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UNC student organizations petition to add a permanent ramp at the Old Well

Senior environmental studies major and public policy minor Caroline Pharr spearheaded the petition to build a permanent ramp at the Old Well. She sits on the steps of the Old Well on Nov. 15 with her dog Franklin who is training to become a service animal.

Earlier this month, the Disability Acceptance Committee — a committee through the Campus Y student organization Best Buddies — and another organization called Tar Heels at the Table published a petition calling on UNC and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to create a permanent ramp at the Old Well.

The lack of a ramp at the Old Well has been an issue that's affected students for generations at UNC, said Disability Acceptance Committee Executive Committee Leader of Advocacy & Equity Caroline Pharr. 

“What many organizations of us are fighting for here on campus, who are disability-adjacent or are in the disability community, is that a temporary ramp is not the solution,” Pharr said. “It's an accommodation to a symptom. And until we create a permanent structure that allows permanent access, we aren't addressing the underlying barriers that exist here at UNC for a person with disabilities.”

Creation of the petition

Pharr said her committee addresses issues that impact people with disabilities on campus. She said she spearheaded the creation of the petition.

“We've got to start at the heart of UNC and that's the Old Well,” Pharr said. “It’s a symbol of our University, it's where a lot of our traditions are based out of and, without a ramp at the Old Well, we're barring part of our population from being able to engage in the UNC traditions.”

Pharr added that her committee worked collaboratively to write a letter addressed to Guskiewicz and the University about the concerns on campus accessibility, specifically at the Old Well. The text in the petition is the same as that of the committee's letter. 

This letter was passed around to other committees in Disability Acceptance Committee to make sure it was reflective of the advocacy and equity committee’s goal and that of the Disability Acceptance Committee organization, Pharr said. 

Finally, the letter got sent to Tar Heels at the Table to get its input, she said. The organization serves as an advisory board to Chancellor Guskiewicz and other senior administrators on issues of accessibility, disability and inclusion.

After making some corrections, the Disability Acceptance Committee went live with the petition, Pharr said.

“By doing the petition, we thought we could reach a greater scope with our letter that we wrote, directed to the chancellor, directed towards UNC, to not only educate the issue,” Pharr said. “But also make a call to action among the Carolina community about, you know, we are people of value and we need to be recognized and have access to all spaces on UNC.”

Beyond the Old Well

Brooks Fitts, the president of Tar Heels at the Table, said that there are too many accessibility concerns on UNC’s campus to count.

“Caldwell Hall is completely inaccessible,” Fitts said in an email statement. “The majority of wheelchair accessible rooms are on the fourth floor of dorms, and there has been no clear instruction on how these folks should evacuate in the event of a fire.”

Fitts said that Guskiewicz has been willing to listen to the advisory board.

Austin Tyner is co-chairperson of the Disability Advocates Committee, another organization under the Campus Y that is focused on advocacy and fostering community between people with disabilities at UNC. Tyner said that this petition brings up the question of whether UNC has plans to address physical accessibility all across campus, not just at the Old Well.

“You have to wonder what kind of short- and long-term plans the University has, if any, to address all (community concerns), such as building inaccessibility, campus pathways and all of those sorts of things,” Tyner said. “You've got to wonder whether there is a plan.”

Looking forward

Tyner said that in terms of physical accessibility on campus, a lot of improvement needs to be made. She hopes the petition prompts a significant community response.

"I hope that kind of the social force of students backing disabled folks and those who would use a ramp, which includes people who use mobility aids, I hope that kind of social force would put pressure on the University to do that,” Tyner said. "Because we know that they can, right, because there's a ramp for FDOC and then there's a ramp again around graduation time. So we know they have the capability, it's just about the want to, the drive."

Pace Sagester, UNC media relations manager, said in an email that UNC Facilities Planning and Design has recently begun a study to determine the feasibility of full accessibility at the Old Well. 

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“This is a challenging endeavor as there are numerous technical and aesthetic challenges to analyze and consider,” Sagester said. “We hope to complete the study in early 2022.”

Sagester added that while investigations for permanent accessibility solutions at the Old Well continue, the University will continue to have temporary accommodations during commencement, the first day of class and other events.

“Like [Disability Acceptance Committee], like Tar Heels at the Table and other organizations, we don't believe that putting a ramp at the Old Well will fix overnight all of the issues at UNC when it comes to being a person of disabilities,” Pharr said. “But it's an important signal that needs to be made to the student body about the administration, UNC as an institution, recognizes people of disabilities, affirms them and welcomes them to UNC.” |

CLARIFICATION: This article has been revised to include the full title of the Disability Acceptance Committee.