Is OSU Accessible for All?

Being in a wheelchair used to be a tremendous burden, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) made that a thing of the past–right? According to Jefferey Evans, the president of Oregon State University’s Able Student Alliance, OSU fails to meet ADA regulations on numerous counts. Both old and new buildings fail to comply with standards, and many of its supposedly accessible parking spaces are slanted so that a wheelchair would run away from someone trying to transfer into their car.

“Only about 30 spaces actually comply with the standards,” he said.

Evans has filed numerous complaints over the years; most recently, he filed eight complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice through the Deputy Assistant for Civil Rights in Portland.

“We’re still waiting for them to get formal sign-off,” he said.

According to Evans, one major problem is that the University Historic District is not held to ADA standards. Instead, the City of Corvallis places it under the realm of the historic district code, a code that tries to minimize newer construction–such as wheelchair ramps.

Evans believes that the historic buildings on campus should not be treated the same as historic residences or museums.

“You have people making decisions based on what’s pretty,” he said. “Those standards cannot be applied to buildings that have as many as 20,000 people going in and out every day. Historic buildings that qualify have to be used primarily for historic preservation.”

In addition to older historic buildings that have not yet been renovated to meet ADA standards, much of OSU’s recent construction is non-compliant, said Evans. He named the entrance to the recently renovated Furman Hall–a multi-million dollar project–as one example.

“ADA requires that the front entrance be accessible. We can’t go in the front door. They’ve been building buildings that do not comply. The recent stadium improvements don’t comply. Linus Pauling, the brand new science building, doesn’t comply.”

Evans claimed that OSU has not only failed to consult with the Able Student Alliance, but has also retaliated against his advocacy and withheld documents from the Able Student Alliance.

While the university does have a task force of students, staff, and faculty designated to act as an advisor on ADA matters, Evans said that individuals with disabilities comprise only a fourth of the group, which is mainly run by administrators. The Able Student Alliance was so frustrated by its lack of representation and other issues that the group withdrew.

“We decided that we wouldn’t associate with that group,” said Evans.

According to Angelo Gomez, the director of the Department of Equity and Inclusion at OSU, the university is not doing as poor a job as Evans claims.
“Compliance is not an either-or proposition,” he said. “There are hundreds and hundreds of very detailed requirements for new buildings: how high a grab bar is; how wide a door entry is. You can have a building that is 99 percent consistent with all of the requirements but in one percent someone got it wrong by a couple inches. Somebody might look at that and say it’s not compliant.

The purpose of all of the ADA standards and requirements is to allow equal access of the university’s services. We ensure that all students and anybody who wants to access our programs, services, and opportunities has the ability to do that. That’s why I say, ‘Yes, we comply with the ADA.’”
So who’s right in this? Does the university have to comply with every measurement of ADA standards, or is it OK if students with disabilities have their classes relocated to buildings that they can enter?

“We are doing everything we can to achieve perfection. It is nearly an impossible task with an institution that size,” said Gomez.
Either way, the situation should improve in coming years. Gomez noted that OSU is currently conducting an assessment of the entire campus which began last summer. The project’s estimated total cost is 2.5 million. This brings us to the only place where Gomez and Evans agree; it’s sad that so much money must be spent in assessing the situation when it could go to correcting these problems.

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10 thoughts on “Is OSU Accessible for All?

  1. Great article. Unfortunately, Mr Gomez continues to dismiss the needs of persons with disabilities through deliberate misinformation. He implies that the violations of the ADA in new buildings is a matter of “inches” or a small technicality. This is unconscionably untrue. The University renovated Furman Hall knowing full well that individuals who use manual wheelchairs, crutches, have leg braces, etc., cannot negotiate the paths-of-travel with extreme slopes leading from Furman to the central campus — slopes that are fifty to one hundred percent greater than allowed by the ADA standards.

    He implies that the University has committed to a $2.5 million dollar assessment of the entire campus. This is not true. The university’s only commitment to date is a survey of the external areas — none of the more than one hundred buildings are to be surveyed — a survey that identified more than 5500 violations, at least 150 of which involve “ADA improvements” constructed within the last two years.

    Mr. Gomez states that “‘We are doing everything we can to achieve perfection. It is nearly an impossible task with an institution that size … ‘” It is an impossible task when facilities services project managers haven’t the competence to do their job correctly. It’s made worse because Mr Gomez, who supposedly has the authority to dictate compliance efforts, can’t decide if he has that authority. During the past month he claims to be the designated compliance officer yet testifies before the ASOSU House and Senate that he has no authority over the Traffic and Parking office.

    He hires staff to investigate ADA complaints who have no knowledge or training in the ADA requirements. How can he say they are compliant when no one in his office, including Mr Gomez, understands what the ADA requires.

    Mr Gomez and the OSU Administration claim that the University hasn’t the money to comply with the ADA. Yet, it is currently involved in a campaign to raise $1 billion for capital improvements of which zero dollars and cents are earmarked for barrier removal. Interestingly, during the past decade, OSU has spent well over $125 million on athletic facilities; over the same period the University has spent $2 million on access-related improvements that its own consultants has found do not comply with the requirements of the ADA.

    In many respects, Mr Gomez is correct that the size of OSU complicates compliance matters. But this is because the mid-level administrators responsible for ADA compliance — including Mr Gomez — are more concerned with defending their turf, securing control over their budgets, and protecting their “institutional relationships”, than they are with complying with the law and ensuring equal access.

    The ADA compliance effort has been fraught with incompetence and the irresponsible mis-allocation of public funds at a time when $$$ are in short supply. Given that new buildings have been constructed and violate the ADA, that ADA-related improvements have wasted millions of dollars the University says it doesn’t have, the question must be asked — Why haven’t some people been relieved of their duties?

    If readers want to make a difference tell Ed Ray to get his administrators in line or send them packing. His email is: Ed.Ray@oregonstate.edu

    If you support the efforts of the Able Student Alliance, find us on Facebook (Able Student Alliance of Oregon State university) and ask to join.

    C. Jeffery Evans, AICP

  2. I’d be interested in hearing more about specifically where these things mentioned break the laws of ADA. Saying that they do is one thing, but having a source would be a lot better. (Specific sections would be best, given that http://www.access-board.gov/adaag/html/adaag.htm#4.1.7 is quite long, and keyword searching yields nothing revealing Furman hall being inaccessible, as it is presumably a renovated historic hall)

    What can I say, I’m a scientist, and I don’t trust things without sources or proof.

    1. I did find that article interesting. I do have to say though, in many cases it supports both of your arguments. Many of the problems truly are a matter of inches, with only about a third reasonably large violations.

      The survey itself is fraught with inaccuracies and typos, to a point that I find myself questioning whether or not they actually knew what they were doing. They require a variety of different handrail sizes, and only occasionally recommend the correct size (1.25-1.5 inches in diameter). In regards to parking spaces, every single one had a typo in it (I hardly think 18 inches is an appropriate width for a space and aisle).

      The single most notable (to me) is 557D. They insist that it is necessary to build a $10,500.00 ramp to that door, which leads to a staircase. In a time where money is in short supply, why would anyone consider a ten-thousand dollar ramp that leads directly to a staircase?

      (All numbers in the following paragraph are rounded to the nearest 50)
      While the number of violations initially seems high (5000) a breakdown makes it much more manageable. About 500 are bench “violations” which all say something along the lines of “make 5% of benches accessible.” This means that with the 200 or so benches that were mentioned (multiple violations each), only about 10-15 benches really need replacing (assuming no benches are accessible at the moment) Another 300 are simply the recommendation that stairs be painted with a contrasting stripe (something recommended, but not required by ADA). 300 are small lips near doors that need to be ground down, with 1/3 of those being a lip that is on the edge of accessible (1/2″ lip, accessible is anything up to but not including a 1/2″ lip). 100 are the previously mentioned parking violations, of which half are within a foot of being accessible. Handrails are the most common violation, with 750 unique violations (75% of which are within a foot of being compliant), of 300 unique staircases. Of the remaining violations, it is common to see 2-5 mentions of the same spot, encouraging a full replacement. This brings the number down significantly. With 450 bench violations not needing fixed, 300 non-required recommendations, and 450 repeat handrail violations, there are only 3,800 remaining violations. In terms of things being within a foot of being compliant (what I would say “inches” could feasibly refer to), there are 50 parking spaces, 300 lips (the largest I saw was 4″) and the handrails that existed, which were usually off by only an inch or two – about 250. That takes it down to about 3,200 violations. As mentioned above, the same spot was often mentioned multiple times (2-3 on average) meaning that there’s really only 1600 or so violations that aren’t within a foot of being compliant. Yes, that’s still a large number, but it is something that is much more feasible to look at.

      Overall, I can concede that OSU has a lot to improve upon, but the vast majority are small issues. Both sides of the argument (ASA and OSU) need to get their facts in order. Exaggerations of the problem and pointing fingers at individuals will get both sides the same result: the hatred of everyone who hears about the problem.

  3. Well, there are reasons for the “inch or two”. It’s because they are safety issues. The toe height with respect to stairways are minimal unless you have an impairment that limits your leg strength — then that “inch or two” could result in a serious fall. Same with the “lips”. Again, someone who cannot pick their feet up too high might trip as will individuals using crutches, lower-limb prosthetics, or walkers. Of course, when you are in a manual wheelchair and hit one of those beveled lips, you will be thrown out of your wheelchair. For a paraplegic, who cannot feel pain, such an accident can result in a broken bone which might not be noticed until the person has bleed internally enough to exhibit other symptoms. So while I understand these may sound like trivialities, they are so only to those who don’t live with them.

    The 18″ on the parking spaces is, indeed, a typo — it should read 18 feet. Unfortunately, OSU’s Facilities Services Office had this report for six months and didn’t catch any issues. This should concern you as these are the people still screwing up the campus. There were a number of things not survey namely over two hundred parking spaces. Of course, the width of the spaces and access aisles is only a part of the problem. The vast majority of spaces are surrounded by area that exceeds the slope limit of 2.08 percent. Yes, seemingly another trivial matter unless you are trying to transfer into a manual chair as it rolls away because of the extreme slope.

    Keep in mind, that this study does not include any internal surveys — within the buildings — which we believe will reveal over twenty thousand more violations. Also keep in mind that of the 300+ ramps on campus, including those inside buildings which were not surveyed, four comply with the guidelines.

    I think you trivialize the mater much too much which could explain why OSU continues to build building which do not comply. As we speak, the University is moving the Bookstore south of the railroad tracks which, cannot be traversed by wheelchairs, walkers, etc. I could go on and on. But before you’re too dismissive, I invite you to take a tour of the campus with me. You can reach me at evanscha@onid.orst.edu.

    1. If you noticed, my point was more to acknowledge that both sides have their issues. I did not dismiss the slopes because I am well aware of them being an issue. If you’ll notice, since they are not mentioned specifically, they are included in the 1600 or so things that need to be replaced. I don’t appreciate your inaccurate and unfounded assumption that I think they are trivial.

      While I agree that any violation is a violation, my “inch or two” comments were directed at the original argument by Mr. Gomez. It was not to say that it was right to have those problems, but merely to defend the statement that you took offense at. It was an accurate statement, though not an ideal one. Again, I was not saying they were trivial, merely stating that they were within the couple of inches mentioned in the article.

      Meanwhile, your entire response to me doesn’t actually address most of my comment. Nowhere did I mention the slopes being a triviality, nor did I say that things should not be fixed. Also, the second half of your response refers to things not within the article that you sent me(the moving of the Bookstore, interior problems, etc.). It feels like you open a canned response about the horrors of OSU every time someone asks for your opinion (after reading multiple articles and hearing your responses both here and on the ASA page), which is kind of annoying to read, as it doesn’t fully address anyone’s concerns.

  4. Ok, then. In actuality, the firm has done a number of these. I do believe the inaccuracies and typos are due more to the failure of the project manager to review the document than to the consultant’s incompetence. You need only look at the dozen or so major projects and the dozens of minors ones completed recently to see that someone is asleep at the switch.

    Now that we got the preliminaries out of the way please understand that three years ago we suggested a 20-25 year retrofit program predicated on a few things: (1) that all new construction comply with the requirements of the ADA; (2) that a full and comprehensive assessment be conducted; (3) that a comprehensive transition, or compliance plan be developed with funding commitments; and (4) that a task force of students, faculty and staff with disabilities be established to determine the priorities for the retrofit program. Items 1-3 have been required since 1992, specifically addressed and characterized. Item 4 is also specifically addressed. Items 1-3 have not occurred — at least not in any manner prescribed by law. With respect to item 4, a task force was created. However, the Office of Facilities Services refused to cooperate. When held accountable their bureaucratic buddies, including Mr. Gomez, simply rewrote the rules to put the bureaucrats in control.

    Now, I noticed that you haven’t addressed a few points I made. I invited to take you on a tour: yes or no? I can do it anytime after the 15th. In addition, and perhaps I should be more direct — do you believe it is appropriate to construct new buildings which to not meet or exceed ADA requirements? Do you believe the University should spent $2.5 million to have every building assessed so that we may quantify the full magnitude of the problem and establish a coherent retrofit program? Do you believe it is appropriate that the University spend $125 + million dollars on sports facilities and less than $3 million on accessibility improvements? Do you believe that the University should commit a percentage of the $1 billion of its current capital campaign for accessibility-related (and by extension, to implement other current construction codes) improvements to existing facilities? Do you believe it appropriate for the University to locate the student Bookstore south of the railroad tracks where it will not be accessible to students with disabilities? Do you believe it is appropriate for the University to hire architects and other design professionals who have no demonstrated knowledge, experience and/or expertise in accessible design?

    1. I’ll gladly address your points, despite your incessant need to bring more points into the discussion that have little to do with the point at hand (Path of Travel) and only serve to act as distractions. While valid points, they do not belong in this conversation.

      -No thank you, I will pass on a tour with you, as I’ve been on a tour already with one of the members of ASA (who shall remain nameless) who pointed out many of the issues. (We also toured much of Corvallis as well)
      -No, it is not appropriate to build non-compliant buildings, which was alluded to in each of my earlier comments. Again, I take offense at the assumption that I would even consider non-compliant buildings acceptable.
      -The University already spent that presumably, and I believe that it was useful (though the inaccuracies and typos should not have occurred, but that is the fault of the company, not the university)
      -I do not believe it appropriate to compare spending between groups on campus. There are many factors that go into things, and it is impossible to accurately compare them. (At my high school, more than 20 times the annual salary of a teacher was spent on each student in a wheelchair yearly)
      -I’m not one to argue for monetary change, but I believe some of the money should be spent on improvements. As to how much, I would have no idea where to begin.
      -Bookstore moving: Is there seriously no possible way to make a railroad crossing accessible? It seems a little over-the-top to say that. If there isn’t, then shouldn’t that technology be developed, rather than blaming OSU for the move? I agree it should not be moved somewhere inaccessible, but the railroad crossing argument seems flimsy.
      -I believe that there are a lot of things looked for in an architect/design professional. The best person(s) for the job should be chosen. Ideally, there will be a variety of specialties amongst a team of architects. IF only one is chosen for some specific project, and IF the most qualified person has no knowledge etc. of accessibility, then they are still the best choice. Many things go into a hiring process, and while I believe accessibility to be important, I do not think that it should be a be-all-end-all deciding factor.

      I was unamused at your questioning, which felt more like berating. Some of those questions are no-brainers, and the mere fact that you asked them implies that you think I’m some cold-hearted person who hates accessibility.

    2. Well, given that I’ve responded to you and your questions (while it appears you continue to ignore mine – though it may just be moderation), perhaps I need to make mine more direct.
      -How exactly do you think criticizing Mr. Gomez in this forum will help in any way?
      -Where did you get “over 5500 violations” from? The article you sent me to listed about 5030.
      -Why did you assume I would find slopes trivial, when I had already included them in the violations I found to be significant?
      -Why must you bring up irrelevant information in each comment? The discussion was over path of travel, not over moving a bookstore or a task force.
      -Was your purpose to simply have me respond to your questioning? If so, congratulations. I was under the impression that you would have a response to my answers though.
      -Again, what makes railroad tracks inaccessible? Because if they are inherently inaccessible, then that’s a bigger problem than just OSU should have to deal with. If there’s a way to make them accessible, then yes, OSU should do that, but according to you, there’s no way to do that.
      -Finally, why are you assuming the worst? You accuse me of trivializations across the board, and provide a list of “questions” that are clearly designed to make me look like a terrible person. Much like OSU in general, we ARE fighting on the same side. OSU does appear to trivialize more things than I would, but NO ONE is arguing that buildings should purposefully not be compliant. Yet you continually act like that is our/their intent. Why?

    3. I’m still awaiting your answers; since you seemed so insistent on receiving mine, I thought that you would respond faster than you have. If not, I can only guess as to why you are no longer responding to me.

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