By Katie Devoe
Renovations on Highsmith Student Union and construction of the new residence halls directly impact the accessibility of buildings for students, staff and visitors. Founders Drive and the bridge into Highsmith closed during the summer, further limiting access to the buildings.
“The campus population in general and how we move around has been affected by construction,” said David Todd, associate vice chancellor of campus operations. “I think we’ve made concerted efforts to focus specifically on people that have any kind of different or special need for their mobility concerns to try to address that.”
People on campus must adapt the way they move around due to the construction on Highsmith and the new residence halls. Campus operations plans to accommodate people with disabilities during the period of construction. The Director of Housing and Student Life Operations, Vollie Barnwell, consults with the construction contractor about the availability of Founders Drive.
“I think having Founders Drive closed has presented issues starting back in the summer with students moving into Founders Hall for summer programs. We have done our best to work with those groups to provide extra assistance whether that’s moving in through Highsmith, increased signage, and then for move-in weekend having Founders Drive open for new students,” Barnwell said.
Barnwell worked to make sure Founders Drive was open to move students and visitors into Founders Hall at the beginning of the semester. Following move-in day, Founders Drive was closed once more.
“The accessible parking for Highsmith is right along University Heights. The accessible ramp would then lead down. Those right now are the closest permanent parking to Founders,” Barnwell said. “We haven’t had an issue yet where someone has contacted us about needing accessible parking at Founders Hall.”
Parking outside of Founders Hall is closed, including handicap parking. Accessible parking is available in front of Highsmith Student Union. The ramp and stairs outside Highsmith provide access to both buildings.
“The other way would be to come down the ramp at the butterfly gardens and come behind Mills Hall and around that way. If you’re at the Ridges, Governors Hall, or Overlook that would be an easier way to access Highsmith.” Barnwell said.
Another way into the area is the ramp Barnwell offered as an alternative that goes between Mills and Highsmith. The plans for the renovation of Highsmith Student Union and the new residence halls comply with ADA design standards according to David Todd.
“Everything that we’re building new construction wise, which would be the residence hall buildings, the multipurpose building, and the new multipurpose room that’s part of Highsmith, all of those pieces will be built to the current accessibility codes,” said David Todd.
The plans for Highsmith renovations on the student life porch include easy accessibility. Christina Jaeger, associate director of Highsmith operations, helped decide the amount of levels for the student life porch.
“Everything is one level so it’s not like there will be an accessibility issue if a student wants to go from the walkway on the porch, to an office on the porch,” Jaeger said.
The university plans to go above the ADA design standards of accessibility by incorporating universal design. Barnwell wants his department to accommodate not only students, faculty, and staff, but also visitors. Universal design means all people should be able to use products in an area.
“One of the things our administration has set as a goal is that not only do the buildings need to meet code, but we need to go a step further because with what’s called universal design,” Barnwell said.
Examples of universal design on campus include the handicap button near doors, which are not required by ADA standards.
Improvements for accessibility on campus started before the construction of Highsmith and the new residence halls. The Director of Accessibility Services and ADA coordinator, Carolyn Ogburn, acknowledged the university also built more accessible routes in the past year.
“The new sidewalk across from Brown was made to provide wheelchair access. There were formerly some stairless routes that led up there, but it was way too steep and narrow to be fully accessible,” Ogburn said.
The creation of new routes on campus makes getting around easier. Ogburn assisted in the opening of the new location of the Disability Cultural Center in the lower level of Ramsey Library. The center hosted information sessions to welcome new members and let people see its space. The previous location of the Disability Cultural Center was in Carmichael Hall.
“It was not accessible, and it was not well-known enough. The general student population would never just stumble upon it,” said Kat Durham, a senior psychology student at UNC Asheville.
The current Disability Cultural Center has a large space with a table, comfy chairs, posters and a library. The center was not accessible in the past because their location did not meet ADA standards.
Christa Mullis, a senior psychology student, said she thinks students who have disabilities visiting the campus should feel welcome, then they would be able to connect with others on campus.
Mullis said she hopes people will feel welcomed at UNCA by building a sense of community through the Disability Cultural Center. The center plans to host peer-to-peer Introductions on Sept. 7 at 5:30 p.m. at their location in the lower level of Ramsey Library. Peer-to-peer introductions will allow students with disabilities who have attended for a semester to help other new students with disabilities.