By Amanda Alfanos, Web Editor
Karen Dickerson shut her car door and gaped up at the building that seemed far in the distance. She braved the walk, wheezing as she approached her destination. Walking from the Kramer School of Nursing to Walker Center for Arts and Sciences might not be considered an accomplishment for some, but it was a feat for the associate director of SACE.
Dickerson, who has asthma, said this was an everyday struggle prior to a request made by Staff Council within the past five years to increase handicap parking on campus.
“At first everybody was kind of upset, because we gave up precious parking spaces, but now that I am a user of that, we need them,” she said.
When people are perfectly able, it’s easy not to notice how things affect the disabled, said Karen Vann, administrative assistant for mass communications.
“I know I didn’t notice things until I became disabled,” said Vann, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis this year. “It can be very dangerous for many people — just the smallest thing that you don’t really notice could hurt someone severely.”
This also is how Jerald Walker discovered OCU’s inaccessibility for the physically handicapped in 1997. Walker, OCU’s longest-serving president to date, was left with limited mobility after suffering from a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair, according to Student Publications archives.
Academic deans wrote a letter in an attempt to force Walker to resign in part because of his interest in establishing a physical therapy program at Kramer School of Nursing, which stemmed from his own condition, according to the archives.
Two reporters for The Campus spent two days in 1997 to better relate to Walker’s conditions. They reported their inconveniences, which included facilities absent of elevators and buildings only accessible by one ramp.
Administrators have since improved physical accessibility for the disabled by meeting American Disabilities Act requirements. The university and city failed to meet requirements on sidewalk tread plates about five years ago, said Brenda Johnston, Special Accommodations Committee coordinator and director of student health services. The board is a branch of the university admissions committee.
“The university is required to meet ADA standards because we accept federal funds,” she said.
Officials are deciding how to divide their budget for the next few years, Johnston said.
Committee members met last week to specifically identify which campus buildings are in need of power doors, she said. There are power doors on almost all university facilities, but administrators think it’s just the right thing to do, Johnston said.
“It’s not a legal requirement to have power doors — you would think there would be,” she said. “Usually every year or two we add a new door.”
Contractors will install a sliding glass door to the south side of Walker Center for Arts and Sciences by the end of March, said Jeff Castleberry, director of facilities and committee member.
“We’re changing them to the same slider doors and style as the university center and the library, because they’ve always given us some trouble,” he said. “It’s a little bit more expensive, but we’ve found they hold up a lot longer, so it’s worth the money.”
The new installation will cost about $6,000 and will come from the facilities budget, Castleberry said. The old doors cost about $2,500 each, he said.
Other handicap sliding doors to be considered are for the Student Health Clinic and the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management, Johnston said.
This depends on funding, Castleberry said.
Facilities employees also plan to make the campus more accessible for the physically handicapped by repairing damaged sidewalks, he said.
“We have a lot of sidewalks that have got damaged from the past, and we’re really geared up for a lot of that this summer,” Castleberry said. “A lot of them are just aged and falling apart.
“When construction was going on, heavy equipment was on some of them that shouldn’t have been and broke some of them. Last summer we did a lot of sidewalks, and this summer we plan to do more. ”
Even the slightest bump makes the sidewalk uneven for walkers and wheelchairs, Vann said.
“When your wheel hits that, it’s the equivalent to hitting a wall, and you just stop,” she said. “And it doesn’t have to be a dramatic level difference.
“I really would like to see some of these things resolved not only for me, but we have a wide variety of faculty, staff and students who have disabilities, and more students would feel they can come here if they felt if it was equipped with their disability.”
Steve Gorski, dance performance senior, said administrators need to live a day in the shoes of the physically disabled.
“It’s easy to walk up the stairs when you’re able, but when you’re on crutches, it’s a work out,” he said.
Gorski, who broke his fifth metatarsal last semester, said it was more difficult for him to navigate certain buildings.
“In Tom and Brenda McDaniel University Center, I had to use the elevator near the mail room and walk a long path back to Alvin’s,” he said.
This article initially was published in the March 2 edition of The Campus.