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‘Grading the Green’ assesses accessibility of campus buildings

As part of final project, buildings receive letter grades on physical, audio-visual, mental accessibility

"Grading the Green” is the third of four final projects for PHP 1680I: “Pathology to Power: Disability, Health and Community.” This article is the third in a series that covers students’ attempts to increase the visibility of disability on campus.

Braving the pervasive chill of a rapidly darkening November afternoon, students from the course PHP 1680I: “Pathology to Power: Disability, Health and Community” put up posters ranking the accessibility of buildings on the Main Green as part of their final project called “Grading the Green” last Monday.

Stationed at a stall outside Sayles Hall, students shared rubrics and rationale for their grading of buildings based on physical, audio-visual and mental accessibility.

The criteria for “Grading the Green” were determined by means of a survey circulated among Brown students who identified as having physical, audio-visual or psychological disabilities, said Allyson Quick ’18, a coordinator of the event. The survey was distributed by Brown’s chapter of Active Minds and Student and Employee Accessibility Services, she said.

“There was no checklist or formal literature for audio-visual and mental grading,” Quick said. “We went off the responses we received.”

The survey had over 50 respondents, said Isabella Kres-Nash ’18, another coordinator.

Karla Ganley ’16, a facilitator of the event, said the group chose the Main Green for its high foot-traffic and variety of buildings, including residence halls, classrooms and administrative buildings.

Quick said that the main purpose of the event was to facilitate a “stronger push from the student population” with regard to University policies on disability.

Far from a 4.0

Accessing Sayles Hall in particular proved very difficult, Quick said. Students were required to access a ramp from the back, where they were then confronted with trashcans and stacks of chairs, she said. Once inside, the students were unable to find the elevator. The building received a D, she added.

University Hall received a D overall as well. Coordinator Jamie Ramerez ’16 pointed out that while University Hall was clearly accessible from the outside, the President’s Office required students with disabilities to navigate an additional flight of stairs. “This limits their ability to voice their opinions,” he said.

In addition to the Main Green, students also ranked the accessibility of buildings housing essential campus services — Health Services, the Sharpe Refectory, and the Sciences Library, said Ganley.

“Staff at Health Services have no specific training for helping students with sensory impairments,” Quick said.

“Only the first floor is physically accessible,” Ganley added.

Health Services received a final grade of C overall.

Notoriously inaccessible, Wilson Hall, the subject of the upcoming and final project of this series, received the lowest possible rating of F.

Hope College, a sophomore residence hall, also received an F. Even if a student with a disability does not have to live in the building, “if your friend lives there, then accessibility is still an issue,” Kres-Nash said.

Quick added that accommodations such as ramps and elevators would also help all students living in Hope as many move instruments and boxes in and out of the building on a regular basis.

Ganley estimated that addressing the issues raised by the project would cost the University $500 per student. “It’s not nearly as expensive as people think it is,” she said.

Campus culture

Kres-Nash said that students with physical disabilities on campus do not always experience a strong sense of community. SEAS acts as a liaison between students and the administration and can only foster a space for students to join together and support peers with disabilities, she said.

Earlier this semester, Kres-Nash lead an Minority Peer Counselor workshop on disability titled “Society’s the Limit” in which students engaged critically with disability.

Eliza Lanzillo ’16, president of Active Minds, said the organization was open to working with the results of the project to consider ways Brown’s campus could be improved with regard to mental health.

Kres-Nash said she hoped the results of the project would be used as a “point-of-entry” for introducing ableism into the conversation surrounding President Christina Paxson’s P’19 “Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University.” The plan, released as a working draft Nov. 19, did not deal explicitly with disability in its first iteration. But “these problems have tangible solutions,” Kres-Nash said.

Getting to the Green

Students stationed at the stall outside Sayles also handed out copies of SEAS’s Campus Accessibilty Map, which features color-coded sidewalks and pathways based on obstructions and incline. Quick pointed to the accessibility of paths leading to the Main Green as evidence of a “separate but equal” philosophy of accommodation. “A person with physical disabilities would have just one or two options,” she said, instead of the many open to those without disabilities.

The entire city of Providence was ranked the worst city to live in for people with disabilities by a recent WalletHub report. The study considered a variety of metrics from accessibility to employment rates. “It’s a combination of Providence being such an old city and having such aggressive seasons,” said Ganley.

Sarah Skeels, teaching associate in behavioral and social sciences and instructor for PHP 1680I, uses a wheelchair. In response to the WalletHub report, she said, “That’s why I don’t live there.” She explained that while Providence has tried to increase the accessibility of public spaces, efforts to improve existing accommodations have been met with indignant remarks like ‘What do they want now?’

Skeels said the city’s reluctance to embrace the needs of people with disabilities was rooted in a misunderstanding of the economics of the situation. “If you look at it in terms of economics, we would go and spend our money in restaurants and stores,” she said, highlighting potential economic gains that would result from investing in infrastructure. “The real question is: What does it cost to change your attitude?”

Correction: A previous version of this article included a sentence saying Isabella Kres-Nash ’18 felt that the Third World Transition Program did not give abelism “due diligence." In fact, she said abelism generally does not get its due diligence. The Herald regrets the error. 


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