Campus access reviewed

By Ken Goze

Efforts to assess NIU’s handicapped accessibility were delayed with the collapse of a campus-wide audit last month, partly because Student Association representatives failed to attend a scheduled meeting.

The Student Association invited representatives from the Regional Access and Mobilization Project to help conduct the audit.

AMP is a publicly-funded, not-for-profit, independent living center for the handicapped. The Rockford-based agency also offers peer counseling and free handicapped accessibility audits.

The audit, which was set for a date in mid-September was to include five SA members and John Beck, a RAMP accessibility expert who also is handicapped.

When Beck and another RAMP representative arrived, only one SA member had shown up, and left shortly thereafter, said Sue Reinhardt, coordinator for handicapped services.

Reinhardt said the audit had to be cancelled, and a meeting was held at the Handicapped Services office to discuss recent improvement efforts.

Although she agreed that a re-assessment is needed, Reinhardt said the SA failed to make necessary preparations. For example, SA President Huda Scheidelman should have contacted Gary Gresholdt, assistant vice-president for student affairs, early enough to allow him to attend the audit.

Gresholdt also serves as NIU’s “504 officer.” That number refers to the section of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which outlines the minimum legal requirements for building accessibility.

Gresholdt said the law requires at least one handicapped-accessible entrance for each building and floor, or “program accessibility” to relocate a class or office to a more accessible area. Gresholdt said although NIU is in compliance with the law, the university is seeking ways to make handicapped access as easy as possible.

Reinhardt said she feels assessment efforts have been hampered by a lack of coordination between the SA and handicapped services.

Reinhardt said although she invited the SA to use handicapped service’s “transitional map” detailing improvements, she received no response. “I haven’t heard a word from them,” Reinhardt said.

However, Reinhardt said she wants to keep a relationship with the SA because student involvement plays a large role in drawing attention to accessibility problems. Reinhardt said it is difficult to act on complaints without letters from five or six students.

Morenike Cheatom, SA campus welfare adviser, said another audit has been scheduled, and the first attempt was not a complete failure.

Cheatom said Gresholdt was not contacted at first because the SA was not trying to work with the university, but gather information for its own research.

Another audit has been scheduled for November and will be more organized than last time, Cheatom said. She said the SA hopes to get about 60 students involved and provide an orientation session prior to the audit. “We’re trying to increase student involvement with input from the university,” Cheatom said.

Sue Haas, a junior family social services major, who also is handicapped, said NIU is fairly accessible but does need improvement and a new assessment.

aas said one area she feels has been overlooked is the Holmes Student Center. Although getting inside and down to the Huskie Den is possible for someone in a wheelchair, it can be “difficult and degrading” because it requires traveling through a boiler room, Haas said.

Haas, who has worked for RAMP, said an assessment by the organization will lend weight to improvement efforts. “If a letter comes only from a student, it doesn’t go very far,” Haas said.

Although Haas said handicapped services is better equipped to address the needs of the handicapped than the SA, this is partly due to the changing membership of the SA.

Haas said although the failure of the SA to attend the last audit reflected poorly on them, she would be willing to take part in the next assessment.