When I made the decision to attend Georgetown University, I knew that navigating a historic campus in a wheelchair would be a challenge. The cracked cobblestone streets and picturesque staircases that blanket campus are clear red flags for those with mobility issues.
Upon moving in however, I found that many of the problems I have faced — most notably the deplorable state of automatic door buttons on campus — are the products of negligence rather than actual architectural barriers.
It has been 27 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. Changes like these are long overdue.
In a 2015 study, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 11.1 percent of enrolled college students had some type of disability, indicating the growing importance of disability-friendly college campuses.
Georgetown’s Jesuit tradition and commitment to cura personalis — care for the whole person — should mean that accessibility issues are treated with the greatest priority and concern. As made evident by our campus, this level of concern is not present.
I was first exposed to Georgetown’s accessibility shortcomings during a Blue and Gray Tour Guide Society tour my sophomore year of high school. As our tour group climbed the front steps to Healy Hall, I was left behind at the bottom. Passing through the doors at the top of the steps, the tour guide yelled over his shoulder that I could find an elevator “somewhere around the side of the building,” pointing indiscriminately to his right.
During my two additional tours of Georgetown since, the same situation occurred. Blue and Gray should remedy this glaring flaw by training their tour guides to be familiar with accessible routes and conscious of participants who may have mobility restrictions.
Another clear issue is the deplorable state of ADA-compliant doors on campus. For example, the automatic door button at the Tondorf Road entrance to Healey Family Student Center has been broken since I moved to campus two months ago.
The same is true of the ADA button to Reynolds Hall on Library Walk, where I have class twice weekly. Each morning I have class, I have to wait outside the door until someone happens to pass by and ask them to help me.
I reported both issues during my first week of classes and have yet to see tangible results.
Similarly, there are plenty of locations on campus that don’t have buttons at all. When I read The Hoya’s New Student Guide, I was eager to spend time in the Bioethics Research Library listed under “Study Spots.” Upon finding it however, I was unable to enter due to the absence of an accessible door button. I waited outside the doors for a few minutes to see if someone would walk by but finally resigned myself to studying in my dorm room.
Other locations that lack buttons are Epicurean and Company, the GOCard Office, the Baker Living Room, every academic department in the Intercultural Center, the School of Foreign Service Dean’s Office, the HFSC courtyard and all 11 doors to and from the Leavey Esplanade and the Student Health Center.
These may not be the most visible places on campus, but they should not be left out of Georgetown’s accessibility efforts.
Moreover, so much of Georgetown’s social scene takes place in inaccessible dorms and townhouses, making it hard for students with mobility issues to have the same access to our social environment and the “Georgetown experience” as our peers.
I have resorted to asking friends to lift me up the steps of townhouses and other inaccessible locations. Where possible, Georgetown should take steps to make locations like these accessible.
I understand that facilitating a more disability-friendly campus is a significant financial commitment for the university.
The ADA requires at least 60 percent of public entrances in newly built facilities to be disability accessible. If the university fails to comply with these standards, it could face costly lawsuits and fines. The American with Disability Act penalizes first-time violations with fines up to $75,000 and subsequent violations with a maximum fine of $150,000. Rather than face these potential consequences, Georgetown should invest in making the campus more accessible.
Despite clear shortcomings, Georgetown has its strengths in promoting accessibility elsewhere.
The Academic Resource Center and the Office of Residential Living have made it possible for me to live on campus in a dorm room that fits my needs. My dean and professors have been exceedingly accommodating when medical issues have caused me to miss class. And, in my first few weeks here, I was encouraged when administrators from the Office of Planning and Facilities Management walked through campus with me to identify accessibility flaws.
The consciousness and sense of sympathy for students with disabilities is certainly present — a perfect example of Georgetown’s cura personalis attitude. Now, however, the university needs to back up its attitude with actions.
Anna Landre is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service.