Credit: Allison Prewitt | Courtesy

The slope of a ramp, the weight of the force to open a door, the height of a threshold, the placement of the electric door opener – it all has to be exact.

Business freshman Conor Kelly has been on crutches since the beginning of fall quarter after tearing his ACL and meniscus, spraining his MCL and fracturing his tibia.

“When you’re 100% able you just never think about stuff like that on a day-to-day basis,” Kelly said. But that is not the case for the 6% of Disability Resource Center (DRC) students with a mobility disability and the 5% of DRC students with a temporary disability, which is often a mobility impairment, according to the DRC. Students registered with the DRC make up about 10% of the total campus population. 

The DRC is currently updating Cal Poly’s accessibility plan to improve equal access across campus and make sure it is aligned with current California State University (CSU) expectations. 

Supervising Construction Inspector Mike Hogan is a certified access specialist. He works with facilities to improve accessibility in older buildings as well as implement new accessibility features in new buildings.

“Being built on a hillside makes ADA [Americans with Disability Act] pretty tough to achieve, but we are doing our best,” Hogan said.

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An automatic door can cost between five and $10,000 which makes it hard to put in every building, according to Hogan. But for most of the new buildings being built on campus, Hogan said they try and request it.

“We have a transition plan and we need to manage it better and keep it more up to date,” Hogan said.

According to Hogan, a proposal was recently submitted to approve 39 restroom accessibility updates in seven buildings on campus: 

  • Administration (bldg 1): eight restrooms 
  • Architecture & Environmental design (bldg 5): seven restrooms
  • Agricultural science (bldg 11): six restrooms
  • Frank E. Pilling (bldg 14): six restrooms
  • H.P. Davidson Music Center (bldg 45): six restrooms
  • English (bldg 22): four restrooms
  • Science (bldg 52): two restrooms

“There’s all kinds of things you have to think about. Where the toilet paper dispenser is, how high the toilet is, how close the bars are, doors, mirrors, soap dispensers, towel dispensers, the slope of the floor. I mean, it just goes on and on,” Hogan said.

With the help of a $1.5 million fund from the Chancellor’s office, Cal Poly is working to update the restrooms as well as other physical accessibility projects on campus. 

DRC Specialist John Lee has been in a wheelchair since 2002. He works at the DRC as the Assistive Technology Specialist & Accessibility Professional and said there has also been an expressed need for more electric door openers in buildings, bathroom access and outdoor path improvements.

“My own primary assistive technology is my wheelchair,” Lee said. “But it can only get me so far if there isn’t good physical access where I want to go.”

Lee and Hogan said the Information Technology Systems (ITS) is looking to add more accessible desks for classrooms and an app that shows accessible travel paths on campus along with more information on the physical accessibility of campus buildings. 

“It needs to be equal. So if you can go through that door and go where you want to go, a person in a wheelchair, or a person who’s blind or having trouble walking needs to be able to too,” Hogan said.

Some buildings on campus have the ability for students and faculty to enter and then exit at a higher level, avoiding hills and stairs. The Construction Innovations Center (bldg 186) has a raised bridge that leads to Engineering West (bldg 21). The Julian A. McPhee University Union (UU) (bldg 65) also has the option to enter through the plaza level, take an elevator up to the second floor and exit on the other side.

Biomedical engineering junior Jake Javier uses these shortcuts frequently to avoid steep hills in his wheelchair.

“I always say I picked the wrong school, lots of hills,” Javier said. In the beginning, it was definitely a lot of trial and error and figuring out which ways to take, but by now I know exactly where to go.”

Currently, the DRC offers a number of services to students with disabilities. Funding from the Student Success Fee allowed the DRC to purchase three motorized scooters students with temporary mobility disabilities can use to better navigate Cal Poly’s hilly campus. These motorized scooters are currently available for student use during the weekdays and weekends. The DRC van/tram service is also available to students with permanent or temporary mobility impairments.

“Without a doubt, I would not have been able to get to my classes without the tram,” Kelly, who is still recovering after tearing his ACL and meniscus, spraining his MCL and fracturing his tibia, said.

The service operates between 6:45am – 7:00pm Monday through Friday. Kelly said that while it did make transportation easier, not having the service over the weekend made it harder to get food, go to the library and get to other places on campus.

“Crutching to the UU or to class was more than a journey, so I would just eat ramen in my dorm,” Kelly said.

Javier also used the tram service his freshman year, but has lived off-campus for two years now and drives his own car to school.

“I just like being able to determine my own schedule, not to rely on anyone else. Part of that’s me being stubborn and independent,” Javier said. “The other part is it’s pretty convenient and just easier for me to get around.”

When evaluating physical accessibility, Lee said they have to keep in mind the location of accessible parking, curbs cuts, ramps, signage, elevators, thresholds, terrain and more. According to Lee, the CSU has not provided sufficient funds to campuses for physical accessibility projects.

“As a result, campuses like Cal Poly must prioritize these projects and complete them as budgeting allows,” Lee said.

The updated restrooms, new motorized scooters and potential for more ADA compliant classrooms and travel paths is on Cal Poly’s agenda.

“Disability is diversity, and accessibility is inclusion. Therefore, if we are going to prioritize DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] on our campus, then accessibility should be part of that,” Lee said. “Accessibility should be treated as a forethought, not an afterthought, in all that we do.”

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