by Loren Skinker—
While traveling across Virginia Tech’s campus, one is likely to encounter two constants: hills and stairs.
These features produce challenges for students with physical disabilities, as they are forced to take roundabout routes to avoid such obstacles and find flatter ground. This task can prove to be far more time-consuming and rigorous than one might initially expect.
“During my sophomore year, I had to leave Pamplin [Hall] a good twenty minutes or so early just to make it NCB [New Classroom Building] on time,” said Trent Neely, a Virginia Tech student who uses an electric wheelchair to navigate campus. “That area is really difficult to work around because there are so many steps.”
Having had to traverse campus for nearly four years in a wheelchair, Neely knows a thing or two when it comes to locating access points into buildings and finding handicap-friendly ramps. Nevertheless, he admits that he still occasionally encounters a new staircase, but that hasn’t dampened his attitude about the university’s assistance with disabled students.
“SSD [Service for Students with Disabilities] is always extremely understanding and kind in their responses to my needs,” said Neely. “One time, the university even relocated an entire class so that I could make it there on time.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more and more students with disabilities are pursuing higher education. This surge has prompted colleges and universities to allocate more resources to this growing field.
“Virginia Tech is a Title II institution, meaning that its educational programs and classrooms are accessible for students with disabilities,” said Pam Vickers, director of ADA and accessibility services at Virginia Tech. “Although some specific locations are inaccessible, like the second floor of Lane Hall, when looked at as a whole, the university is ADA certified.”
Passed in 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensured those individuals with disabilities with the same rights and opportunities as anyone else. Title II is a qualification signifying that a government entity has met certain accessibility standards in areas such as transportation, architecture, and more.
All building renovation projects at Virginia Tech must involve ADA participation, for the office must determine if such construction meets handicap regulations. According to Vickers, improvements are in place to better accommodate physically disabled students in less accessible areas like Hokie Grille and Burchard Plaza.
“I think we [Virginia Tech] are in a good place,” said Vickers. “Yes, there are still challenges with topography, but that hasn’t stopped the university from advancing and delivering options to those who are physically disabled.”
Regarding other infrastructure changes, Vickers hopes the university will adopt an automated shuttle system that is handicap accessible.