It was yet another space where senior communication studies major Alicia Chavis, who uses a wheelchair, couldn't park. The permit swinging on the rearview mirror of the car Chavis was riding in was the wrong color, a state-issued blue instead of the University-issued orange that would allow her to park in the space.
The challenge of finding a valid parking space is one of many potential transportation difficulties facing disabled students and faculty at UNC. With the state's budget woes and campus construction, services and privileges that disabled students need to get around campus have taken a hit.
One of the first transportation inconveniences disabled students face is finding a place to park. Of the 637 handicapped spaces on campus, 258 are set aside as public disability spaces, where the state-issued handicapped parking permit with the blue wheelchair figure is valid. The other 379 spaces are UNC disability spaces, reserved for students and faculty with the proper University-issued permits for the parking lot or zone.
According to the Department of Public Safety's disability parking information Web site, only vehicles displaying the proper UNC disability permit are allowed to park in campus disabled spaces. Likewise, an ordinance regulating campus parking limits public disability spaces to disabled campus visitors. University permit holders aren't allowed to park in public spaces to "ensure that these spaces are available to campus visitors."
But those regulations put Chavis and her friends and family, who come by campus to take her places, in a bind. "Parking is a problem," Chavis said. "People come to take me from point A to point B, but they have nowhere to park."
Officials at DPS say they do all they can to accommodate students, but limited space on campus affects what they are able to provide. "Disability parking is like regular spaces are on campus," said Felix Stevens, parking registration manager for DPS. "We could always use more."
Stevens said the department tries to work with other services on campus to ensure that students have necessary transportation. He said DPS gives disabled students a permit for one of the spaces at a remote lot, like the Smith Center, then relies on another service like the Point-2-Point to transport them to their destination.
For many disabled students on campus, the P2P is the most efficient way to travel. The disabled P2P service is "on demand," meaning that 24 hours a day a van is set to be dispatched to pick up any student properly registered to use the service.
For Rebecca Williford, a junior political science and religious studies major who uses a battery-powered scooter, the P2P direct service has met her transportation needs. "I never really need to use the buses because the P2P is `on demand,'" she said. She has used the service since she was told about it her freshman year.
But disabled students might have to wait when they call the P2P. Because of budget cuts from the legislature, the service is running on a shoestring budget.
"The budget cutbacks have hurt us severely," said Brian Ambrose, manager of P2P.
"We have the bare minimum of people we need to operate," he said, mentioning that only one of the 10 drivers he employs can schedule to take off per day.
"Our schedule leaves no room for error," he said.
The P2P usually has three drivers working at any given time during the day and averages 300 calls and rides given per month, Ambrose said.
But even with the number of drivers working every hour of the day, a wait could be inevitable.
"At this time we're giving the best service we can," he said. "I can give you any service if you give me the money."
Disabled students have options to get around campus, but sometimes it's gaining access to buildings that causes problems. Some buildings on campus, like the Steele and South buildings, do not have elevators, leaving them unaccessible to students who use wheelchairs.
However, Chavis and Williford say that the Department of Disability Services makes a point to work with the students. "I have had some classes moved because the building they were in wasn't handicapped accessible," Chavis said.
"I'll call my adviser from the basement of Steele Building, and he'll meet me. But if I wanted to go to his office, I couldn't."
Some of the same difficulties arise during Chavis' classes. While she has access to her classroom buildings, she might not get a good seat. "The steps in Greenlaw 101 are a problem," she said. "I always have to sit in the back of the class. I can't get to the front because of the stairs. Even if I wanted to sit in the front, I couldn't."
The University Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.