Access granted? Guilfordian evaluates Founders accessibility

Imagine waking up in a world where reaching the sink, using the bathroom, or getting in and out of doors were monumental tasks. This is the world that junior Bryan Dooley wakes up to on a daily basis.

Dooley uses a wheelchair, making it difficult to get around. This can cause the feeling of living in separate worlds: those who have accessibility and those who do not.

“I’ve developed coping techniques so I can deal with things not being accessible at Guilford,” said Dooley. “Most people don’t think about accessibility until it hits close to them.”

Dooley, like many other students, is excited about the renovation of Founders Hall. Still, he is reminded that in his world, accessibility might be inadequate due to the limited financial resources the college will put into the renovation.

Founders Hall is set to have a $3 million facelift over the summer months, which has caused some to wonder if the administration will make Founders as accessible as it could be, primarily because of cost.

The renovations — which are gift-funded — will create an atrium lobby and a student organization center on the first floor, and, on the second floor, expand the student art display space and move Campus Life offices and WQFS.

Vice President for Administration Jon Varnell said that the city’s staff, including an American Disabilities Act specialist, reviews every construction project that requires a permit from the city of Greensboro.

“Those are the laws of the land — compliance is required,” said Varnell. “So the Founders project, like any other new construction or renovation, should be up to code.”

Varnell said that the ADA committee on campus brought further accessibility issues to the renovation planning committee.

“Those were reviewed and we were able to accommodate the issues submitted in writing,” said Varnell.

Universal access, a term coined by North Carolina State University, is the term given to items such as “touch pad” access, which would allow someone unable to pull open a heavy door the ability to tap a pad and have the door open automatically.

Door openers, according to Varnell, are a point where code and universal access can differ.

“Often, folks want openers on nearly every space, which is not practical, cost effective, required or maintenance friendly,” said Varnell. “Everything we put in has to be maintained and fixed if broken.”

Dooley said that calling a building “compliant” can, at times, be like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“For example, in the back of Binford Hall there is a ramp that meets code,” said Dooley. “That’s great, but the door opens wrong. Anyone in a wheelchair who’d attempt to use it can’t without falling down the stairs.”

Director of the Learning Commons Melissa Daniel Frink told The Guilfordian that she understands the frustrations of those with disabilities, but still thinks Guilford deserves a pat on the back for all they put into making the institution accessible.

“People’s frustrations are understandable, especially students faced with accessibility issues on an everyday basis,” said Frink. “They want to see change and they want to see it now, and they aren’t wrong in that. Moving any institution takes time.”
Frink said that the administration kept accessibility in mind with the Founders renovation.

“With the campus accessibility plan in place, the administration is going beyond being accessible,” said Frink. “For example, they are lowering the elevator buttons to the bottom of the compliant range making it accessible, not just compliant.”

Frink said that Guilford puts a lot into planning accessibility into every new building project, which says a lot about the college’s values.

“Very few campuses are ahead of Guilford,” said Frink. “While there are some that completely plan around accessibility, there are some who don’t talk about it at all.”