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Accessibility on campus: 'Whose bodies are worth more?'

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The sign outside the Center for Dramatic Art indicates handicap parking to the right of the building. A student who came to watch "Dairyland" found one of the handicap parking spots reserved for UNCSA Board of Trustees member Thomas S. Kenan III, who also had a disability placard.

A UNC social science graduate student was blocked from parking in the last available disability spot next to the Paul Green Theatre when going to see PlayMakers Repertory Company's "Dairyland" on Oct. 20. The spot was reserved for Thomas S. Kenan III, UNCSA Board of Trustees member and UNC alumnus who has a disability and a disability placard. 

The student could not park there because of a laminated sign taped to the top of an orange traffic cone. 

In accordance with compliancy standards set in the Americans with Disabilities Act, UNC reserves a minimum of two percent of spots in every campus parking lot for disability spots. However, the practice of reserving spaces for UNC dignitaries, like Kenan, with specific disability needs limits the number of these spots available to students and visitors with disabilities. 

“I ended up going to the parking deck that’s nearby and walking over. But, as I was walking, I kept thinking, ‘This is so unfair, I can’t believe this is happening,'” said the source, who requested to remain anonymous and has a disability and a disability placard.  

Adam Versényi, the chairperson of Dramatic Art for PlayMakers Repertory Company, said the practice of reserving disability spaces has been done before. 

“PlayMakers has reserved this spot and others for specific use at different times to accommodate the needs and priorities of the Company and the Department of Dramatic Art,” he said in an email.

PlayMakers also has the option of converting service permit spots to disability spots next to the theater on Country Club Road, Versényi said.

“I don't think that we were creating a situation where anyone who has a valid disability permit would not have been able to find a parking spot,” he said.

Cheryl Stout, the director of UNC Transportation and Parking, said in order for a department to get a spot reserved, they have to make a request through her department, and if approved it would then be marked with a sign and traffic cone. Specific reservation requests — no matter the level of need an individual has — must go through the transportation department. 

However, in this situation, she said PlayMakers did not make a request or get approval to reserve that particular space, and therefore did not have the authority to block off a dual service and disability spot. 

As another part of the process, mobility-impaired students and employees must complete a medical mobility application to receive accessible parking accommodations and transportation.

Stout said applicants are assigned spaces based on need and accessibility requirements — meaning not all mobility-impaired applicants get the spaces they wish for in their desired location. 

Stout said the process, approval and assignment of applicants to a spot can vary in length.

The graduate student said it took about two and a half months to get a parking spot near their office in Hamilton Hall. They said the accommodations they first received required them to park, take a bus to main campus and then ride a golf cart to their destination.

“There were weeks where I was having friends drop me off," they said. "I was Uber-ing because I just could not deal with the accommodations that I first got."

Rudolph Jones, UNC’s ADA Coordinator and associate director for the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office, said UNC is aware of its responsibilities under ADA requirements.

“We make every effort to provide reasonable accommodations," Jones said. "We want employees to be productive and be able to fulfill their assignments or academics."

Jones said he acknowledges that renovation and the construction of buildings have modified a number of parking facilities on campus, altering the number of spaces per lot. In turn, limiting the number of spaces specifically marked and available for those with disability requirements.

The transportation and parking office is conducting a survey on all its parking lots to ensure that UNC is fulfilling ADA guidelines, Jones said. 

“One of the outcomes of that will be, what is our posture and what is our status in terms of the number of spaces for disabled permits versus general parking,” he said. 

Stout said resolving access issues on UNC’s campus is an ongoing practice that requires students, staff and departments to work together to uphold equal accessibility. 

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“If departments have specific needs or individuals have specific needs, that's what we're here for," Stout said. "And hopefully they'll bring those needs to our attention and we can work to help resolve access or sort of any transportation and parking services that members of the community need and require.”

The student said they strained themselves having to walk from the parking deck to the theater, leaving them with physical pain.

“I just think it’s about whose bodies are worth more than others," the source said. "Throughout that week, after having to walk all the way from that deck and hurry over to this play, the pain lingers from overextending yourself if you have a disability sometimes.”

arts@dailytarheel.com