students as self-advocates can be responsible for improving the lives of students that come next,” says Patlan, a Remembrance Scholar and a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the Newhouse School of Public Communications. “The campus is a place where people stick together and stick up for one another, and consistently work and strive to make campus a better place all the time—that’s inspiring and powerful.”
Students have also initiated programs and projects for greater accessibility on campus. The Student Association relaunched the Cycle Share Program this past spring with adaptive cycling equipment. Student programming, such as OrangeAbility, led by the Disability Student Union, with assistance from the Disability Cultural Center, the Department of Recreation Services and community organization Move Along Inc., continues to draw awareness to the work of students in this area, specifically inclusive athletics.
“It’s evident that the University continues to advocate for those with and without disabilities. Within Student Association, we are strongly committed to these efforts as well, and we are eager to continue and expand upon programs such as Cycle Share as well as support new programs on campus that enhance inclusion and accessibility,” says Angie Pati ’18, vice president of the Student Association, a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program and senior class marshal. “As a rising senior, I am proud of our diverse Orange Family and the welcoming environment the Syracuse University campus fosters; I wish to see a world beyond graduation that fights for these same values, while recognizing that this battle is not yet over.”
Other progress in the area of accessibility on campus over the past year includes the following:
- Sixteen new ADA-accessible bathrooms at Day Hall, four ADA-accessible toilet rooms at Haven Hall and eight ADA-accessible bathrooms at DellPlain Hall have been constructed. A single-occupant accessible restroom has been completed in Schine Student Center; two others are being created in the Maxwell School and Huntington Hall.
- New uniform signage will be installed to identify all-gender, accessible, single-occupancy restrooms across campus. There are more than 700 single-occupancy restrooms on campus, including in residence halls.
- Through a collaborative effort between the Office of Disability Services (ODS) and CPDC, the University has purchased a variety of accessible classroom furniture, such as chairs and desks, to accommodate students.
- The University provided training in November 2016 to faculty and staff responsible for receiving and responding to requests for academic adjustments and/or aids made by students with disabilities.
- Syracuse University Libraries hired an inclusion and accessibility librarian. The new librarian, who will start in October, will help students and other constituents as they seek alternative, accessible formats for research and study.
- The Office of Disability Services has added a new counselor to help with service support coordination. This fall, ODS also launched a new Disability Resource Portal.
Diane Wiener, director of the Disability Cultural Center, and her staff work closely with students, faculty, staff and the community to improve accessibility and remove barriers. “We’ve expanded our event menu and opportunities for people to participate in inclusive and adaptive sports and dance, music and other events,” says Wiener, who serves as co-chair of the University Council on Diversity and Inclusion and is a member of the Campus Facilities Advisory Board.
All major campus events also now indicate there is American Sign Language interpretation and Communication Access Realtime Translation available if needed and information on who to contact for additional accommodations. “People are coming to think of this as how we do business,” Wiener says. “That’s how it should be.”
With all the work being done on campus, Hodukavich says it makes all of their efforts worthwhile. “We are moving forward and there have been a lot of positive changes, but we’re not satisfied,” he says. “We continue to progress and identify further ways to enhance accessibility on campus.”