Disabled students face special problems as a result of the changing campus landscape, said Jim Kessler, the University's director of disability services.
The problems arise from the day-to-day nature of the changes that dot campus -- the massive machines occupying the quad in front of Ruffin and Mangum residence halls, the closed sidewalk on South Road near the Student Union and the blocked doors in Bingham Hall are just a few of the constantly evolving obstacles.
Freshman Danielle Iredale, who is blind, said she and her Seeing Eye dog, Inka, have had to change their routes around campus almost every day or two. "She and I have both had to work," Iredale said.
"I live in Aycock -- there's construction on three sides of it. I used to have three routes out of it, but there's only one, and it's not very good," she said.
Iredale said she has frequently had to ask strangers to point her around the new construction sites since the start of the semester.
"People were being very helpful, but it was not a good situation," she said. "And it switches every day or two so it's impossible for Inka to learn it."
But William Koch, a professor in health affairs and the chairman of the Disability Advisory Committee, said the construction comes with some benefits for disabled students -- the renovated buildings will be brought up-to-date with present accessibility standards. "The obvious and blatant (improvement) is access to the chancellor in South Building," he said.
He said there is no wheelchair access to Chancellor James Moeser's office but that an elevator will be installed in South Building soon.
Robert Cannon, the Equal Employment Opportunity and Americans with Disabilities Act officer for the University, is the administrator for the Disability Advisory Committee. He said the committee has made several recommendations for access improvements, including suggesting that the main entrance to each campus building have a ramp and that assisted listening programs be installed in all large lecture halls.
But not all accessibility problems can be easily fixed. "There are other buildings where the solution just isn't at hand -- Hanes Hall is the obvious one," Koch said. In Hanes Hall, the Micro Computing Support Center is on the fourth floor, but the elevator only goes to the third floor, he said. "(With) the new construction, of course, the buildings will be fully accessible -- that's the law," Koch said.
Since 1977, campus buildings have had to be accessible to people with disabilities, but only on the first floor, Kessler said. Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has mandated that all floors in new buildings be made accessible.
Kessler said construction will last at least several more years. "This is an interesting phenomenon, because this is a prelude to the next four to five years on campus, with the bond money."
In November, N.C. voters approved a $3.1 billion bond referendum to fund capital improvements in the UNC system. UNC-Chapel Hill received $499 million for renovation and construction.
Kessler said he has been working to help disabled students navigate their ways through the construction.
Iredale also said every time she's spoken with construction workers, they have been helpful -- they even bought a rubber mat and nailed it to the sidewalk so she could feel the new place where she's supposed to cross the street because the crosswalk is blocked. "The construction workers are very nice," Iredale said.
But the solution wasn't perfect, Iredale said, because she is still crossing where there is no crosswalk.
"(Inka) doesn't like to do that, because she was trained not to." Iredale also said the construction noise masks the sound of traffic, which can be dangerous for her.
Kessler said when he spoke to the construction workers about the needs of disabled students, he found out no one had ever brought up the students' special concerns to the workers before. "This is the educational moment that we need to have with the people in construction," he said. "I don't know if we, the University, have had these moments of communication with them -- and this is a good time."
Kessler said the most important step is to let disabled students know about construction ahead of time so they can plan alternate routes.
But Iredale said the e-mails can't keep up with the pace of the construction. "They'll e-mail a schedule saying the construction will start in two weeks, but then they'll start the next week," she said.
Kessler also said it is important to explain the construction. "I don't think people mind being inconvenienced -- as long as they know why," he said.
Freshman Susan Doyle from Greensboro, who is wearing a leg brace for six weeks because of a dislocated knee, agreed the construction was causing problems for all students, not just her.
But she said blocked-off ramps have especially caused her trouble. "I do have to go on the stairs more -- ramps are easier; going down stairs takes longer."
Everyone has been very helpful, Iredale said, but she still has coped with construction problems almost every day. "The people aren't horrible and evil -- but the process is horrible and evil."
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